IGN Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The literary arc of Harry Potter has come to a close, but until struggling wizards around the world get tired of seeing that lightning bolt scar on a screen of any size, count on the Boy Who Lived to keep on living. Electronic Arts' video game Potter adventures have tracked each movie as they bow in theaters, and this summer, the PlayStation Portable hosted a to-go Order of the Phoenix. Interest in the film is back on the rise thanks to the impending release of the film on DVD, as well as the entire series December debut on HD-DVD and Blu Ray.
In fact, fans are far better served investing in the DVD releases or even the previously released console editions of Order of the Phoenix -- the entertainment value of Electronic Arts' PSP Phoenix simply doesn't match up.
The first impression of the game is easily the best, as you see a full and faithful rendering of the Hogwarts campus unfurl across the PSP screen. You get to explore the entire facility with Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, retracing the steps of the boyish hero in one of his darker adventures. But once the initial dazzle of the open world Hogwarts starts to fail -- and it does because of a handful of very disappointing design decisions -- the urge to request a full refund on tuition kicks in.
The Order of the Phoenix joins Potter for his fifth year at the school of wizardry. Lord Voldemort still haunts the boy, but too many ranking members of the magic community have put their heads in the sand about him. Potter thinks the student body is woefully unprepared to defend against what he expects is an imminent attack, so he forms the secret "Dumbledore's Army" to disseminate knowledge that will help guard against Voldemort's return. Naturally, not every teacher in the school thinks of Harry in the same way as Dumbledore and Hagrid, so he must also contend with just the general difficulties of unwanted celebrity.
Now, does that sound like the basis for an interesting yarn? Secret meetings and lurking doom? It should, but it's unfortunate that the developed wholly diffuses any potential drama by loading the game with an unbearable series of fetch quests. All of Hogwarts is laid before Harry, but he sees the majority of it simply by running errands and performing menial tasks hardly befitting of the boy wizard's talents. Clean this room! Move that bench! Extinguish that small fire! Try not to let your fingers fall asleep as you hoof across campus one more time to do somebody's busy work.
The majority of these tasks require some use of magic, and Harry does have a nice selection of spells he earns in the game. Depulso, for example, pushes objects away from Harry while Accio draws them closer. Reparo (a spell you better get used to) repairs objects. Casting these spells on the Wii version of the game let users essentially turn the Wii Remote into a wand. Even on the PlayStation 2, players could at least use analog sticks to make wand motions. Not so on the PSP version. You must hold down the right shoulder button and then monkey with face buttons.
Harry also has a collection of combat spells to use in duels, such as warding off nasty Slytherin kids. In later encounters against higher-level enemies, you'll see other characters also come into play. (I'm not wild about spoilers, so if you don't know who these people are yet, sorry.) Casting combat spells works roughly the same, but under the gun of a duel, futzing with holding and pressing buttons can occasionally frustrate.
The fact that neither the chores nor the duels are especially engaging really works overtime to undo any good will floated by the massive, open-world structure of the game. This is no Grand Theft Wizard, but I certainly appreciated the idea of letting fans tackle the adventure -- save for some important plot points -- at their pace and in their preferred order. I also really enjoyed the general size and scope of the campus, as it does give the game real volume. It would simply be unfair to not underscore the impressive world design, such as the moving Grand Staircase.
You can use the Marauder's Map to navigate the campus. It's a helpful tool since the joint is so large. Just select the desired location and little footprints lead you to your destination. Occasionally, these footprints fail to effectively lead the way and you must slow down so the help can catch up.
The PSP edition of Phoenix also sports some ad hoc multiplayer that lets players enter duels between various Potter characters, such as Ron or Lucius. This wizard duels aren't especially deep, as you're just hurling spells, but they offer a little something extra for PSP owners. While playing the game, you can unlock extra features for this mode, such as new locations and characters.
Potter on the PSP looks decent enough to get the job done. The architecture is solid, as are the character models. Texture work is good, especially on faces in the game's cutscenes. If you've seen the movie, you'll recognize that EA has done well at matching up the general look and atmosphere. Unfortunately, while exploring, the camera is often eager to show too many artful angles rather than properly frame action, though, so watch out for that. What does impress, though, is the score. The music really is top notch.
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