The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review

Those sneaky little hobbitses!

By Paul Hunter

There's been a lot of great video game adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, most recently Warner Bros.' Middle-earth series but also the classic PS2 games from EA based on Peter Jackson's film trilogy. Given the high bar set by these titles, I was quite excited when Daedalic Entertainment announced The Lord of the Rings: Gollum starring one of the more fascinating characters from Tolkien's fantasy world. I was particularly interested because, for the first time ever, this game would explore the hidden story of Gollum's time between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring—including what happened after he left the Misty Mountains and before his capture by Sauron's Nazgûl servants.

Alas, while the game sounded great on paper, what was eventually delivered is as messy as Gollum's conflicting personalities. For every moment that I enjoyed there were at least twice as many that frustrated me, making this a tough game to recommend beyond the most hardcore fans of The Lord of the Rings. Let's get right to it, here's one thing I liked about the game, one I'm mixed about...and two things I didn't enjoy.

Liked: Voice Action and Audio Design

The one area where the game really excels is the voice acting, particularly Gollum who's portrayed by Wayne Forester and does a nice job approximating Andy Serkis' iconic voice from the film trilogy. Gollum quite often responds to characters with a mix of his wicked and coarse Gollum voice and his sociable, soft-spoken Sméagol side—with both voices reflecting his conflicting personalities very well. Sometimes you'll be given the option to respond as Gollum or Sméagol, depending on whether you want to lean into the character's darker or pleasant side. Gollum's two personalities also have constant conversations with themselves over the entire adventure, and I really enjoyed hearing both perspectives, although I can see other players wishing there was an option to tone down or turn off this constant chatter.

Similarly, Gollum's audio design is well done, such as the sloppy wet sound of his hands slapping across the ground as he runs. Gollum will also make plenty of grunts, groans and throat-clearing noises that perfectly reflect how I'd expect this pitiful creature to sound. The other main characters like Gandalf, Thranduil (father of Legolas), the Candle Man, the blind elf Mell and more all have voices that range from good to great and help draw you into the story.

Mixed: The Platforming

Gollum has a large focus on platforming, whether that's a massive, treacherous climb up the Black Pits of Barad-dûr or the lush trees and waterfalls of Mirkwood. Part Prince of Persia and part Assassin's Creed, the platforming segments will have you wall-running, climbing and performing leaps of faith to escape from orcs, spiders or elves, or to reach new areas like the Tower of Light or Shelob's Lair.

When the platforming works it can actually be quite a bit of fun. Swinging across tree branches high above the elven king's garden was satisfying, as was navigating through the many industrial machines in the Orkish Mines. But there are numerous frustrating areas like one where you need to run towards the camera Crash Bandicoot style to escape from the great spider Shelob. Gollum runs fast and obstacles are barely visible for a second making the platforming challenging, especially given how imprecise Gollum's movement and jumps can be. There are a few 'chase' scenes like this, including a dramatic race near the end through an Orkish army that leads to a ton of cheap deaths because the controls are too loose for a game that demands fast speed combined with accurate leaping through large platforming zones.

There are also a ton of bizarre platforming gameplay choices in this game, such as some ledges will drain Gollum's stamina while other identical-looking ledges don't consume any stamina at all. Also, at certain points in your traversal when you're at the 'right' spot to do a jump backwards, the game will prompt you to push a button to perform the jump—but way too many times I'd miss and die. Most of these leap backwards are blind jumps because of the poor camera so you can't even line up the leaps accurately even if you want to.

For nearly every platforming segment, I'd have a few minutes of fun but then hit a frustrating part where Gollum's sloppy movements worked against me. It was such an uneven experience and it's sad because you can clearly see the potential of the platforming had the controls only been tighter and the camera more flexible.

Didn't Liked: Muddy Graphics and Poor Lighting

There are a handful of pre-rendered cutscenes in Gollum that look decent, but the remainder of the game looks shockingly bad for a game released in 2023. It has some of the worst lighting effects I've seen in decades which cast ugly shadows across the character's face during dialogue moments. The textures are about as bad, mostly consisting of muddy, washed-out colours lacking detail. There are rare exceptions, like the nice-looking spider webs in Shelob's lair or waterfalls in Mirkwood, but these eye-catching moments are too far between. And I'm not joking when I say this, but the orcs in EA's The Two Towers, which was released on PS2 in 2002, are graphically superior to the orcs in Gollum.

The one brighter spot is thankfully Gollum himself, who's nicely animated for the most part, and his little tuffs of hair accurately flail as he moves. He looks fine in most cutscenes, but even being the main character there are times where he lacks finer details—and looks measurably worse from some of the pre-launch trailers and screenshots we've seen. I played the game on PS5 and from what I've seen the PC version looks better, but that's really no excuse since this console is capable of so much more graphically (just look at Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart!).

Didn't Like: Awful Stealth Action

If the platforming sections are just OK then the stealth segments are pure awful by comparison. There are so many issues here such as the enemy orcs having really short walking patterns, making it annoying to walk past when their backs are turned, but thankfully they are incredibly short-sighted. You can stand literally 20 feet away from some orcs looking directly at you and they won't even notice. Orcs also suffer from extreme amnesia and will forget that they've seen you mere seconds after you run and hide.

In another odd gameplay decision, Gollum is able to strangle some orcs but discerning which orcs you can attack is aggravating. Gollum cannot choke orcs in full-armour sets, which makes sense since he can't crush metal helmets. But there are some orcs wearing basic hats with clearly exposed necks that are invincible to Gollum's chokehold. And then there are the many elves that are also invincible for reasons never explained.

Stealth sections typically require you to crawl between tall grass patches or under tables, occasionally turning off orc lamps that reveal your location, plus choking out the odd orc you're actually allowed to attack. But if you ever get spotted it's near impossible to get away because Gollum can only run for a few seconds and then it takes forever for his stamina to recharge. Plus, unlike games like Hitman or Metal Gear where you can use a variety of gadgets and routes to sneak around, Gollum stealth sections are incredibly linear and have little room for experimentation. They're just not fun at all, which is a massive failure given that a third or more of the game focuses on stealth.

The Verdict

I wanted The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to be a slam dunk given how fantastic the source material is. Unfortunately though, the game suffers from a wide range of issues from the janky platforming and stealth mechanics to the underwhelming visuals. Thankfully, Gollum himself is nicely animated and voice-acted, but it's not enough to overcome the game's faults. Hardcore fans of The Lord of the Rings may be interested if only to see what happened to Gollum after leaving the Misty Mountains, but beyond that, it's hard to recommend the game in its current state.

Final Score: 5/10 - Mediocre

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Action-adventure, Stealth
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.