The Hobbit Review
By Chad Montague |
Before Frodo there was Bilbo, another short, hairy-toed homebody whose interests stretched no farther than the limits of the Shire. Bilbo's story, told in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, was the base for the Lord of the Rings novels to follow. And with the great success of the Peter Jackson-directed movies and the acclaimed Electronic Arts-published digital spin-offs, it was inevitable that a title about the first Baggins would eventually make its debut. This is that game.
The Hobbit, developed by Inevitable Studios, somewhat fittingly, is an adventure obviously influenced by Nintendo's Legend of Zelda. It features an intriguing storyline based loosely on the book of the same name, and it takes players to places read about and to wholly original locales, too. There are enough platforming elements, combat challenges and puzzle-solving bits in the game to keep most busy whether they are fans of the novel or not. But try as this game may to copy Zelda, it lacks the intuitiveness and polish of the franchise, and this drawback is noticeable.
- Play as Bilbo Baggins in a third-person adventure based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit
- Explore Middle-earth: take Bilbo from the Shire up through the mountains and to the lair of the evil dragon Smaug
- Encounter familiar characters like Gandalf and Gollum
- Use weapons like a walking stick, throwing stones and the powerful sword Sting to engage in combat with enemies
- Use the ring to turn invisible and sneak by enemies
- Gain experience and buy special upgrades like potions and carrying bags
- Solve a selection of environmental puzzles as you battle your way through the land
- Excellent quality cut-scenes, crisp in-game dialogue and orchestrated music
Through slick full-motion video cut-scenes and well-implemented storyboarded sequences players are introduced to Bilbo and the dwarves. A great quest is to take place and the wizard Gandalf believes that the Hobbit can be of some use to the party. An interesting break, in the book Bilbo resists the adventure with all of his being, but in the game he actually looks forward to it. It's clear that the developer has taken certain liberties -- a truth that purists may find troubling, but in our experience it seems to work.
The game begins in the Shire, which encapsulates Bilbo's own home, as well as the houses and farms of his Hobbit neighbors, a stream and pond, and much more. The level here is large and features a handful of minor challenges and learning tasks. One could call it the hub world, but that's really not true for unlike Zelda there really is no overworld in The Hobbit. The Shire loads in, Bilbo completes the tasks at hand, and then he triggers a cut-scene which leads into the next level. There is no going back. As a result, The Hobbit lacks the wide-openness and go-anywhere-do-anything feel of other adventure games, which can be disappointing because it means that the vastness of Middle-earth doesn't feel as connected as it might.
That said, there is still a lot to do and see in the game and it the play mechanics are more than adequate for the job. Bilbo travels the lands, from the green, peaceful hilltops of the Shire to the leaf-littered grounds of disgusting trolls, raining mountain tops, spider-filled caves, seemingly abandoned fortresses, forests and treetops, and more. He'll live out scenarios from the book, including the meeting of Gandalf and the dwarves, the shadowy encounter with the hungry and insane Gollum and the battle with the dragon Smaug, among others, but he'll also stray from the story to track down chests, collect money and health, find keys and weapons, potions and attack upgrades, and more. The diversity in place, the wealth of beautiful locations to explore and the introduction and balancing of weapons and items is all commendable.
Moving Bilbo about the environments and into battles for the most part feels intuitive. The character can wield stick or sword, throw rocks, turn invisible and stealthily sneak by enemies. He can also run, walk or tip-toe, jump and climb onto platforms, hang from ledges, swing unto ropes, and use his stick as a pole-vault of sorts to clear bigger chasms. The mechanics feel better than some but still quirky in spots. Jumping atop platforms or grabbing onto ledges usually works fine, but can be problematic due to collision issues -- Bilbo may occasionally crash into a wall, jerk and jitter around, and then quickly slip down it -- and this frustration is amplified because the game features quite a lot of both. Players may also run into camera problems that prevent them from properly obtaining the appropriate angle to make a jump, an unfortunate platforming hang-up.
When Baggins is not jumping across raised platforms, he may be found solving a minor environmental puzzle or engaging in brief battles with enemies. The puzzles generally lack difficulty. They often revolve around fetching some items, be they gears or keys, in order to unlock a door or trigger a machine which will in turn make access to the next area possible. Prince of Persia, this is not. Nor is it Zelda. But there is some measure of entertainment to be had anyway, especially during the sequences that directly intertwine the storyline. For instance, in one objective Bilbo must successfully figure out a route and then sneak by two sleeping trolls and steal their pocketbook. The scene, which features colorful in-game cut-scenes, is intense and satisfying. Meanwhile, the battle system, which features a lock on camera and all, works generally without a hitch.
The Hobbit serves up a fair sized quest that increases in difficulty as gamers advance. There are points where players may find themselves temporarily stuck. But the difficulty is never daunting or overwhelming, which is a big consideration. The videogame elite will have no trouble completing the game. But younger Hobbit explorers will probably have a fine time with a little guidance from their older siblings.