The Golden Compass Xbox 360
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Shiny Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Those of us who can be bothered to read books will know that movies that are based on books rarely come close to being anywhere as entertaining. Of course these days we have games that are based on movies that are based on books. For some unknown reason, very few games that are based on movies actually manage to be worthwhile. I had hoped things would be different with The Golden Compass and to begin with the game certainly doesn't appear to be too bad, but it all goes pear-shaped and I, for one, am bitterly disappointed about it.
I have to be honest and admit that I don't have the time to see many movies. Usually when a game based on a movie arrives for review I play the game with practically zero knowledge of the storyline. Such was the case with The Golden Compass. Having no knowledge of the storyline in some ways is an unexpected bonus as it allows you to see whether the game actually manages to tell a good story. Unfortunately The Golden Compass doesn't tell a good storyline. Perhaps the assumption was that fans of the movie (or Northern Lights book on which the movie is based) and no one else would be playing the game? Whatever the assumption was, it was a wrong one. The game flits from one chapter to another and doesn't make much effort to flesh out the storyline. In the end I went and watched the movie in an attempt to get a firm grip of the storyline and make sense of what was happening in the game.
In The Golden Compass you'll play as Lyra, the central character in the game, Pan, Lyra's Daemon and Iorek, the huge and powerful polar bear that is clad in armour. The main gist of the story is that Lyra has to rescue her friend Roger and other children from kidnappers known as the Gobblers. Of course there's much more to it than that but the game rarely explains exactly what is going on. When controlling Iorek you'll have to engage in combat (against wolves and witches etc.) as well as perform jumps and such like. The jumps are never problematic and are simply a case of you pressing the Y button at the right time. The combat with Iorek is also straightforward. He has a few combo moves and a rage meter that, when filled allows him to perform a powerful attack that hurts all enemies within a certain radius.
The game is at its most disappointing when playing as Lyra. When controlling Lyra you'll get to explore, engage in dialogue and perform a variety of platform game elements. She will have had the odd, unsastisfactory combat moment when buttons need to be pressed at the appropriate time. The platform game elements are a little fiddly primarily because the controls aren't responsive enough. The exploration side of the game is limited because of the level design, which for the most part doesn't allow you to deviate too much from the route you must follow. There are certain instances in the game when Lyra must engage in a conversation and in the conversation she must attempt to deceive the character she is conversing with. The way it works is that the character she is talking to will speak and Lyra's response is entirely down to how you fair in a mini-game. If you're successful at the mini-game then Lyra will give a favourable response and the conversation will continue. Complete several of these mini-games in succession and Lyra will successfully deceive the person she is talking to and the game will progress. If you make a mess of the mini-games (which is something that's quite easy to do as some of the mini-games are really frustrating) you'll have to do the whole thing all over again. Before the conversation begins you can choose to use any items you've uncovered which can help deceive someone and these will bias the mini-games in your favour. Even so the whole dialogue/mini-game process is one heck of a frustrating mess and a needless way to bog the game down.
Lyra can also make use of her daemon, Pan. Pan can take four forms. Each of these forms gives Lyra special abilities. Ermine allows Lyra to find items that can be used and places to hide amongst other things. Sloth allows Lyra to jump and swing from a variety of objects to help her make jumps that otherwise wouldn't be possible. Hawk allows Lyra to jump and then glide across gaps that would otherwise be too far to jump. Finally Wildcat allows Lyra to dash and evade enemies. Hawk also enables her to slide down certain surfaces. We should also mention that Ermine allows Lyra to discover what the symbols mean on her Alethiometer (which is otherwise known as a Golden Compass). Using the Alethiometer is another aspect of the game which involves solving a kind of mini-game that involves matching the symbols on the Alethiometer with their meaning. Using the Alethiometer is probably one of the more satisfactory parts of the game.
The game is presented in a fairly haphazard fashion. Graphically the game is very disappointing. With this being the Xbox 360 version you would expected the game to look fairly good. In fact, the game looks like an upscaled, average quality PlayStation 2 game. For an Xbox 360 game the game looks very poor. Even the character animations look crude. Movie clips appear to have been inserted with little care. The jumps from game to movie clip are often crude and at times bewildering, especially if you haven't seen the movie. The game doesn't give you control of the camera. Occasionally the camera can be problematic and it makes some jumps far more awkward than they should be.
The Golden Compass is subtitled. The subtitles don't have any character names or portraits alongside them but it's rarely difficult to figure out who is saying what even though there are times when the speaker is facing away from you (when Lyra is engaged in a conversation that requires you to play one of those awful mini-games for instance). Your objectives are shown in text and you're notified in text when they have been completed. You're notified in text when a journal entry has been made and when a checkpoint has been reached. You're also notified when you've acquired an Alethiometer symbol meaning. All insight descriptions are shown in text. There are several instances in the game where you have a time limit and a timer is displayed to show you how much time remains. In short, The Golden Compass won't cause deaf gamers any real problems.
You can't imagine anyone being anything other than disappointed with how The Golden Compass has turned out. If the combat with Iorek is passable, the rest of the game is poor and some aspects are quite horrid. The conversations will simply drive you up the wall. Having to play mini-games as a way of navigating through a conversation is just a crazy idea that doesn't work. Why not give you a dialogue choice? Sure it's an old-fashioned idea but it works and far better than having to succeed at a number of irritating mini-games before the game can progress. Quite a few of the game's other aspects are just as inadequate. The storyline doesn't have any cohesion to it and anyone who hasn't watched the movie or read the book will struggle to understand what's going on at times. The Golden Compass could, and should, have been so much better than this.