The Golden Compass for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owes a lot to 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia. Like Narnia, it is a game based on a film based on a fantasy novel, and it even goes so far as to summarily lift hunks of gameplay directly from the older title. Yet for some reason, the designers picked all of the bad stuff while leaving behind the good. The result is a muddled mishmash of gameplay ideas that lacks focus and certainly lacks any sense of fun.
When playing, be sure to don a warm sweater.
If you aren't familiar with the accompanying film, or the Philip Pullman novel on which it's based, you will probably be rather confused by the game. As Lyra Belacqua, you seek to save your friend Roger from the grasp of evil folkloric kidnappers known as Gobblers. Lyra is accompanied by her daemon Pantalaimon (or Pan, for short), who is the physical embodiment of Lyra's soul, and she is occasionally joined by a hulking armored polar bear named Iorek. Lyra also possesses an instrument called an alethiometer--the golden compass of the title--which can answer any question that she asks it. You'll figure out what's going on in bits and pieces and with the help of short clips from the Golden Compass film. Yet you'll likely never care about Lyra or her companions, and important chunks of exposition are completely glossed over, leaving you wondering what's going on or why you should care.
Gameplay is a mess. There are a lot of ideas at work here, but none of them pan out all that well. First up: exploration. You spend a lot of time roaming about doing busywork, particularly in an insanely long and boring sequence on the Gyptian vessel. The highlight during this level is--get ready for it--mopping the deck. In other levels, these tasks may have you hiding under furniture or throwing snowballs, but none of them are interesting, and they are generally sliced up by cutscenes and other gameplay mechanics.
Platforming ushers in more mediocrity. Granted, there are some nice ideas here. Lyra can use Pan as a grappling hook and latch on to poles for simplified Prince of Persia-inspired swinging, and the duo can glide for short distances. There are also beams to keep your balance on as you cross, though these moments seem to take forever, since Lyra walks across them so slowly. The controls are super-loose, which is deadly on the dock level--one of the dumbest platforming sequences ever dreamed up. 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. Expect to reload this level countless times, while cursing the designer who created it.