IGN Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter, you're my hero. Sure, you've defeated a three-headed dog and a giant snake in your movies, but now, you're pulling off magic tricks in real life -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first movie tie-in videogame of the summer that I've actually had fun playing.
Ten points for Gryffindor.
In case you're a big lame-o and didn't know it, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix storms into movie theaters in July and follows Harry, Ron and Hermione through their fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry's keen on the idea that He Who Shall Not Be Named is back and when the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor refuses to teach defensive spells, Harry and the Potter Posse take matters into their own hands.
Now, creating a game based on Harry's exploits can't be easy for developers. These two-plus-hour movies aren't exactly packed with action what with Harry and his friends always talking, hanging out and going to class. Over the years, game makers have had to figure out what parts of the franchise work in the videogame industry and what parts don't -- the results have been mixed as gamers have been subjected to weak games of quidditch and lackluster fight sequences.
Although it's flawed, Order of the Phoenix nails what a Harry Potter game should be. Rather than trying to create action, EA focuses on making you feel like you're living in Hogwarts. The school's recreated hallway-for-hallway from the blueprints used to mold the movie version, the paintings in the Grand Staircase move, students mingle around the campus and react differently to Harry based on which house they're from, and there are no load times as you go from woods to classroom to Gobstone match on the 360.
In short, this game feels like you're playing the movie.
Although the movie's storyline is in the mix -- there are more than 35 tasks for Harry to accomplish to keep the tale moving -- the game is geared towards your personal exploration of Hogwarts. You'll learn six non-combat spells: push things backward with Depulso, smash stuff with Reducto, etc. -- that will become your bread-and-butter. See, Hogwarts is one of those sandbox environments us videogame folk like to talk about so much. If you wanted to, you could just wander around the school using Wingardium Leviosa to place paintings on the wall or Reparo to fix broken pots -- each move unlocks some of the 4,360 discovery points hidden around the place that make Harry's spells more powerful and unlock secrets in Moaning Myrtle's Room of Rewards.
So with the school covered, EA pushed the "you're-in-the-movie" vibe further and did away with any kind of HUD. Order of Phoenix's screen is devoid of any radar, health bar, magic meter or videogame clich¿ you can think of. Aside from the name of whatever room you just entered popping up in the top left corner for a moment, this game looks like you're watching something on TV -- but that's not to say you're completely on your own. Although there's no gigantic arrow pointing out the way you're supposed to run, Order of the Phoenix doesn't leave you lost in the confusing seven-story school -- it hands you your very own copy of the Marauder's map.
If you've seen the movies, you probably remember the Rand McNally version of the boarding school -- a dried, yellow piece of parchment that contains the entire Hogwarts layout and can track anyone in the building. In the game, you'll tap the Back button to bring up the map and then D-Pad left (for locations) or D-Pad right (for people). Once you select the person or place you need to go visit, a diamond pinpoints the spot on the map, you close it via the Back button and the inky footprints that plotted people in the movie sprawl out before Harry on-screen. You follow the prints to get to your chosen location or person.
Now, the map isn't exactly what's shown in the movie -- when you select the list of folks in the school, you're just seeing people with tasks for Harry. Ginny Weasley might need you to help her pull off a prank with Fred and George, Professor McGonagall might need you to round up some first years, or Colin Creevey might need you to help get his camera back. During the first half of the game -- set before Christmas break -- you'll have around 30 tasks to finish as you assemble members of Dumbledore's Army. After the break, you'll have a dozen or so to finish up as you try to make Professor Umbridge's life a living hell and get ready for He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Order of the Phoenix isn't just tasks, class and footprints -- you will have to pick up your wand and kick some ass. Throughout the roughly 10- to 15-hour story, you'll need to battle unruly kids, Slytherin punks and the dark lord himself with the six combat spells you've picked up with Hermione's help. Stupefy stuns your opponents, Expelliarmus will disarm them and Petrificus Totalus will paralyze them. Because there's no HUD, the only way you'll know if you're hurt or hurting your opponent is by watching them. If Harry's hurt, he'll clutch his side or drop to one knee. When he's defeated -- although it's more likely to be the bad guy who goes down -- Harry will sprawl out face down in the dirt.
Yay, Harry Potter, right? Well, I never said the game was perfect.
Although it's thankfully limited, combat is flat. In battle, you'll need to maneuver side-to-side and alternate between tossing attack spells at your enemies and protection spells around you. It's slow-paced and generally not interesting -- plus jerking the joystick up and down for an extended period of time wore out my thumb. My wrist was okay -- practice makes perfect, y'know?
After playing the PS3 version of Potter, I noticed that casting spells was a bit touchier on the 360. Spells that require you to spin the stick -- charms such as Reparo and Reducto -- worked fine, but when I needed to move the control stick straight up and down for stuff such as Incendio and Rictusempra, it took a few tries for Harry to figure out what I wanted. It wasn't a big deal, but as close as these two versions are, it was the one thing the PS3 had over the 360 -- for the record, 360's graphics are a bit sharper than the PS3's.
Never pulling a player out of the videogame experience is something this game strives and suffers for. Your 360 cost you a lot of money, and you probably expect pumped-up visuals for that price tag. Although there's no denying that the in-game action in the Order of the Phoenix looks great -- detailed vistas surround the school's stone bridges and the institution's insides look awesome -- the cutscenes don't pass muster. Rather than create new models for the cutscenes, it looks like EA used the same ones from in-game action.
It makes sense -- rather than pull you out of the experience by suddenly changing models, stick with the same images the players have been seeing -- but the implementation suffers. Although the characters look fine running across the screen and interacting with one another, they look downright pale-faced and creepy in the cutscenes. I was happy enough with the overall experience to look past it, but anyone who glanced at my TV while passing by my desk began shouting about zombie children with jagged teeth.
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