Gamestyle Archive intro: there are countless chapters on video games that take a promising license and blitz the potential into sawdust. Then there are those that are merely content to meet deadlines, budgets and publisher criteria to churn out another product.
Published: November 2003
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment, Inc.
The thirst for new adventures on Middle-Earth continues with the deliverance of the original J.R.R. Tolkien story. By striking a deal with Tolkien Enterprises, Sierra has concentrated its efforts on the source material, rather than any Hollywood Blockbuster. Such an underground approach turned many away from Fellowship of the Ring, which despite its flaws contained many qualities beyond mere violence and opportunistic licensing. The next phase of the license continues with the arrival of the classic Hobbit.
Learning from this lesson, Sierra has put more emphasis on action and battles for this pre-sequel of sorts. However The Hobbit faces many challenges, even though the majority of us have read the novel at some time during our life. This Gamestyle writer can recall having to read the novel, but as to what it contained beyond a dragon, frankly the memory is extremely weak. Why play the video game version of a weighty and boring novel? Such sentiments are no doubt common throughout the gaming public who no doubt picture The Hobbit in such a light.
Just like before you take the role of Bilbo Baggins – thrust into his very first adventure, as he departs the peaceful Shire lands with his new companions. Gandalf provides the push, which casts Baggins on an adventure to slay the infamous dragon known as Smaug. Many familiar faces await these intrepid explorers, although each will be judged against the recent cinema depictions. Fans of dwarves, elves, trolls and goblins will be immediately at home. The story is delivered well through minimal cut sequences and effective voiceovers. Expect the variety that Middle-Earth can offer to be exploited almost to its full potential, with a few creative embellishments and some blatant oversights such as the Gollum episode, which serves only to frustrate the player.
Inevitable Entertainment has captured the essence of The Hobbit well, and crafted a deceptively large game. Yet progression is extremely linear, despite the various tasks, which you can undertake to distract from the main goal. Ultimately these exist to improve the attributes and provisions of Bilbo Baggins – only vital for Tolkien fans or those who lack the brute force to slice through the game. Younger gamers will perhaps fall into the latter category, and these represent the main target of this release, and perhaps those who will enjoy it most. Combat is extremely simplistic, only requiring frantic slashing and the occasional power move. The formula platform sections and bland puzzles do little to raise the bar of difficulty or originality any further. Then further on, stealth sections arrive with the discovery of the ring – looks like the marketing minds had everything covered in the game concept? Even some opportunistic lock picking mini-games continue the bizarre influence of Splinter Cell: Agent Bilbo Baggins, license to infiltrate and kill?
Whilst playing The Hobbit it is difficult not to think of previous experiences with releases such as Zelda and Jak & Daxter. Unfortunately The Hobbit is not in the same league, but rather a collection of ideas and common game designs influenced by the aforementioned titles. This is nothing to be ashamed about, but during the course of play Gamestyle debated the ease of the decision. An epic such as the Hobbit demands treatment along the lines of an RPG, or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Here the story becomes lost during mundane tasks, convenient conversations and cute graphics. It’s all a little too predictable and all too representative of safe game design so prevalent today.
Visually events onscreen are surprisingly well created, but lack the epic set pieces of Electronic Art’s rival series. This is an adventure, but one that rarely delivers memorable moments such as those common in the original Tomb Raider. The environments are well detailed, with some texture issues and bland colouring, however the vast views and considerable interactive elements prove distracting. As a multi-format release things could have been a great deal worth given recent experiences of similar across-the-board releases. The main technical issue is a common occurrence in releases today; yes, it’s the camera, which at times requires considerable attention. That said, the rousing soundtrack is especially effect when combined with the layers of sound effects.
Perhaps a fitting release for the average Gamecube user, however J.R.R. Tolkien and fans of the novel deserved something a little more substantial. Just like the movies, book adaptations can rarely compete with expectations and offer the same experience, and so it is the case with the video game version of The Hobbit. Those with expectations of a classic need not apply, unfortunately.
Gamestyle Score – 5