Trying out the inevitable new Harry Potter game, to go with the Harry Potter book, Harry Potter film, Harry Potter ‘Deluxe Scar Makeup’ (What makes it ‘deluxe’? Does the standard stuff make for a less Pottersque scar?) and Harry Potter vibrating broom (which, according to the the Ohio Sentinel, was withdrawn from sale because “girls were riding it too much”) brings back fond memories of me as a spotty teenager spending summers locked away in the back bedroom playing the first three Potter games on our now antique PC.
For their time, they were pretty impressive: You could trundle happily around the huge castle set for hours on end, with enough special collectibles and side missions hidden away to keep you going for a while.
But as the books have moved on, so have the games. The action of the last book is almost entirely outside Hogwarts itself and is set against the backdrop of Voldemort having taken control of the wizarding government. As such, the game has something much darker and less comforting about it than the previous games: You blast your way down muggle city streets, through warehouses, and across forests and fields and eventually to the Ministry of Magic.
There is a lot to commend the game for: The scripting doesn’t murder Rowling’s original text quite as much as previous games have had the tendency to do and the outside scenery is spectacular. There also some brilliant squences, the best of which is where you speed in and out of motorway traffic in the sidecar of Hagrid’s motorbike, blasting Death Eaters out of the sky.
A few big mistakes, though, spoil what could have otherwise been the best game of the series so far. In previous games, each spell had a symbol which the player had to trace with the mouse or sick to successfully cast the spell: This was quite a difficult thing to pick up and required a decent amount of skill and so made for challenging and engaging games. This feature, however, has been removed and you just fire away with the spells in the same way as you would do with Call of Duty or any other First Person Shooter. This, in combination with the fact that much of the game involves battling wave after wave of Death Eaters and not a whole lot else, makes for-at times-a very boring game. You find yourself running down corridor after corridor Stupefy-ing the fuck out of everyone left, right and centre without having to exercise much thought or skill. There is one particularly ridiculous scene in which you are trapped in a cafe with Death Eater after Death Eater apparating in front of you to be dispatched with a quick blast from your wand like a Whack – a -Mole game.
In previous games, each spell was distinctive: They all looked different, did different things and required different skills to cast. In The Deathly Hallows, however, each spell is just a indistinguishable blob of light which elicits the same grunt from all your opponents. Switching from spell to spells interrupts Harry’s movement, so you end relying on just one or two instead of using the full range available.
Too much of the game is in ‘on the rail’ style, in which you are pushed through the game by the action without much opportunity to explore, as with previous games. There is alot of sloppy design that tells of a game that has been rushed out in time for the film that it accompanies. You can’t jog or run in places, which gets incredibly frustrating, especially when you are re-doing a section after dying and nothing is new or interesting and so all you want to do is get through it.
It just be me getting old; but for all its many beautiful scenes, The Deathly Hallows doesn’t capture the magic (sorry) and wonder of the books and too many fairly basic technical mistakes make for a frustrating game, all the more so because it clearly had the potential to be so much better.