For the first six hours of play we couldn't work out exactly what game The Golden Compass was trying to be. After grinding through a mishmash of genres and oddities that included a platforming adventure, a button-mash action romp, Flash games and a few puzzle quests, we wondered if the developer knew either.
Theoretically Shiny should be commended for creating such a varied adventure. Theoretically. In actuality, the game struggles to pull off anything other than a car wreck pile-up in the 'World's Worst..." tradition. There's no balance here as new game modes appear with all the grace of a moist salmon slapped across the face, only to disappear again (the time between controlling the Polar Bear Iorek ranging to around six hours of gameplay time). The title earned more laughter from us than a typical Mighty Boosh episode. But for the wrong reasons - needless to say if you spend forty quid on this game, you'd be hard pressed to see the funny side.
See, rule number one for movie tie-in games; make them understandable for someone who has never watched the film/read the original source novel/been assaulted by a massive ad campaign. Unlike Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings which both have entered popular culture, The Golden Compass is still an unknown commodity. Therefore you do not skip vast chunks of story for info-lite summaries between levels. We simply don't know the world or its rule leading us to ask the pertinent questions - "who are these Gestapo-like villains?" and "where did that orange monkey come from, and why is he attacking my cat?"
What we can tell you is this. Young Lyra is given a mystical compass which tells the future, goes in search of two of her friends, meets (and subsequently bonds with) a warrior Polar Bear on her journey to the artic. The story of her journey splits the game into its aforementioned parts, none of which satisfy. There is no natural progression here; no logic to were either the game or you should be going.
Iorek's levels are uninspiring button-bashing frenzies, while Lyra's exploration sections are vast empty wastelands masquerading as bustling towns and camps. These segments also have a few platforming elements crowbarred into them, making use of Lyra's sidekick shape-shifting familiar. They're not very good.
Talking to folk is a bit more interesting. Rather than a multiple choice question and answer text, Lyra has to use deception to glean information and gain access to new areas. Deceptions take the form of quick-fire Flash games such as collecting orbs, matching identical symbols...mess them up and you stumble with your lie. A nice idea, but the success/failure difference is not harsh enough to immerse you in the gameplay.
Funnier (again for all the wrong reasons) are the avoidance games when Lyra comes across a foe. Combating enemies takes the form of a one-on-one face off quick time event. All you need to do is press the corresponding button to dodge their charge. Thing is it doesn't matter whether it's a burly sailor or a tiny robotic dragonfly. Sliding into the barrels behind you (doesn't matter where you are in the world, there's always barrels apparently) there's a second's pause... then the barrels explode. For no reason.
Some games attract a huge crowd in the office because they're the 'next big thing'. Some cause argument, some cries of astonishment. None have managed to entertain an audience of seasoned journalists quite like Golden Compass has. Its shear randomness and awfulness is a remarkable sight. Take it from us that its not a spectacle you need to witness first hand, nor have staining your Gamertag forever more. Here we have to make the now sadly-familiar suggestion of how to spend your forty quid; buy the novel, go to the cinema and see the film then grab yourself some chow. Make sure anything, anything else at all, appears in your Christmas stocking.
The tarnished gold of the movie tie-in.
- A variety of game styles...
- ...pity they're crap.
- Convoluted story for newcomers.
- Multi-format ugliness.
- Novel/film a million times better.