Harry Potter is back and this time, he has gone all next generation on us! Yes the little lad we once knew with his cute little spectacles and squeaky voice is now all grown up into a man with. a squeaky voice. No of course I am kidding, but seriously it has been a long trek just to get to this game and now we are treated to the first Xbox 360 Harry Potter game, expectations on one hand are high and on the other because it’s a movie licence very low.
So what next gen delights are first apparent in this overly long titled Harry Potter game? Well first of all you can explore an almost complete and identical Hogwarts and surrounding area. This means you are left to explore the vast amount of rooms, corridors and stairs that litter this amazing spectacle.
Of course this endless wandering could get very frustrating as you can soon earn an achievement for walking 9 ¾ miles showing you how vast the game area really is, however you do have a map that will lead you via some handy footprints on the floor to follow until you reach your next task or location.
One of the major improvements has to be the spell casting. Previously you were expected to assign them to a button on the controller, but now using the right analogue stick and remembering a certain motion; you can create all your magic with a wiggle and a twist. Now you just have to remember them all! Don’t panic though as there is a list of spells available to view at any time.
There is actually a very good side to this game and on the other a quite frankly average romp. Firstly let me start with the bad.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is made up of mini quests that will take you all over Hogwarts. Unfortunately the lack of variety really is apparent and almost spoils the game completely. After all this is the main section of the game and these so called mini quests should be entertaining enough to make you want to travel this huge expanse that is the Harry Potter world recreation, but no it is certainly missing that vital something. There are also little teacher quests that sent you on yet more insane searches, however these don’t really add anything to the main story and are just an addition.
Now the surprisingly good side has to be the ‘Discovery Points’. For more hours than I am willing to admit, I have been searching Hogwarts from top to bottom to find hidden area, lighting torches and tidying up. Yes you heard me correctly, tidying up! Now look I don’t even tidy my room with great frequency, however here I am in the virtual world making beds, clearing up spills and repairing broken items for these quite useless points. Now all mothers, wifes and girlfriends around the world need to catch on and start sharing out those points for achievements and maybe then all of us lads would start pulling our weight around the house. Exploration is fun, in fact scarily so, but this actually isn’t why we purchase a Harry Potter game!
All of these points apparently increase your skill level, but I must admit the included wizard battles are so quick and pointless, you do wonder what on earth is going on. It will also unlock hidden extras like interviews with members of the cast etc.
One of the most bizarre twists is that in some of the battles, you are expected to lose to further the plot (what little plot there is). This makes playing a game completely silly, I mean come on! Who plays a game to lose?
Now of course the story, oh what’s this you say there isn’t a story? Damn right! Maybe in anticipation of the movie release later this month or just a lack of license, the story is almost non-existent so don’t worry about playing this game and learning a lot of spoilers. It simply won’t happen. What is included are some very short cut scenes that makes just enough sense to convince you to play on, but it really does lack any depth and cohesion.
Do fear the camera angles also. Sometimes they can be spot on to view the required element on the screen, however other times it can, as many games before it, totally obscure or disorientate you. One of these days they will get this right, or maybe they already did? It was called 2D gaming I believe!
Last problem is all the activity at Hogwarts. The students will be wandering around, talking to one another, mostly bad mouthing your new hero Harry Potter, however they also have a talent for getting in your way and not moving. This is alas also true of your two main followers around the game, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger who as well as reminding you of the now blatantly obvious task, will also endeavour to make your life a misery and block you in a variety of ways.
Although the scale is fantastic, Hogwarts isn’t exactly stellar graphics, but there is enough detail there to capture your imagination as you travel almost aimlessly around this castle. Although you won’t be gobsmacked by it all, you will take pleasure from a lot of the small details. Playing chess for example is a nice little recreation of Wizards Chess we first viewed in the first Harry Potter movie all those years ago.
Characters are good representations of themselves so you can easily recognise your favourite members of the film and the various random students around Hogwarts do have a certain individual look to them.
With certain key cast members providing voice overs, it does help the game along, but don’t expect the full cast as you will soon notice some very poor representations around Hogwarts. Some are quite amusing, but for all the wrong reasons.
The dialogue is repetitive especially when they are trying to remind you to find a talking gargoyle. Yes for goodness sakes Hermione I am looking already, stop nagging me jeez!!!
Thankfully in this game, the trademark Harry Potter theme has returned, which was used way back in the first film and is one of those John Williams themes that you always associate with the movies (the legend that he is you see!).
Exploration is key here, but this will be over quite quickly as well. So what are you left with? Well very little. You may want to try on the harder setting to add a few more hours play, but enabling this option from the very start will probably save you some grief.
Harry Potter fans will no doubt love Hogwarts that has been lovingly and carefully recreated for us all to gawp at, however the tedium of the repetitive mini-quests and lack lustre battles are a let down.
Although exploration and discovery are the two main factors that keep this game alive, it is still over far too quickly for my liking and every other addition to the game such as the mini quests and battles are nothing more than a garnish that is soon to fade in the memory.