IGN Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
When I heard that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was abandoning the carefree adventure style of the previous games, I thought it was an appropriate move. The last book is the darkest and most intense one of the series and intended for a more adult audience, so it's understandable that EA Bright Light would want to create something more action-oriented to reflect that. Though I get what the studio was going for, I have to say they failed to create anything worthy of the Harry Potter branding.
To catch you up to speed, The Deathly Hallows follows Harry's decision to abandon his schooling after Dumbledore's death and Lord Voldemort's second rise to power. The Chosen One and his friends Ron and Hermione embark on a more dangerous quest than studying for their N.E.W.T.s -- looking for Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. A Horcrux is an object used to store a piece of someone's soul to attain immortality, and Voldemort created several of them which need to be destroyed before he can be killed.
With Voldemort taking over, neither the Wizarding nor Muggle world is safe, so the trio is constantly running from Death Eaters and Snatchers, both of which serve the Dark Lord. The game mainly shifts between first-person stealth sequences with Harry's Cloak of Invisibility and third-person shooting, but neither of them is particularly fun. Harry levels up and learns numerous spells like Confringo (causes massive explosions) and Petrificus Totalus (the body-binding spell), but it's fairly easy to stick with the weak-but-quick Stupefy. The Deathly Hallows quickly devolves into nothing but a generic, almost broken shooter. It's disappointing to say the least.
When there is cover, which there's often not, it usually gets in the way of Harry's casting, causing a poor rock or crate to be struck with numerous Stupefys. It doesn't help that you'll be fighting the camera when you duck behind cover, as it zooms in way too close to be of any real use. Though taking cover sometimes works, it's usually easier to stick with Protego, the protection spell.
Harry's armory isn't restricted to spells -- he can also throw potions like Garroting Gas (to make foes gag), though if he's behind cover he'll usually toss it at his feet instead of at his enemies. Death Eaters and Snatchers drop these potions randomly, and while you can pick up offensive ones to use in battle, all health or boost potions like Strengthening or Felix Felicis (the good luck potion) must be consumed immediately. This isn't usually a big problem, but it can get really annoying when you're surrounded by Death Eaters and all you can do is pray that one of them will drop a health potion.
Attacking everyone that Apparates, though instinctive, isn't the best strategy, as enemies will spawn ad nauseum. This is incredibly frustrating because it forces you to flee instead of fight, as the bad guys keep coming no matter what. Toward the end of the game you will literally just travel from one end of a level, watch a cutscene, then head back to where you started, fighting some combination of Snatchers, Acromantula, Doxies, Dementors, and Death Eaters as you flee.
To guide you on your journey you'll cast a spell that emits a glowing trail, which you cast by tapping B or Circle. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work -- the trail disappears or nothing happens when you go to initiate the spell. Yes, most of the levels are linear, but there are a few places that look so similar you can get turned around, especially when being tailed by multiple hostiles.
Sprinkled throughout the story are stealth missions. Unfortunately, they aren't any more impressive than the shooting sections, but since they pop up less frequently, they seem less bothersome. The switch to a first-person perspective while being sneaky is difficult -- you don't have peripheral vision to help you keep your distance from folks or peek around corners. Your cloak also has to "charge," which requires Harry to stand off in a corner for a while. Awesome. What's even worse is that in the Xbox 360 version you'll continue to "float" even after you've stopped moving. I tested the game with a few different controllers and every time Harry would continue moving until he hit a wall or person. I didn't seem to have that trouble with the PlayStation 3 version, however, so perhaps it is just an issue with the Xbox's controller.
The game loosely mimics the plot of the movie, but places distracting, unrelated side quests in between plot points. These tasks range from things like rescuing Muggles from the Ministry of Magic to surviving waves of Snatchers and Death Eaters in a creepy run-down building. None of the missions have any direct tie to storylines in the game, and really seem like they were tossed in as filler to make it longer. Breaking up the actual plot like that makes for disjointed storytelling, so you'll often forget what's actually going on until you've returned to the primary missions.
Aesthetically, the game uses some sort of grimy filter that makes everything look muddled, which isn't terribly impressive. The character models and environments can look good, though some look unnatural (Ron, why can't they ever make you look normal?) and, like the story, they mirror the actors and sets used in the film. However, if someone speaks outside of a cut-scene his or her jaws flap up and down like a puppet.
On a positive note, the screen is completely devoid of any user interface, so there's no health bar or meters of any sort. It's actually quite nice to be free of the UI, though it does take some tinkering to figure out which buttons on the d-pad trigger which potions.
Riding the motion control trend, the Xbox 360 version offers exclusive Kinect content. The extra levels are short and on rails, allowing you to focus on your body movements and execute spells. You can also toss exploding potions by pretending to throw underhand with your left arm. The goal in all of this is to make it through the level with the fastest time and you can compare your scores to other people online.
Kinect isn't always responsive and trying to cast Protego often initiates Confringo, but for the most part it works. Overall, the Kinect challenges are almost more fun than the regular campaign because they're quick and sweet. It's also sad that tossing potions in the Kinect levels is easier and more accurate than in the main adventure.
There are other Challenges available for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, but with goals like making it to a café without being spotted or clearing out enemies, they aren't super appealing. You can compare yourself to others online, though, so if you want to prove that you're the best gamer around, you can.