The Golden Compass (video game)
|The Golden Compass|
PlayStation 2 cover
|Distributor(s)||New Line Cinema|
|Director(s)||Michael Sax Persson
|Release date(s)||All platforms:
The Golden Compass is a 2007 action-adventure game developed for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii, Xbox 360 and PC by Shiny Entertainment, and for the Nintendo DS by A2M. The game was published on all platforms by Sega.
Released in Europe in November 2007, and in North America and Australia in December, the game is based on both the film of the same name, and the novel upon which the film is based, Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The game was released prior to the film and features a slightly different sequence of events towards the end of the story, as well as additional footage at the end of the game not seen in the film. This was due to a last minute re-edit of the last half hour of the film by New Line Cinema that couldn't be incorporated into the game, which was based on the shooting script. The Golden Compass was the last game developed by Shiny before Foundation 9 Entertainment merged them with The Collective.
The game received negative reviews across every platform, although it sold well.
The game is played from a third-person perspective with players controlling either Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon Pan, or the Panserbjørne Iorek Byrnison. Lyra's levels primarily involve platforming, stealth and puzzle solving, whilst Iorek's are mainly melee combat based.
A major aspect of the gameplay of Lyra's levels involves the shape-shifting ability of Pan, who has access to four forms; Ermine, Sloth, Hawk and Wildcat, each with its own unique ability. The Ermine's ability is "Insight", which allows Lyra to discover information about her surroundings, find hotspots, and unveil secrets. The Sloth's ability is "Whip", which allows Lyra to swing from poles and reach areas she cannot simply jump to. The Hawk's ability is "Glide", which allows Lyra to glide a short distance, covering gaps she wouldn't be able to any other way. The Wildcat's ability is "Climb", which allows Lyra to climb certain surfaces to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Players often have to shift form mid-move. For example, to reach a certain platform, Lyra may need to use the "Whip" ability to swing on a pole, and after releasing herself from the pole may need to immediately use the "Glide" ability to reach the platform.
Also important in Lyra's levels are Evasion and Deception minigames. Evasion games occur whenever Lyra is spotted by an enemy, and involves pressing buttons to correspond with icons on screen to allow Lyra escape from her pursuer. Deception games are more common. These games take place whenever Lyra is involved in a conversation with someone and is attempting to deceive them. The better the player performs in the minigame, the more successful Lyra is in her deception. The minigames include, but are not limited to, matching symbols, collecting falling icons, avoiding falling icons, a Whac-A-Mole type game and a snooker type game.
Another major aspect of the gameplay is the Alethiometer. Once the player has access to the Alethiometer, it can be asked certain set questions. The device has thirty-six symbols on its outer edge, each with three meanings. These meanings are discovered over the course of game; some are learned automatically, some must be sought out by the player. For each question, Lyra is given three words, and each word is assigned a hand on the Alethiometer. If Lyra knows the corresponding symbol of a given word, the handle automatically turns to the correct symbol. Words she doesn't know must be guessed by the player. When the three hands are all pointing at symbols, the player confirms the selection and Lyra asks the question. A balancing minigame then begins, where the player must press buttons corresponding to the on-screen display. The more symbols which were correctly identified in the first part of the game, the easier the balancing game is.
The game begins with Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), the Panserbjørne Iorek Byrnison (Nonso Anozie in UK version/Fred Tatasciore in US version) and Lyra's dæmon Pan (Freddie Highmore)in an icy landscape being pursued by wolves. Iorek defeats the wolves and they head to a nearby Samoyed Camp where they rescue a boy.
The game then cuts to two months previously, with Lyra and Pan in her room in Jordan College discussing the immanent return of her uncle, Lord Asriel (Chris Edgerly). She meets her friend and fellow student Roger Parslow (Cameron Covell), and decides to get into the Master's Retiring Room so she can watch Asriel's presentation. She hides in a wardrobe and sees Asriel present a picture from his travels in Svalbard showing "Dust" falling from the sky. Asriel subsequently finds her and tells her that he is leaving on a difficult journey.
Meanwhile, Lyra meets Marisa Coulter (Erin Matthews) and, before leaving Jordan, is given an Alethiometer by the Master (Michael Ensign) who tells her Coulter must not know about it. Whilst exploring Coulter's apartment, Lyra finds a document with the names of numerous children, including Roger's, and the letterhead of the "General Oblation Board," and she realizes that Coulter is the leader of the Board; an organization that abducts children, supposedly to prevent them turning into "bad" adults. Lyra and Pan flee.
Coulter sends men to get them back, but they are saved by Gyptians, and begin living on their ship, the Noorderlicht. Lyra learns how to use the Alethiometer better than any adult, and is visited by Serafina Pekkala (voiced by Hellena Taylor), who tells her where the General Oblation Board has taken the children. The next day, the Noorderlicht docks at Trollesund, where they are joined by Iorek and Lee Scoresby (James Horan), an aeronaut.
The party hike north towards Bolvangar, where the children are held. While consulting the Alethiometer, Lyra gets a message about a cabin on a lake. She sneaks out of the camp with Iorek, and inside the cabin they find a psychologically damaged child who has been severed from his dæmon (an process called "Intercision" practiced by the Magisterium). Lyra learns from the Alethiometer that another child is nearby in a Samoyed camp, and she and Iorek head to save him. The opening scenes of the game are shown again. Lyra, Iorek and the two children head back to the Gyptian camp where the two boys are reunited with their families. However, the Samoyeds attack, and Lyra is captured.
She is taken to Bolvangar, where she is reunited with Roger. She is then brought to see Coulter, to whom she lies, saying she was forcibly taken from the apartment, and pretends she was unable to understand the Alethiometer. She then flees from Coulter, sets off a fire alarm and destroys the Intercision machine. With the facility in chaos, the children escape outside. Meanwhile, Iorek and an army of witches led by Serafina destroy the facility.
Lyra, Scoresby and Serafina then travel on to Svalbard to try to find Asriel. However, in a snowsquall, Lyra falls overboard and is captured by two panserbjørne. In a Svalbard prison, Lyra learns that Asriel is a prisoner of King Ragnar Sturlusson (JB Blanc), although he is allowed to carry on his experiments at the special request of Coulter. Lyra learns from the Alethiometer that Iorek is on his way to rescue her. She tricks her way in to see Ragnar and claims she is Iorek's dæmon, created in an experiment at Bolvangar. As bears can't have dæmons, Ragnar is furious the Iorek should have something he cannot possess, and so she tells him that for her to become his dæmon, he must kill Iorek in single combat. As such, Ragnar orders the guards to allow Iorek to approach. Iorek and Ragnar fight, and Iorek kills Ragnar.
Lyra and Roger then head to see Asriel. At first, he is furious that Lyra has come, exclaiming "I didn't send for you. Anyone but you," but upon seeing Roger, he calms. Lyra gives him the Alethiometer, and she and Roger go to bed. The next morning, Lyra awakens to find Asriel and Roger have disappeared. Using the Alethiometer, Lyra learns that Asriel plans to perform an Intercision on Roger so as to generate enough energy to open a portal to a parallel universe. She and Iorek set out after them. They reach Asriel's location in the far north, and Iorek allows Lyra to head to face him alone.
The Golden Compass was officially unveiled on February 27, 2007 when Sega announced that the game was being developed by Shiny Entertainment for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, Wii and PC, and by A2M for Nintendo DS. Sega revealed that there would be thirteen levels in the game, including several locations not seen in the film, and that players would be able to control Lyra, Pan and Iorek. The game would also feature likenesses of the films' stars, but as of yet, voice acting roles had not been assigned.
Footage of the game was first shown on May 10, when it was revealed that Shiny personnel had been on the film set every day of principal photography, shooting footage of sets, costumes, props and watching the filming of action scenes. Sega revealed that two levels in the game would be set in locations visited in the book, but not the film, and that the game world would be more expansive than the film world, with locations seen only briefly in the film opened out in the game, such as Coulter's apartment. During development, Shiny had been working very closely with the filmmakers, and had received digital scans of costumes, cyberscans of the principal cast's faces, set designs and plans, and concept drawings, to facilitate the graphical cutscenes recreation of the film world as closely as possible. The developers had also shot footage of numerous animals in Wildlife WayStation, which would be used to create the many dæmons in the game, as well as footage of polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. To ensure the animals in the game moved as realistically as possible, the real footage was animated over by the art department.
The game was next shown at E3 2007 in July when a non-playable demo of the opening level was shown. The next footage was shown at the Games Convention in August when a finished version of the opening level was shown. The designers revealed that the game opened roughly half-way through the story so that players would have an action packed level to begin in which they could control both Lyra/Pan and Iorek, rather than beginning the game in Jordan College with only Lyra available for control. They also explained that the Alethiometer will function in the game primarily as a means for expanding the story and unlocking bonus content rather than being something completely necessary for completion.
In an interview with IGN on November 22, lead game designer Dax Berg explained the inspiration behind the Deception minigames; "early on we felt that Deception was a key theme throughout the universe so its impact in the game was critical. Lyra uses her skills in subterfuge to gain access to key locations, learns valuable information and even uses rhetoric to further her owns goals in side quests and non-critical path scenarios. I'm sure the correlation between the name "Lyra" and the word "liar" was intentional and the game owes it to its fans to represent this. We have devised an entire deception mechanic within the game which is played out in a series of flowing conversation rounds where Lyra attempts to win over her opponent by means of persuasion. However, we use this same mechanic in a multitude of NPC approaches where Lyra can both outwit her enemies and "embellish" explanations to her allies. Our focus test showed that people really enjoyed this even as a stand-alone." Speaking of the Alethiometer, he stated "Once the Alethiometer is acquired we wanted the player to grasp [the] feeling that they now have this power at Lyra's disposal. The quest for questions and symbol meanings to create answers about the people, places and secrets of the world and the ability to use those answers to further Lyra's goals is a considerable challenging design task. The attempt to do this task and still be true to the universe is even more challenging but extremely necessary in providing the content that a game set in a world such as this deserves." He also revealed that the two areas in the game not seen in the film (the Witches Consul and the prison in Svalbard) had received very positive feedback from the film's director Chris Weitz when he had seen footage of them.
The game's orchestral music was composed by Jamie Christopherson. He stated on his website that "I wrote and recorded the score to this game within about a month's time, before the score for the movie was even complete, so the music is completely original. Given the grand scope of the game, the music was recorded with a full orchestra at Warner Brothers Studios in LA. We finished the music just 2 days before my wife gave birth to our daughter, and I think that "Lyra's Theme" was in some ways inspired by that fact." The score received a nomination at the G.A.N.G (Game Audio Network Guild) for "Music of the Year".
The game received negative reviews on every platform. On GameRankings, the DS version holds an aggregate score of 46.71%, based on seven reviews; the PC version 22%, based on five reviews; the PlayStation 2 version 46.11%, based on nine reviews; the PlayStation 3 version 40.85%, based on seventeen reviews; the PlayStation Portable version 29.25%, based on four reviews; the Xbox 360 version 42.02%, based on twenty-one reviews; and the Wii version 35.25%, based on fourteen reviews. On Metacritic, the DS version holds an aggregate score of 43 out of 100, based on seven reviews; the PC version 26 out of 100, based on six reviews; the PlayStation 2 version 46 out of 100, based on ten reviews; the PlayStation 3 version 40 out of 100, based on seventeen reviews; the PlayStation Portable version 28 out of 100, based on four reviews; the Xbox 360 version 41 out of 100, based on twenty-five reviews; and the Wii version 35 out of 100, based on twelve reviews.
GameSpot's Kevin VanOrd rated the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 versions 4.5 out of 10, the Wii version 4 out of 10, and the PSP version 2 out of 10. He called the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions "a muddled mishmash of gameplay ideas that lacks focus and certainly lacks any sense of fun." He criticized the Wii version for failing to utilize the Wii Remote; "Shiny wasted a good number of opportunities to use the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities. A few tasks, such as rock throwing and other quick sequences that require aiming, put the remote to brief use. Yet for the most part, minigames are performed using buttons and the analog stick, leaving the platform's unique potential woefully unused." Of the PlayStation Portable version, he stated "it suffers from incomprehensibly awful glitches that essentially break the game [...] there are four- or five-second loading times in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by the furious whir of the disc. This can happen midjump or midattack, and rather than just freeze the onscreen view, the game cuts away to a black screen with a loading symbol. This occurs every minute or two during action sequences." Of the game in general, he was highly critical of the plot, arguing that if players were unfamiliar with either the original novel or the film on which the game is based, they would not be able to follow what is happening. He also criticized the controls and camera, especially during the platforming levels; "Not only do the slippery controls make Lyra a pain to maneuver, but you can't manually control the camera, which makes it impossible to judge distance. Even worse, the camera has a tendency to move on its own in the middle of jumps and balancing acts."
IGN's Martin Robinson rated the PlayStation 2 version 4.5 out of 10. He was heavily critical of the deception and evasion mini-games, and although he thought the Alethiometer gameplay was interesting, he felt its almost wholly optional nature in the game undermined it. He was most critical, however, of the plot; "The story is a mess standing on its own [...] The game makes little attempt to portray Pullman's world, instead opting to magpie scenes from the film and career through the story with little concession for the player. Characters disappear without explanation and large parts of the story are side-stepped, leaving the less informed player scratching their head as to what exactly is going on." Ryan Clements rated the PC version 3.5 out of 10 arguing "the game is all over the place and pretty much does nothing well." As with Robinson, he was highly critical of the plot, which he argued was incomprehensible unless the player was familiar with the novel or the film. He concluded that "Besides lousy gameplay, The Golden Compass has little else worth mentioning. The graphics, regardless of which system you play on, don't push the hardware at all. The sound is almost never properly synchronized with what's happening on the screen, and the overall presentation is embarrassingly cheap."
Eurogamer's Simon Parkin scored the Xbox 360 version 3 out of 10. He was critical of the graphics; "Character models lack texture detail, animations stutter and fail to flow into one another seamlessly, collision detection is fuzzy and the environments are relentlessly bare and uninteresting." He concluded that "The Golden Compass feels like an unfinished title. Chapters are disjointed and the attempts at narrative segues between scenes and tasks are a mess. Added to this is a litany of niggles and flaws that reveal how rushed the game actually was: levitating puddles, character's lips that fail to move when they are talking, lines of dialogue that clip, unnecessarily fussy button inputs, the five seconds it takes to call up your journal to check what you're meant to be doing next [...] The ideas aren't all bad and on paper this must have sounded like a rich and promising game. However, the game far overreaches itself and the coding, visuals and execution of those ideas is comprehensively unpolished."
Game Revolution's Geoff Hunt gave the PC version an F, arguing that the mixing of gameplay styles did not work; "The essential problem with The Golden Compass is that there are tons of little gameplay mechanisms involved and none feel like they were ever completed." He was critical of the controls, the camera and the graphics; "Laughably bad animations coupled with low visual fidelity across the board makes for a worthless visual experience. Worse, the game has some distinct visual errors, such as geometry edges and the occasional chunk of flashing polygon."
GameSpy's Elisa Di Fiore rated the Wii version 1.5 out of 5, calling it "one of the worst licensed games of the last few years." She too was critical of the narrative, arguing that unless one was familiar with the source material, it was impossible to follow. She was also critical of the controls and the camera. Nintendo Power rated the Wii version 4 out of 10, noting the repetitive environments, simplistic minigames, low-resolution visuals and hard-to-grasp story.
GamePro was one of the few reviews to praise the game, scoring the PlayStation 2 version 3.75 out of 5, and arguing that despite low-res graphics, sound effects, and clunky controls, it captured the magic of the source material very well.
The Golden Compass ranked number 10 in the UK's all formats games sales chart of 2007.
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