Reviewed: January 19, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: November 11, 2003
While EA nabbed the rights to the film versions of Lord of the Rings, Vivendi Universal made the far more lucrative deal when they signed a long-term agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to publish games based on the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien. With several successful titles already behind them, VUG hands over the reigns to Sierra to explore the story that launched a legend.
The Hobbit is a third-person action/adventure prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy set in the world of Middle-earth. In this adventure, you play as Bilbo Baggins, an unassuming Hobbit who has been unwittingly thrust into an epic adventure. Explore the mystical world of Middle-earth where youíll need to jump gaping chasms, climb treacherous mountains, solve mind bending puzzles and battle hordes of enemies just to survive. Meet enchanting Elves, battle-ready Dwarves, a powerful Wizard, massive Trolls, bloodthirsty goblins, and more as you traverse from the peaceful lands of the Shire to the harrowing forests of Mirkwood.
The Hobbit features:
Thereís no denying that The Hobbit exhibits plenty of platform gaming elements but the vast landscapes and environments definitely put this game in the action-adventure category. Yes, you will be collecting plenty of items during your journeys, but you will also get to engage in a surprisingly deep combat system, plus the One Ring will grant you the power of invisibility lending a bit of a stealth element to the gameplay.
You can tell when the masters of adventure are at work and Sierra has fleshed out the gameplay with some stunning cutscenes that tell the story as it was presented in the original novel with a few ďlibertiesĒ. The first obvious tangent from the novel is Bilboís eager acceptance of the quest, something he was quite opposed to in the book. But this is a game and we canít be dwelling on Bilboís internal qualms without delaying the gameplay so I can understand the rewrite.
The game starts off in the Shire and those of you that played the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring will note some very nice consistencies with the overall layout of the Shire between the two titles. As Bilbo you get to explore the Shire that consists of several homes, the mill, and plenty of characters to interact with.
The Shire is your tutorial and you will be given several quests and have to collect plenty of items scattered about the area. A quest log lists your pending quests and you can have multiple tasks going on at the same time. One of the earlier quests, a game of hide and seek with several children, cannot be completed until you solve another quest that allows the bridge to be repaired so you can reach the far side of the river.
When all of your quests have been completed you will trigger the movie that leads into the next level and move on. Itís a linear progression that has you advancing through the story with little or no backtracking. This aspect definitely tips the scale toward the adventure style of gameplay, since platform games usually feature a central hub that allows you to return to previous levels.
Bilbo will get to travel to all sorts of exciting locations throughout Middle-earth and meet all of the rich and colorful characters from the book including Gandalf, Gollum, the Dwarves, and the climactic encounter with Smaug, the dragon. All of these elements remain surprisingly true to the book but there are several side-quests that deviate from the printed story in order to make the game more playable and longer.
These diversions still maintain the style and charm of the original story simply by taking place in authentic Middle-earth locations. Most of these quests include collecting lots of treasure, weapons, special items, potions, keys, health, money, and more. Itís action gaming, pure and simple.
The GameCube controller is perfectly suited to moving Bilbo around these wonderful locations and allowing him to run, climb, jump, swing on ropes, and use a variety of weapons including his staff, sword, and he can even toss the occasional rock at distant enemies. You have free control over the camera with the C-stick and there is a nice auto-lock system in place to assist with combat.
There are some interesting environmental puzzles, one of which includes riding the waterwheel to reach a loft area. Quests and puzzles are generally simple and including plenty of item retrieval and delivery to specific persons in the area. Itís nothing terribly advanced or difficult but it all works and works well within the genre and the target age group.
I love the direction the designers took with the visuals in The Hobbit. All of the characters are almost caricatures of their movie counterparts with a unique animated style that is not quite cel-shaded but certainly artistic in its rich watercolor look and feel. The levels all look like wonderful paintings and the characters blend into these backdrops with seamless perfection.
Character models are simple with smooth flowing lines, rich details, and colorful textures. Just looking at the Bilbo character you can see multiple levels of clothing, inventory items hanging off his belt, and a charming facial design that really expresses some emotion in the close-up views. Animation is really good for the most part with a few instances where things get jerky or appear slightly unnatural.
The camera works about 90% of the time and you can adjust it about 8% of the time when it doesnít leaving you getting screwed by the camera on a few occasions. There were times when the camera would hang on objects and I couldnít pivot to the right angle to save my Hobbit hide. Admittedly, these incidents were few and far between but they do exist and will take some clever positioning of your character before the camera starts to work for you again.
Framerate is fluid at 30fps for most of the game but it does dip noticeably in large areas or during intense combat. It never really detracted from the gameplay, and considering the massive scale of some levels, the draw distance out to the horizon, all of the special effects, 3D grass, reflective water, and ambient animation going on, I was impressed with the end results.
Even better than the graphics, the music and sound delivers an unforgettable performance. The soundtrack is a wonderful mix of folk tunes that you might hear in an Irish (or Hobbit) pub, thematic instrumentals, and cinematic scores that really drive the emotion and the action. The music definitely responds to whatís happening in the game whether itís a tense sequence during a stealth mission or some hero music when you succeed in a quest.
I was really surprised at how good this game sounded considering there is only standard surround support. I can only imagine how much better it would have been in Dolby Pro Logic II. Sounds are crystal clear and perfectly matched to the visuals totally enhancing the game experience. Every creature has a unique sound and even the environments come to life in wonderful and often spooky aural detail with multiple layers of sound.
The voice acting is also of the utmost quality with wonderful performances, nice but not overwhelming accents, and quality scripted dialogue. Everyone talks and everything is captioned. The movies and in-game dialogue all come together to create a wonderful multimedia experience.
Kids in the target age group will relish their time in this quest that should keep them busy for upwards of 12-15 hours. Experience gamers will finish the game in half that time, which makes the $50 price tag a bit hard to swallow. Itís a linear story with only one ending and no real reason to replay the game once itís finished. Unless you are buying this game for a family with multiple kids I can only recommend this as a rental, but a definite rental.
The Hobbit is a perfect example of a storybook coming to life right before your eyes. I was captivated from the opening movie to the climatic finish. The story does justice to the original book it was based on and any liberties that were taken are small and only for the sake of better gameplay.
There is a perfect mix of action, adventure, and platform gameplay that makes The Hobbit one of those rare hybrid games that will appeal to several types of gamers of all age groups. You might want to hold off on a purchase until the price drops, but anyone who loves the works of Tolkien or just looking for a family-friendly game will definitely want to play The Hobbit.