The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a game that nobody asked for. Not Tolkien fans, not gamers, not even Andy Serkis himself, and yet here it is. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a LotR fan, nor am I a fantasy fan. While I appreciate that the Peter Jackson trilogy is comprised of three well-made films, it has just never been my thing. However, there have been games set in Middle Earth that I have very much enjoyed in the past.
I loved what Monolith Productions did with the Shadow of Mordor games and how they utilized the since renowned Nemesis system to make a game that could have easily been nothing more than an Assassin’s Creed clone into something special. The tie-in game that was released alongside The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, even made my list of 3 Movie Tie-In Games That Were Actually Great.
So I went into this with an open mind, ready to be won over despite having no connection to the universe. I didn’t care about the lore being accurate to the source material having never read the books, I just went in hoping for a fun video game set in a brutal world.
Unfortunately, I did not get that.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is out now and is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles.
While still on the subject of full disclosure, I should probably make it known that I did not finish this game. Due to the atrocious technical state that this thing is in at the time of writing, I barely made it to the end of the first chapter of this game. This is a real shame, as I normally like to at least roll credits on a game’s story before delving into a review. Sadly, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum did not allow me to do that and thus I am forced to review only the small portion of the game that I was able to play.
As much a game’s visuals don’t matter all that much to me as long as the overall experience is fun, it is hard to look past just how exceedingly fugly The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is. In my review for Winter Games 2023, I wrote about how that was one of the worst looking games that I had ever played on PS5 and how it may be one of the ugliest games ever released. Well, that crown of turds has just been taken by The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
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The textures are murky and pixelated, the character models look as though they were created using decades-old software, the environmental modelling is just as crudely designed and the primitive lighting and rudimentary particle effects are enough to make even the most forgiving gamer scoff. The presentation in cutscenes isn’t much better either, even the way that the titles have been edited during the game’s opening feels extremely amateur.
Speaking of the game’s lackluster presentation, Andy Serkis does not provide the voice of Gollum this time around. Whether this is because the team wanted to veer closer to the Gollum character from the books rather than the movies, or because they simply could not afford Andy Serkis is unclear. What is clear is that the actor hired to provide the vocal performance is dreadful. Every line feels non-committal and as if it was recorded in a single take.
Also, it must be made clear that this is not a fun experience overall which somehow makes up for the horrible visuals. It is not a fun experience in any way whatsoever. Even when the game plays, it feels like a budget game from 20 years ago. Remember those boring tailing missions that Ubisoft made players suffer through in the older Assassin’s Creed games? Well that is precisely was Gollum felt like for the entire duration I played it.
At least those older Assassin’s Creed games has other aspect to the gameplay to distract from the frustration of the tailing missions, but The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has nothing else to it. These mind-numbing tasks are all that it has up its sleeve. There is no combat to speak of, nor is there any sort of escape or chase element, once an enemy spots you, it is an instant Game Over. There is some platforming, but even that feels very bare-bones. The stealth elements are so painfully basic here that they make the Hitman games from the PS2 era look revolutionary by comparison.
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The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is borderline unplayable.
All of this without even mentioning the disgraceful technical state of the game. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum in its current, pre-release state is borderline unplayable. At the time of writing, there has been no mention of a day one patch to try and fix the abundant issues either. To release a game in this sorry state in 2023 is utterly inexcusable, especially given how dismal the gameplay experience is even when the game does run.
It was due to the following extensive list of issues that I was unable to play past the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum prior to writing this review. It took me almost an entire hour to get through a section of the game that should only last twenty minutes at most, solely due to technical problems. If Daedalic Entertainment can’t be bothered to finish developing the game, then why should I bother to finish playing it?
After booting up the game and seeing just how god-awful it looked running in the default Performance Mode, I decided to take some pity on my freshly assaulted eyeballs and crank up the settings to Quality Mode With Ray-Tracing. Presumably, this was too much to ask and the game clearly has not been optimized to run on that setting on consoles. This led to my first crash taking place ten minutes into the game.
The crash occurred when I entered Gollum’s cave den, likely due to the multiple puddles of reflective water that litter the majority of the cave’s floor. As soon as I entered the cave, I was met with an extreme drop in frame rate. While crashes due to having ray-tracing enabled in water-covered areas is not uncommon, it does beg a question of this game’s environmental design; why choose to flood the floor of the cave with water when the game clearly cannot handle rendering reflections?
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After witnessing the jarring drop in frame rate, I then crawled through a tunnel to an area with running water and this is when the actual crash occurred. I thought to myself, “fair enough, I was running the game on Quality Mode with ray-tracing enabled, maybe if I drop back down to Performance mode, all will be well again.”
I booted the game back up and switched back to Performance Mode and suddenly the noticeable frame rate drop was gone and I was able to progress past the section with flowing water. I was then able to play through another ten minutes of mediocre platforming fairly smoothly and I thought the problem was solved. Then things randomly got choppy once again and the second crash occurred.
This is the moment that my fears were confirmed that this game is indeed releasing in a broken state. With an overwhelming feeling of despair in my gut, I rebooted the game once again, only to experience the exact same crash immediately at the exact same moment. I restarted the game once again and the third time was the charm, although it would have possibly been a mercy if the game was completely unplayable after this point given what was to follow.
The task that I was presented with after finally being able to get past those back-to-back crashes was to separate and silently take down two orcs. Via some pretty vague onscreen prompts, the game asked me to sneak up behind the first orc and throttle him from behind by holding the triangle button as I approached.
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Once the player gets close enough to the foe, the triangle button is supposed to appear above the enemy character model’s head and holding it will cause Gollum to jump on his back and start choking him out. However the triangle button failed to appear onscreen, instead being replaced by something that resembled an epileptic yin-yang symbol and Gollum would simply remain crouched behind the enemy.
This meant that the only way that I could proceed was to purposely get spotted by the orc in order to trigger a game over, restart from the previous checkpoint and just hope that the triangle button would appear next time. Again, after two failures in a row, the third time was the charm and I was eventually able to choke out the orc and lead the big spider out to eat his companion; which was also far more anti-climactic than it sounds.
After finally forcing my way through the end of the first chapter, I saw the Chapter Two title card flash up on the screen, only for the game to immediately hard crash yet again. This was the final straw; life is too short to suffer through something as broken and lackluster as this and thus I decided that enough was enough.
In summary, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a complete mess that you should not waste your hard-earned cash on. The fact that this game was released in this state is an absolute disgrace. Regardless of the fact that the valuable Lord of the Rings IP has been squandered here, the fact that this team thought that they could release this title in this embarrassing state and get away with it is utterly unacceptable.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum – 1/10
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was reviewed on PS5 with a code supplied to FandomWire by Press Engine.
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