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The Hobbit Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Vivendi Games
developer: Inevitable Entertainment
genre: Action Adventure

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII 450, 64MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.5GB HD
ESRB rating: E
homepage:
thehobbit.sierra.com/

release date: Nov 10, 03
» All About The Hobbit on ActionTrip


Carrying luminary movie or book franchises is the primary selling point of numerous PC and console games; imagine titles like Enter the Matrix, Fellowship of the Ring, any in the Tom Clancy saga, etc. While some of them turned out to be pure crap, they still managed to generate some serious currency worldwide. Labeling multiplatform video games with the Lord of the Rings trademark has clearly become the number one past time for publishers and developers these days. The reason is obvious, the stuff sells! (Ed. - Or they don't have any better ideas!) Right now the gaming community is on pins and needles, waiting for EA to wrap things up on their upcoming real-time strategy The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth. In the interim, we set out on a great adventure with Bilbo Baggins the Burglar, Gandalf the Gray, and a company of dwarves led by the great Thorin Oakenshield, in Sierra's latest title, The Hobbit.

Evidently, players will be following the events from Tolkien's book, chapter by chapter. Except for a few minor twists in the plot here and there, nothing was put in to alter the main story. Your adventure begins when Gandalf the wizard arrives to Hobbiton to see his old friend Bilbo Baggins. Without Bilbo's knowledge Gandalf marked the front door of his lovely hobbit hole with a strange symbol, and the place soon became crowded with dwarves. These dwarves, who were all more or less indifferent to what the host might be thinking about their unexpected visit, believed that because of the mark on his door, the hoobit hole was actually home to a cunning burglar! The dwarves seemed quite eager to get their hands back on a treasure that was stolen from them by the evil dragon, Smaug. What treasure you ask, well gold, jewels and the assorted ilk, but mostly, their whole freakin' mountain home! Oddly enough, Gandalf suggested they take on the company of a short but very skillful little burglar. Without much ado, and to his own surprise, Bilbo agreed to the challenge. From that day forth, Bilbo's life changed forever. What he's about to experience will shape the fate of Middle-earth and all its inhabitants for ages to come. From what I could tell, the game holds true to Middle-earth and the legends that immerge from within its mysterious realms. The basics of gameplay and the in-game ambiance have been pitched to please younger audiences, portraying characters and settings pretty much in the same manner as the book itself. Everything from the brightly colored flowerbeds and hillocks of the Shire, to gloomy Misty Mountain caves and dangerous places deep in Mirkwood, fits Tolkien's descriptions perfectly. At various points throughout the game, you'll also get to interact with famous characters such as Gandalf, Thorin, Gloin, Gollum, the legendary Smaug, and others. Tolkien admirers might feel a bit disappointed not to get a crack at Gollum's riddle game. The dialogue between Gollum and Bilbo is narrated through a cute cinematic, but that's about it. Although this fits well into the game itself, it disheartened this true-hearted fan of the book.

For what it's worth, The Hobbit can easily be described as a 3rd person action/adventure with platformish elements the likes of such titles as Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc. The cheerful kid-style design is maintained throughout the entire game. We can assume that more mature gamers won't exactly appreciate this approach. But, it's only fair to worn you that The Hobbit doesn't involve epic conflicts flavored with gore and massive carnage (for such "delicacies" you best turn to LotR: Return of the King). At any rate, the simplistic style of play and the almost constant dynamic pacing make for a reasonably addictive platformer, so we expect it to attract the attention among youthful gamers. Still, there's no reason why older players shouldn't find it entertaining. Actually, The Hobbit features several positive aspects that make it a reasonably enjoyable action/adventure. To begin with, Bilbo packs a modest choice of weapons to help him slice his way through hordes of nasty baddies. Running across various treacherous places of Middle-earth our charming little character gets to swing a long walking stick, which apart from being an excellent weapon also comes as an effective booster for longer jumps. Next off, Bilbo is able to toss rocks (a weapon obviously much preferred by all hobbits). As we expected, at some point during his journey, Bilbo stumbles on a gleaming elven knife, which he later named Sting. Although big folk would use it as a knife, the weapon comes as a fitting sword for Halflings. Apart from being razor sharp, Sting's brightness also lights the way for Bilbo when he passes through dark underground levels (for example, when he finds himself deep under the Misty Mountains in Gollum's cave). Even though the weapons don't offer much in terms of variety, they all come in handy throughout the game. In combination with these weapons, our stout little hero is able to improve on his default combat skills by fighting and collecting power-ups along the way. After collecting these, Bilbo gets the opportunity to perform an array of deadly combos; such as a powerful hit that knocks back its target or a series of effective sword swings with an equally devastating damage effect.

The second half of the game involves several challenging moments that require the use of the One Ring (which Bilbo managed to obtain after a long scuffle with Gollum). When you put the ring on, the gameplay assumes the characteristics of a standard 3rd person sneaker, arriving just in time to salvage players from running, jumping, climbing, and sword-swinging. Perhaps I should also mention that these stealthy elements are present before Bilbo acquires the One Ring. For instance, when he has to mug three trolls in order to prove the dwarves he's a useful and worthy companion (yep, these are the same trolls we saw in the extended DVD version of PJ's Fellowship of the Ring).

Unfortunately, The Hobbit has an obvious drawback in terms of overall design and puzzle solving. Players might soon become bored with the exceedingly simple challenges and easy puzzles. When it comes to adventure elements, there's not much to hold on to except resolving rather straightforward puzzles - stuff like overcoming traps, pulling levers to open doors, unlocking chests, and so on. Due to such simple gameplay, The Hobbit soon turns into a slightly tedious experience. Well, I guess it's not all bad. The game does take players through diverse surroundings, all of which stay true to Tolkien's book. Credits should be given out to the level designing team for creating a satisfying range of environments for players to explore. Most of the areas you get to visit exhibit unique-looking objects and enemies. The AI routines in The Hobbit do not appear to demonstrate any exceptional behaviors. Make no mistake, all your enemies are worthy opponents, especially certain bosses. Still, at some point or another, it won't be too hard to discover their weaknesses, and once you've done that, their elimination will be quite simple. Also, the fighting styles of most adversaries seem rather one-dimensional, leaving you to deal with only few simple counter-attacks.

The Hobbit provides enough eye candy for an average platformer. All through the game, players can see a pleasing range of colorful backdrops, excellently animated characters, and a decent assortment of lighting effects. The animation actually shows off some impressive features, particularly in the scene with the three trolls. Regardless, one of the most disappointing aspects is that the game was optimized to work on all platforms. Due to such optimizations, The Hobbit suffers from extremely poor texture patterns and low polys on character models and background objects. The situation doesn't improve even on high resolution modes (1600*1200 and 1280*1024).

The game's sound design was a pleasant surprise. Character voiceovers are professional, there's choice of sweet tunes incorporated into each level, and the background sounds seem okay enough. All these elements created a reasonably pleasing audio experience, thanks to which players can easily forget about the slightly shabby approach the developers took with the graphics.

For those of you who are into platformers a-la Rayman, The Hobbit should be fun enough. Younger gamers are sure to be drawn into the story and the fluent gameplay, which rarely offers any particular brainstorming. Also, it's a fair assumption that Tolkien fans and average gamers might find something in it as well. Nonetheless, there's still a majority of players, who are used to experiencing more gore and violence. If this is your attitude, then it's safe to say that the game's child-like approach won't come as a remarkably rewarding endeavor.

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7.2   Good


HIGHS
Reasonably entertaining, colorful interpretation of the book, good sounds and music, relatively large levels crammed with enemies;

LOWS
At times too easy and overly-simplistic, can get tedious, sub par visuals, no multiplayer.

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