In the months leading up to the release date, I became very anxious for this game. I always liked the story of the Hobbit, ever since the first time I listened to the audio book. I could never stand to actually read any of Tolkein's writing myself, but if it was read to me, it wasn't that bad. And the Lord of the Rings movies are amazing. Maybe I'm not a true fan, but my love for these stories and games is. Naturally, it is my opinion that the more games out there that revolve around these stories, the better. When this one came out, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but having checked out screenshots online, I couldn't help but notice the resemblance to Nintendo's Zelda games. I ran to EB as fast as I could to preorder this game, and that got me a copy of the novel (which I will never read, but hey, free book) and even more anxiety. The day the game was released, I could not wait to get home and throw it into my Xbox and play it. I did so, and a couple months later, here I am, game completed, new XBA staffer, writing this review.
In this game, you play the starring role: Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the Shire. You are suckered into going on a journey with some dwarves, in order to defeat a dragon, Smaug, and get the stolen treasure back. Although the dwarves don't really do anything for themselves in this game, and you are stuck doing tasks for them, freeing them, basically babysitting them, it is still quite fun. You start off in the amazingly green Shire, and you prepare for your journey. From there, you visit mountainsides, caves, forests, and battlefields. An array of quests, puzzles, and enemies stand between you and the final level, and you make your way though, collecting courage points and silver pennies, which increase your health levels and allow you to afford new items and upgrades respectively.
My only major gripe with the gameplay is the controls. They could have been much tighter, and that would have made the game even more fun to play. The most annoying part about it was the fact that when you jumped, you couldnt rotate while in mid-air, so if you didnt pay attention, you could be jumping and attacking in one direction, while the enemy is stabbing you in the back, like enemies tend to do. There is a targeting system in place, but it is easy to forget about and hard to use effectively. Also, who's bright idea was it to make pressing down on the directional pad consume a potion? I can't count how many potions I lost throughout my quest while attempting to quick-switch my weapons. This isnt a major issue if you take your time and concentrate on what you are doing, but nonetheless, the controls could have been vastly improved.
One issue I had with the interface was the game save features. You have only four slots to work with... All in all, it's not that much or a problem, except that I had to use all of the slots each time I saved my game to be on the safe side I had to redo an entire level because I was bitten by the corrupt game save bug.
Although it is great once through, the game offers very limited re-playability, since nothing is randomly generated at all, and there are no difficulty modes, no unlockable extras, or anything of that sort. However, the first level of game is probably the best, and the second last, where you help rebuild the dwarven kingdom. These levels were the most fun, and I would perhaps replay the game in the distant future, if only for these two levels.
I liked the fact that the game wasn't overly complex with many different weapons and things like that, so that you were free to concentrate on playing and enjoying the game, the story, the puzzles, and the quests.
In my opinion, there really could have been fewer enemies (especially the spiders) and more puzzles, but overall, its still fairly well balanced. You have the levels where you need to sneak around wearing the ring, then the levels where you need to rescue prisoners, sneak up on a dragon, find an exit and missing treasure the game has it all except multiplayer capabilities of any sort. And understandably so, as there can only be one Bilbo Baggins.
If I had to choose one color to associate with this game, I think I'd say green. It seems that everywhere you go, and everything you see is green, or something close to it... Especially when you're carrying your sword, Sting, in the open, as it glows blue throughout the entire game, causing all colors around you to be distorted with a bluish tint. This effect looks cool for the first five minutes, but after that, you'll find yourself switching to the good old walking stick, just to balance out the color levels. Some of the environments in this game are quite large, and they do look nice, albeit cartoony. There is no support for any resolutions aside from the standard, so you people with 52-inch screens might find the textures a little blurry.
The inanimate cutscenes were somewhat boring, especially when followed by lengthy load times. They seemed to actually detract more from the story than add to it. The animated scenes, however, were nice, but short. More of the latter, and less of the former would have helped to balance it all out nicely.
In-game, you'll find dragonflies and other bugs flying around in the air occasionally, footprints in the sand on the beach when you walk, and miscellaneous other subtle details that are great touches, and show that someone put a lot of time and thought into this.
Overall, the game is nice on the eyes, but if the engine had cell shading in it, it would look even better.
The game doesn't support Dolby Surround or Dolby 5.1, but it does sound great nonetheless. The sounds don't seem to be overused, or have enough variation and just enough reverb applied to them at the right places in the game. If you're in a cave, you'll have more echo than if you're in a forest. There are sounds for everything here, enemies talking, creatures walking, wood splintering, vines snapping you name it, it's there.
The voice acting is great, with a good, steady flow, and just the right amount of emphasis on words. You can hardly tell they are acting.
The music in this game is very fitting. The happy levels have happy music, the dangerous levels sound dangerous, and so forth. The music in the level with Smaug is simply amazing on an emotional level... It just has this indescribable feel to it that you need to experience to understand. You can actually download the Hobbit soundtrack from Sierra's FTP server, if you want to check it all out.
The ambient sounds create a good mood as well. They mix with the music and sound effects and give that extra quality, for overall above-average sound. This is definitely not one of those games that makes you want to kick your speakers in or hit the mute button on your remote control.
Suggestions: Please make at least one more game with this engine, even if it's nothing to do with Tokein's books. We don't have the luxury of Zelda games, so this void can be filled with more like The Hobbit. Also, be sure to test your games more stressfully corrupt saved games is not cool.