Game Reviews - Reviews

LEGO: The Hobbit (Warner Bros., Multiformat)


Another month, another LEGO videogame tie-in. For nearly ten years British development house Traveller’s Tales have been remoulding iconic comics and films in ickle plastic form, and, if internet rumours are to be believed, show no signs of slowing down. While the destination might vary from Gotham to Middle Earth, the premise is always the same: guide a variety of figures through a toy world, taking apart and putting together objects made out of the famous Danish bricks. It is an odd idea, for sure, but one which works – most of the time.

Which brings us to LEGO: The Hobbit, a family friendly title that has much going for it though is admittedly hamstrung in parts by the same old niggles which always seem to be inherent in LEGO releases. The hub world of Middle Earth is absolutely massive, with all of the familiar locations of Laketown, Bree, Hobbiton and so on present and correct. Each is populated with little plastic people who chatter away, offering hints and subquests and the like. At times, as strange as it is to say this, it very much has the sprawl and tone of something like Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks, Multiformat), with a huge playing area of lakes, mountains, rivers, caves and villages to explore. Branching off the hub are the core levels, each of which is inspired by key sequences from the first two episodes inThe Hobbit trilogy. Therefore, we get a face-off with spiders in a fecund forest, a chase through an underground goblin kingdom and, with a nod towards God Of War (Sony, Multi), a clamber up the torso of a stone giant. Sadly, we also get dwarves dancing in Bilbo’s kitchen and some rather dour faffing about in Rivendell with party-pooping elves. Just as in The Desolation of Smaug, Legolas comes across as a pious ninny, even in diminutive form.

And here is perhaps the real bugbear with LEGO: The Hobbit, in that it sticks too slavishly to its source material. Traveller’s Tales are known for their quirky sense of humour, which in the past has punctured the leaden moments in Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, yet on this occasion the mood is quite solemn. The LEGO takes on Batman and other DC heroes and villains, for example, offered original storylines which were free to zoom off on wild and fanciful tangents, but here the imposing figure of Tolkien looms large. Further, whereas other LEGO games have used grunts and quizzical hmmms to express a character’s feelings, in The Hobbitwhole chunks of dialogue are lifted from the film. It does mean that we have the distinctive voices of Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen but it does feel as some of the charm has been lost. Further, parts of The Hobbit films are unfortunately dull so a new spin on them would have been welcome. Traveller’s Tales, and this is hardly a criticism, are too reverent of the original text but in being so they lose sight of what normally makes their designs so cheerful. Fans, however, are bound to be in elven heaven.

We could talk about the wonky camera which often obscures play, or the slightly skewed perspective which at times forces you to take leaps into the unknown – and which more often than not result in “death” and a loss of valuable coins. These complaints are levelled at every LEGO release yet Traveller’s Tales have to date refused to amend them. There is also the rather galling fact that this compendium does not cover events of the third film, which has in turn led to much media speculation that further levels will be offered as DLC – paid or otherwise.

However, one does not want this review to turn into the gaming equivalent of a character assassination. LEGO: The Hobbit is lovingly detailed, with oodles of things to do and see. As usual, individual levels have to be replayed multiple times in order to unlock all of the secrets within, meaning that hours could be plunged into exploring every nook and cranny in the kingdom. Finally, and this is no small point, it is encouraging to see that developers are willing to take chances on games for young players which don’t involve petting kittens or take the approach of a lazy cash-in. LEGO: The Hobbit looks gorgeous and has perfectly grasped the character of the movies. It’s just that sometimes that character is not particularly fun to grasp. Ross Thompson