The Golden Compass

Xbox 360 vs. PS3 Face-Off: Round Eight

After the unstoppable surge of cross-platform releases at the tail end of 2007, the frantic pace of game releases has thankfully died down as the New Year games lull kicks in. It's a good time pick up a few of the games we've overlooked as we gorged on the brilliance of the Q4 '07 line-up, or perhaps return to the titles we never quite had time to finish, eking out the final ounces of gaming excellence.

For me? A chance to take a look at a range of recent cross-platform titles that somehow failed to make their way into the Christmas period features, and combine them with an in-depth look at what is easily the best game released so far in 2008.

You all know the score by now: impartial criticism of each cross-format release is duly delivered, serving to supplement the original reviews with console-specific commentary. Gameplay matters take precedence, but technical matters are also discussed. Think of it as a running commentary on the state of multiformat games development, if you like. Or the opportunity for a big ruck in the comments section, I really don't mind.

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The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

Dark Material.

While no doubt some critics relish the chance to tear into a development team's latest creation with a firework display of cruel adjectives and poisonous put-downs, games journalists should always be reminded that behind every shoddy release there are many man years' worth of hard work, unpaid overtime and neglected families.

Nobody but nobody sets out wanting to make a bad game. When you've tried your best with the limited resources, assets and time available, carefully balancing your design ideas with a movie studio's agenda in a precarious compromise, rushing against all odds to get your game out on the same day as the movie, having some oblivious critic gleefully walk all over your efforts must sting. Imagine being asked to create a game that identically follows the events and aesthetics of a film that hasn't even been shot yet? It must be development purgatory. So, before we get started, know this SEGA and Shiny: we understand. We sympathise.

But we also remember that on the other side of this sorry equation sits Timmy, a twelve-year-old 360 owner hoping for Skate or PGR4 this Christmas. His mother, nervous about videogame stores and their sweaty clientele and chunky staff, instead walks into Woolworths, scans the shelves for a suitable present for her son and settles, naturally enough, on the warm familiarity of The Golden Compass. He liked the book and she's seen the film's advertisements on the side of the bus and, besides, it's got Nicole Kidman and James Bond in it, so it must be good, right? She doesn't know how these things work. She doesn't know the rules and little Timmy will have a rotten Christmas because of it.

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