The Lord of the Rings Gollum, the review of a tragic and failing experience.
Announced at the time with the intention of a release for 2021 The Lord of the Rings: Gollum had to undergo, like many other titles that arrived in this last period, a series of postponements that led it to consoles and PC in 2023, two years later than expected. With such an ambitious IP and with original material of such magnitude, expectations were very high, especially in a situation in which we are returning from another great adaptation work such as Rings of Power, intending, even in that case, to tell us a narrative segment not very well known to most. This time the commitment is more onerous and, unfortunately, with a much more disarming result because Daedalic Entertainment has not been able to get close to the goal even for a while.
The Lord of the Rings Gollum is presented by Daedalic as an immersive adventure : a way to underline how the gaming experience will be mostly reduced to the bone, so as to eliminate from the production equation any gameplay component capable of exalting us in hobbit management. Descendant of the sturoi family, the stockier hobbits with bigger hands and feet than we are used to seeing thanks to Frodo, Sam, Bilbo and the other inhabitants of the Shire, Gollum has a very intense story to tell, a that has not always been put in the spotlight: yet if the Nazgul left to overcome Gran Burrone and to chase the ring that ended up in the hands of Bilbo it was precisely because the now desperate Smeagol, after numerous tortures, decided to scream the name of Baggins County at his captors . What happened, however, in those years in Barad-dûr after meeting the hero of The Hobbit and before being able to meet Gandalf, to whom he revealed what he had just done? This wants to tell us about the work of Daedalic, going to dissect a narrative segment of the Third Age that we have never had the opportunity to deepen , to discover the very long journey that Gollum decided to make by escaping from the elves and crossing the insurmountable gates of Mordor, with the sole intent to respond to the call of his only great love: his treasure.
Gollum’s narrative power, as Tolkien had always told us, resurfaces on several occasions , making sure that the hobbit turns out to be the great survivor of the story of the Ring, until the inevitable end of his journey. That odyssey that brings him closer to salvation, which somehow grazes when the eagles are sent to recover the three heroes who threw the Ring into the flames of Mount Doom. One, unfortunately, returns without its host, with the other two ready to give shelter to Sam and Frodo: the third, yes, was really for Gollum. That after having accompanied the descendant of the Baggins family to the doomed place at the end of the evil of Mordor he had been deceived, one last time, by his treasure, by his desire. A character of great literary depth, whose references abound: from Grendel of Beowulf to the Christian Cain , with whom he shares the killing of a relative and the expulsion from the family. And why not also Fafnir, the dragon corrupted by greed that turns into a monster. For Gollum there is so much literary material that we could write encyclopedias, based on what was the information provided by Tolkien.
In the face of such expressive power, it is surprising to note how Daedalic has failed to set up an immersive adventure capable of exalting us for what happened to Gollum. The references are all children of the novels, so as to push us to have a less reassuring Gandalf and with less affable somatic features than those of Ian McKellen , but the goal is to do what Christian Cantamessa did with Celebrimbor: to cover a narrative hole left by the books by indulging in some license that could fictionalize the events as much as needed. In these 15 hours of play, however, the epic of what we have been told is almost never perceived, of what should reach our heart and we end up finding ourselves faced with an incomprehensible experience, at times disarming, between the ‘another made with a technical structure that is not suitable for today.
A stealth game without the stealth
Among the aspects that it is important to underline, so as to be able to break a spear in favor of a production also to be rejected in its entirety, there is the dichotomy that Daedalic wanted to recreate in Gollum’s head. The hobbit is dominated by the disruptive personality that has taken control of the body and head of Smeagol, but the latter struggles, does everything to still be the protagonist of his life, as well as our adventure. During every single dialogue, with whoever you find yourself talking to, you will have to respond by choosing whether to use Gollum’s verses or sketch a fearful concept of the neighbor generated by Smeagol’s mind. In equal measure, actions will be proposed to you, at certain moments in the story, which you will have to carry out with one or the other, so as to suffer the consequences. On several occasions you can also end up in a sort of minigame that opens up to a real challenge between the two, in which one will have to convince the other of the choice made. A mechanic that fascinates for how it was decided to replicate Gollum’s bipolarity in videogame terms, emphasizing the great complexity of the character himself. Furthermore, each choice will lead you to implications that will change some interlude scenes, as well as those that are the events of a few minutes thereafter: do not expect multibranching, nor alternative endings, because the direction will be that, unequivocally.
It is important to underline, in this aspect, that it is not Andy Serkis who gives the voice to Gollum , who had made him famous with his interpretation during the trilogy signed by Peter Jackson. Daedalic, however, made sure that the new voice actor could imitate him in all possible ways, creating a version from Serkis without Serkis: the result is pleasant, it could almost be confused with the original by an unaware ear , but in dubbing imitation is always an inappropriate activity, which executes the interpretation of the character. Perhaps excessive fan service, in an attempt to save a little bit of a character who, even in the way he looks and behaves, seems not too focused. This is because on far too many occasions Smeagol appears too spineless, even more than he was in the original version and as he appeared in the well-known trilogy. The same goes for Gollum, who perhaps hasn’t yet developed the adequate malice to be the greedy and gloomy being subjugated by the Ring, but who lacks the right aggressive verve.
Continuing in the wake of the painful notes we arrive at what the gameplay should have been, despite – as mentioned earlier – Daedalic has tried to defend himself by saying that we are faced with an immersive adventure, therefore not necessarily able to draw attention with of the developed videogame components. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum thus ends up being a poorly made platformer , with a stealth component that relies on the capabilities of the AI of the opponents practically nothing. Our sturoi can hide in the tall grass in a cheap way, without worrying about making noise, sneak up on the orcs to strangle them without anyone being able to notice and solve environmental puzzles that require you to throw stones or other objects against elements that can distract or even kill those who are doing the night patrols. We have not found any inventiveness, much less the desire to diversify the playful offer, ending up making Gollum banal in every aspect.
Two generations ago, in a distant land…
Furthermore, exploration is entrusted to very banal climbing phases, which try to become more difficult due to a stamina bar which, if you don’t have support, begins to decrease, but without representing a real obstacle to our continuation. Among other things, in the phases in which we will have to escape the sight of our opponents, it has happened to us on several occasions to fail in the attempt because our target had escaped or had escaped our sight, when it was still possible to see how reachable they were on the screen: a symptom of the fact that the elastic mechanics placed between Gollum and the current target did not work adequately. In short, technical problems of this type only affect the overall gaming experience even more. We also add that in the event that you should be discovered, it will be enough for you to escape and avoid being caught, relying on the fact that you will always be faster than the orcs or elves: by hiding at the end of your escape you will still have obtained the desired result.
We end our analysis with the pitiless technical analysis of a stock that has remained anchored to at least two generations ago. Our test took place on PlayStation 5, with the good fortune of having a fluidity on our side that was not found on PC, however. The problems lie, however, in what are all the proposed animations, in the details and in the level design of everything that surrounds Gollum. Our protagonist is monstrous, but not in a positive sense: his huge eyes are expressionless, as well as being accompanied by a strange bob hair, up to having very woody movements that do not return any kind of positive feeling even during the race. All the other characters, from the NPCs to the supporting actors of the story, including Gandalf, lack expressiveness, a choral movement and are placed in contexts that from an artistic point of view sin in every form and aspect. Any other consideration would end up burying even more a title which unfortunately does not have a linearity even in the proposal of the environments, full of oversights and bugs that compromise any admiration.