Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Disappointing Game, Part Two

Even though most games based on films are total crap, I have always been a supporter of the Harry Potter tie-ins. I played only one of the earlier PC titles, as I never really had a computer worth its gaming salt, but have devoured all of the console versions, with the exception of the Deathly Hallows, Part One. The fifth and sixth chapters, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, were surprisingly delightful to play. Each of them followed the order of events in the movies faithfully, but also gave the player a ton of optional activities, such as mini-game style homework and hide-and-seek for collectible items. Also amazingly, the controls didn’t completely stink. This is one of the banes of the licensed titles-quick toss releases without too much testing, which usually creates a bug-filled, erratic environment that rides the line between a beloved franchise and an unplayable mess. But both OOP and HBP managed to be quite satisfying. I believe I spent roughly a week trying to max out the achievement list in Half-Blood Prince, simply because I found the game so enjoyable.

When Deathly Hallows Part One was released in theatres, I manipulated my Gamefly Q to increase the chances it would be sent to me soon after. When it arrived, I popped the disc in my 360 and snuggled in for another grand adventure with our little band of wizards-in-training. Except something terrible had occurred. The gameplay was wretched. And no amount of thumb/finger training could get me through the first two hours of the game. I failed mission after mission for being ‘too slow’ during a side quest skill challenge, which I couldn’t avoid, and never made it back to the totally icky main storyline. It was a total disaster. I have no idea how the targeted market of teens and preteens were able to get through it. I certainly didn't try too hard-probably because I have played enough games at this point to comprehend when I am doing poorly in a well-crafted game (Catherine) and when the game is totally screwing me by being a hastily released pile of basilisk goo (HP&DHP1). Oh, and when you read the Wiki for this particular title, it contains this little gem: “The gameplay for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is different from the previous games after developers decided the game required a new direction to suit its growing adult audience.” I am the adult audience, and I respectfully disagree with your choice. And by looking the overall 4-5 review scores, I can assume most people felt the same.

Because of this experience, I was hesitant to play the second part in the series. After doing some review checks and finding mostly 7-8 scores, I wished on a falling star and added it to my queue. The disc landed in my mailbox last Friday and I snuggled in for the last grand adventure I would virtually have with our little band of world-saving-wizards. And I was pleasantly surprised-the controls were back to being fairly slick and easy to maneuver. And the game itself looked great, with the movie scenes recreated well and the characters moving on the sticks like they should, the spell casting relegated to the triggers and switched around using single or double taps on the buttons. Hooray! Maybe I would get the last hurrah I was looking for!

After about an hour in it becomes clear that this is the absolute laziest of the Harry Potter games. It’s as though the developers themselves were so tired of the franchise that they couldn’t even bring themselves to add any creative elements to the game, simply following the movie timeline without a single deviation, and only managing to come up with one mechanic besides running: tactical combat. By using bits of broken Hogwarts, Harry/Hermoine/Ron/Ginny/[insert character here] takes cover and shoots at the bazillions of Death Eaters aiding Voldemort in his megalomaniacal plan to dominate Hogwarts. As you can see from my Raptr blip above, I played and finished the game in four hours, and I am positive that number has been rounded up. I've played $10 downloadable content that took longer to complete than this full retail disc-based title. The entire game takes as long to play as it does to watch the movie, with some bathroom and snack breaks thrown in for good measure. There are some collectibles and a few challenge rounds, but by the time I finished the game its plodding blandness had almost erased all of the good/sad/real feelings I had while watching the film and reading the book, and I just couldn’t bring myself to damage it any further. Shame on you, EA Bright Light, for ending this particular series on such a deflated note.

The one bright side? After the credit roll, a montage sequence of all the video games starting with the first cartoony little PC version are highlighted and a brief ‘thanks for the memories’ tag flashes across the screen. And for sure, there were some great ones, especially for a game series that has managed to keep up with its film counterparts, but to end such a life in such a way just seemed sad.

Okay, there is a second bright side, as LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 should soon erase this brief memory from my mind. I have high hopes. /crosses fingers


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