The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has been something of a curiosity since it was announced. Questions about what the game actually was and who, specifically, it was for came up often. In the end, though, most people seemed to settle on the idea that having A Game based on The Lord of the Rings in development was better than none at all.
Regrettably, it seems the latter might have actually been the better option.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is currently sitting at a brutally low Metacritic score of just 38 from 21 critic reviews on the PlayStation 5 and 43 from 12 reviews on PC. The lack of reviews for any Xbox platform suggests that the PS5 and PC versions represent the best experience (that or Microsoft’s certification process is possibly much stricter than the other platforms). There is not, at the time of writing, a single positive score in the bunch. (though I will recheck the scores in the morning and see if there have been any changes). A repeated refrain among all the tendered reviews is that it isn’t just a bad game, it’s one of the worst that many critics have played in a long, long while.
Update 26/5 1:35pm: Checking back in the day after embargo, the PS5 score has actually risen to 40 across 29 reviews. One (1) PS4 review was filed with a score of 4 out of 10. The PC score has not moved, and the Xbox versions of the game still have no reviews. No new Australian reviews from overnight, but a few more of the major overseas outlets did drop their reviews. I’ve updated the piece to fold these takes under the Rest of the World subheading. — David.
Let’s go down the list, starting, as we always do, with the Aussies.
There were just four Australian sites that reviewed the game. Not one of these outlets awarded The Lord of the Rings: Gollum a score higher than a 3. Steven Impson, writing for Press Start, said, “I struggle to think of a positive experience over the thirteen-odd hours I spent playing this game. Gollum is uninspired and dated and The Lord of the Rings fans deserve better than this.”
WellPlayed appears next, also with a score of 3, saying, “With dated design, LotR: Gollum is a slow and tedious slog through Middle Earth that even the staunchest LotR fans will struggle to enjoy.”
Player2‘s Paul James gave the game a D rating saying, “The very few redeeming values present in Lord Of The Rings: Gollum buckle under the enormous weight of mediocrity that it carries. It tries, but the game is about as forgettable as one of the thousands of orcs slaughtered in the films.”
Writing for Power Up, Jam Walker gave it a 2, saying “The Lord of The Rings – Gollum is every bit as twisted, nasty, broken and miserable as its protagonist. It is without doubt the most objectively poor and outright broken game that I have ever pushed through to completion. A patch has been promised for launch that may well alleviate some of the technical woes that plague the game, but no amount of fixes can pave over its utterly mediocre overall design. Spend your money on a second breakfast instead.”
The rest of the world
Who else was brave enough to tackle this wayward game? Mostly enthusiast press, it seems, and few have found anything nice to say about it.
Among the higher profile outlets to review the game, PC Gamer was the most generous, awarding it a 64 out of 100. “While wonky as a platformer or a stealth game, I’m happy to find such a strong story told here, distinct from Jackson and Bakshi’s visions of Middle-Earth,” it reads. “Much like its boggle-eyed protagonist, one half is pragmatic but prickly and sometimes cruel, the other starry-eyed and eager to please. The gestalt is, thankfully, more than the sum of its parts.”
Genuinely, I think it’s a great and valuable perspective from a reviewer that was able to cut through the pain and find something positive. Great gear from PC Gamer on this one.
Unfortunately for developer Daedelic, the body blows continued after that. IGN gave Gollum a 4, saying, “The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is filled with dull stealth, bad platforming, and a pointless story, and does little to justify why anyone should take the time to play it.”
Gamespot gave it a 2, saying, “Much like Gollum’s quest for the One Ring, my quest to complete The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was full of endless setbacks, impossible odds, and ever-increasing levels of madness. And, like Gollum, my journey was doomed from the start. So if the developers’ main goal was to really put you in the shoes of such a pitiful, unloveable character faced with constant pain and suffering at every turn, they were at least successful at that.”
Eurogamer also gave it a 2 and was blunt in its assessment: “A strong sense of character is let down by poor controls, fiddly implementation, and bugs.”
TheGamer awarded the PC version 1.5 stars, saying, “There are more positives – character designs, too, are phenomenal interpretations of Tolkien’s descriptions, and the creepy folk horror vibes of the Mirkwood Elves is inspired – but they’re too few and far between to save this boring game.”
The Guardian awarded it just one star, calling it “(a) derivative, uninteresting and fundamentally broken stealth action adventure that fails to capture anything interesting about Tolkien’s fiction.”
Digital Trends filed an unscored review, declaring the experience on PS5 so bad that it became unreasonable to continue. “In the little time I did end up spending with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum pre-launch, I did see the basics of the game’s story, platforming, stealth, choice system, combat, and puzzles. I found all of those elements intriguing, if a bit antiquated. That said, my experience was much too unstable to get a true feel for how this game will play post-release. After the eleventh crash, I deemed that the technical state of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum on PS5 was too dire for me to keep playing for review.”
I’ve reviewed my share of diabolically bad games, so I understand the frustration and exhaustion these critics are feeling. Games like Gollum make you want to walk into traffic to keep it from hurting you anymore. Games like Gollum make you irrationally angry; they become an unescapable torment, a hell of your own making.
Nobody likes writing reviews like these any more than they liked playing the game that made them feel this way. More importantly, nobody likes making games like this. A point I’ll reiterate in this job until I’m blue in the face: nobody ever sets out to make a bad game. No game developer in their right mind would want a game like this released into the world. The obvious question, then, is why it was released into the world in this state? I have not played Gollum, but I have my theories. Nevertheless, I feel for the developers. You get the chance to make something with a license as important and beloved as The Lord of the Rings, and something goes so catastrophically wrong on the way to launch that it ends up in critics’ hands a shuddering, infuriating mess. It’s embarrassing! I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
Anyway. A bruising embargo drop for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
This piece has been updated since it was first published.