"EA have produced all of the Harry Potter movie tie-in videogames to date. In the same space of time in which J. K. Rowling gave us seven novels using one trusted old technology – that of the printed word – EA gave us five videogames spanning three generations of increasingly powerful gaming consoles. And they've still managed to make the same darn game on at least three of those occasions, or so mutters my inner cynic. Yet this doesn't really matter. The EA Potter games are remarkably consistent..."
EA have produced all of the Harry Potter movie tie-in videogames to date. In the same space of time in which J. K. Rowling gave us seven novels using one trusted old technology – that of the printed word – EA gave us five videogames spanning three generations of increasingly powerful gaming consoles. And they've still managed to make the same darn game on at least three of those occasions, or so mutters my inner cynic. Yet this doesn't really matter. The EA Potter games are remarkably consistent in both their charms and their cons. So it is again with Order Of The Phoenix, and so it is again that I experience a basic liking for a Harry Potter game, while still acknowledging all its bugs and crappy oversights.
Brace yourself for more third person adventuring in Hogwarts, attending to the main plot occasionally amongst masses of miniquesting and secret-finding. The plot this time involves Harry's attempts to persuade a great section of the student body to join him in forming Dumbledore's Army, rebels who will oppose bad guys both within and without the school. You steer Harry with the nunchuk and cast spells with the Wiimote, which is really your wand. This cool idea has been implemented in so-so fashion. I expect the odd motion-sensitivity gripe in my Wii games, but the real problem in this case lies in selecting what/whom to cast at. The auto-target is pretty thick, and if you need to manipulate one object out of a group, expect lots of teeth-gnashing, remote-waving and mashing of the B button as you accidentally lift and drop everything else that's nearby first.
The good news is that there's so little threat posed to you throughout this game, it doesn't matter if you have to fight annoying controls to get things done. Harry Potter games mostly aren't about the challenge of overcoming or surviving threat (exception to date: The more arcadey Goblet Of Fire), they're about finding the right kids to talk to as required, spotting secret features in the rather nice scenery and going on countless fetch quests. The larger than ever cast of school kids have a lot of stuff to say, both kind and cruel, and you can overhear snatches of conversations you aren't involved in as you roam the grounds.
In physical terms, EA have been doing a great job in developing a fully-realised Hogwarts environment over the course of four games now, and in Order, they've reached a point where the player can do at least one interesting thing to almost every noteworthy object in this environment. To encourage you to find out what these things are, the game awards you Discovery Points for poking at the scenery, and you need these points to power up your spells. It's fun to run around zapping and shaking all the furniture, flora and fauna, and talking to the paintings in the quest for points, and quite compulsive. The game environment is now so huge that you aren't expected to hold it all in your head at once, so to solve this problem in an entertaining fashion, the game gives you the Marauder's Map. Click to highlight a room on the map screen and then you'll see footprints running away from Harry in the third person view, which, if followed, will eventually lead you to the chosen destination.
Hampering Harry (you) in typical EA style are Ron and Hermione, who scamper quickly behind you everywhere you go in the game, and who will support you in silly, consequenceless wizard duels and offer tons of advice. The pro is that their company can be a charming feature of the game. The con is that the pair just block your way all the time, which is extremely annoying. In cramped spaces like the library, it's maddening trying to wiggle between your friends and the shelves, and you can end up half-trapped if you try and perform a 180 degree turn on a narrow staircase. I also hate it when I'm in the library already and characters yell things at me like, 'THE LIBRARY IS ON THE SECOND FLOOR.' The camerawork throughout the game is choppy and unhelpful, and sometimes your friends turn to face and talk pointedly to thin air. Also, the first time I tried to recover Cho Chang's owl in hopes of getting to snog her, the owl vanished due to some bug and I was forced to reset the game. During the same encounter I managed to climb up a non-existent rafter into thin air, a rafter I had destroyed only moments before with my own wand.
The cumulative effect of all these little bugs and oversights is the prompting of exasperation. How can the developers go to such lengths to create such a rich game environment and then not bother to attend to all these dumb holes left in the programming? Is it simply because of deadlines and games which must ship by date X? Wherever your sympathies lie on this issue (mine lie with people who take the time to get things right), EA have given us another Harry Potter game with sufficient amounts of charm, atmosphere and compulsiveness, and a big side-dish of dumb. If you've played Chamber Of Secrets or Prisoner Of Azkaban, you'll largely know what to expect here. The grounds are bigger than ever and look better than ever, the world of the students is well realised and for the first time you are actually aware of the behaviour of the different house factions within the school. Otherwise, it is at heart the same fetch this object, find that person, more of it than ever before. The distance covered on foot by Harry in this game is astonishing. You'll have run the equivalent of fifty marathons before the adventure's out, though it's your remote-waving arm that will be feeling it. The game demands persistence rather than skill and is so atmospheric that it ought to please every Potter fan in some way. But even with its armful of technical and aesthetic advances on previous Potter games, anyone even a bit discerning will sense that this could have been a whole lot more impressive at the cost of only a little more care.
Community review by bloomer (July 31, 2007)
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