The Golden Compass

by Wencke Schuncken
author awarded score: 60/100

The Golden Compass Review
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Format Reviewed: PS2
Reviewed By: Wencke Schuncken

As a frequent visitor and reader of the GGU reviews, you know that we’re always hoping on playable female protagonists in videogames. You may also know that we aren’t really impressed by videogames based on movies. But what happens when you mix both of them, a female protagonist in a movie based PS2 game? What’s our response then?

The golden compass is based on the first book in the award-winning trilogy “his dark materials” by Philip Pullman and filmed to inspire a broader audience. To include us gamers, videogames are released for multiple platforms prior to the opening of the motion picture. Featuring pivotal environments from the movie, the vivid characters are brought to interactive life, featuring the likeness of the movie’s cast which includes Nicole Kidman and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua. And there’s the female protagonist we were waiting on. The golden compass captures the exciting fantasy adventure set in a parallel world where giant armored bears rule a kingdom, beautiful witches fly through the frozen skies, and human beings’ deepest essence is manifest as talking animals that remain their faithful companion for life, their daemon.

Players can assume the role of Lyra, a young girl, along with her daemon Pantalaimon (pan), as she journeys through the frozen wastes of the North not only to rescue her best friend Roger who’s kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers but also to rescue her imprisoned uncle Lord Asriel. Therefore she must leave the safety of Jordan College to rescue both and winds up on an epic quest. Besides taking the role of Lyra, players can also take on the characters of Iorek, a great armored polar bear who joins the quest. Actually the game starts with controlling the powerful Iorek carrying Lyra on his back through the cold and dangerous fields of snow and ice caves. As Lyra, players will use their animal daemon and collaborate with in-game characters, collecting special items in order to explore, evade, and deceive their way through confrontations with the Gobblers, the Magisterium, and the horribly dangerous spy fly to find her friend. They can also do battle as Iorek with special attacks and a riding mechanic as he protects Lyra during their journey.

In thirteen vast locations such as the Jordan College and the frozen wastes you’ll do what ever it takes to reach your goals. With the help of the golden compass and of course Pan it’s going to be an exploration with varied types of gameplay. It starts with controlling Iorek who can destroy mountains of ice to clear the way to their destination, punch evil guys and make huge jumps to cross the ice gaps. Lyra is an excellent chaser, detective and acrobat because she sure needs to keep her balance while crossing Jordan College’s roof while escaping. The most important gameplay feature though is the help from Pan, who has the ability to morph into a variety of different creatures, such as a bird or a monkey with each their own special ability to solve puzzles and to keep on exploring. The controlling of the different gameplay actions are visible on screen. Whenever you need to jump, the green triangle controlling method is blinking, stating that action by pressing the button is necessary. When you need to keep Lyra balanced, a balanced meter becomes visible. And of course there’s the usage of the golden compass to solve the varied puzzles and to unlock bonus content, allowing you to explore the worlds as seen in the movie. The visibility of button usage is very handy and makes the handling very easy. The collection of extra special items can increase the ability of each character to improve their actions or to heal them for example when they were hurt by wolves.

The graphics aren’t really spectacular. By now we know that the PS2 can produce magical graphics but if the developers aren’t able to create them, what’s left to say? The game kicks of pretty well as if the movie actually starts but soon you’ll notice that the actual game has started, unfortunately. Contrary to my pessimistic view of graphics, I’m totally positive about the game’s audio. The orchestral background music is wonderful and a perfect fit to the game. The sound effects are precise such as the crispy sound while walking on ice or snow and the voice acting is another plus in this game but it’s a shame that it sometimes doesn’t play synchromesh with the graphics, i.o. you’ll see the characters mouth movements but sounds are being produced a couple of seconds later on.

From a female point of view I must say that it’s truly impressive to see a little girl riding on the back of a huge polar bear. An ice bear always has been one of my, and assumable more of us, favorite animals as they seem so cuddly like big fluffy cats until we watch Animal Channel and discover how brute and dangerous they can be. Anyway Iorek is Lyra’s powerful friend and protector and very handy to explore the ice wastes. Lyra is a rebellious and headstrong heroine and uses her cunning techniques to evade enemies. And it’s up to us female gamers to let her succeed in her quest to rescue her best friend Roger and her imprisoned uncle Lord Asriel. Even though Lyra gets help from her dear animals, we are glad to see another female leading character in a videogame!

The Golden Compass perfectly fits in the videgames based on movies and that’s not really a positive statement as we experienced over and over again. For the more younger and not that experienced gamers, or true fans of the movie, it may be a wonderful game but as an experienced and already a little bit spoiled gamer, it’s rather disappointing. The difficulty level is really low as all actions of what to do are visible on screen and you actually cannot die in the game. No “game over” as whenever an action doesn’t work out, for example you fall into the cold ice water although you should have jumped, you just start over again from the last checkpoint. And there are lots of checkpoints. The game automatically saves from time to time, so no need to think about that either. Regardless the difficulty level, it’s a varied gameplay platform type of game with Lyra to run, jump, balance on poles / roofs and Iorek to travel long distances and smashing up things and enemies. Maybe the developers where pushed to deliver a game with less time as needed to deliver a top game or maybe the budget wasn’t sufficient but this truly cannot be considered as a magnificent game. Maybe we should use the compass to find a more appropriate game to play.