What happens when you take the magical world of Harry Potter, mix in a little Gears of War shooting and Splinter Cell stealth gameplay, and shake vigorously? Things go boom.
Dumbledore is dead, the evil Lord Voldemort has risen to power, and Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run, searching for four magical artefacts known as Horcruxes, the keys to Voldemort's immortality. Thus opens Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, the video game of the movie of half of J.K. Rowling's final Harry Potter novel. There's a much more mature story happening here, and Harry has no time for wandering around Hogwarts School playing mini-games as in games past. Put away your Quidditch brooms, friends: This Harry Potter is a cover-based third-person shooter.
The ideal player for this game is a fan of the Harry Potter books and films that doesn't mind doing away with the fluffery of previous games to get down and dirty with some Death Eater slaying.
Why You Should Care
The tale of Harry Potter is quickly approaching its grand video game conclusion, and if you've followed it this far, you might as well see things through to the end.
Shall we start things off with a Gears of Hogwarts joke? There really is no need. Yes, you'll spend a ridiculous amount of time casting spells as if you were firing a weapon in third person and ducking behind cover to avoid being killed, any further comparison to Gears of War is frankly an insult to Epic's franchise. While the shooting itself works well enough, the cover system sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Attempting to hide behind a low barrier often ends with Harry sticking awkwardly to the cover while standing, top half completely exposed to enemy fire. There are eight different weapons spells to choose from, but spamming the first spell you receive, Stupefy, seems to be all you really need to get through battles. Death Eaters appear and disappear in puffs of smoke, but also die in puffs of smoke. Coupled with a small number of relatively similar enemy character models, it becomes hard to tell if you're fighting the same folks over and over or an endless wave of enemies. In summary, it feels like a third-person shooter created by a team used to creating a much more varied experience, which is what Deathly Hallows is.
Ouch. So how about that stealth gameplay? Stealth is a major part of this game. When you aren't shooting, you're sneaking. Sneaking switches the game into a first-person perspective with a shimmering cloth effect, while a Deathly Hallows symbol in the lower left-hand corner acts as a stealth meter. For basic sneaking around this works just fine. More complex stealth maneuvers suffer from the use of first-person. It's hard to determine how close you are to an enemy when cloaked, for instance. Certain missions require you sneak up behind a foe and stun them. Nine times out of 10 I either got too close and alerted them to my presence, or tried to perform the action too soon and again alerted them to my presence. I figured it was just me, but later while trying to enter an elevator while cloaked the perspective had me moving too close to the wall to see the door open. Making matters worse, Harry has a buggy tendency to suddenly start moving to the left with no input from me, which led to more than one untimely death.
Well that sounds pretty bad. Will the fans still like it? From what I've gathered the game is pretty faithful to the movie, although where the movie had to be split into two parts to cover the entire book, the game features some obvious filler missions to help pad out the plot. Because it's based on the first half of a two-movie epic, the game also ends at a rather awkward spot. There are very few collectibles to be had and absolutely no free-roaming exploration, so fans of the past two Potter games might be in for a little disappointment.
And the Xbox 360 version supports Kinect control? Not in the main game. Kinect control is limited to a number of special rail-shooter challenges located off the main menu. Harry moves automatically, and the player waves their hands to cast spells. At first I felt silly, flapping my hand like a five-year-old waving bye-bye to cast Stupefy, but then the next level opened up the explosive Confringo. It's one arm raised, one arm pointed casting stance made me feel like Dr Allakazam the Mad Disco Wizard. The Kinect challenges really amount to nothing more than extra fluff, and while mildly entertaining, especially with a friend, shouldn't influence buying one version of the game over the other.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows In Action
Check out all eight of Harry Potter's spells in action during one of the game's many challenge stages.
Sorry, there are no videos of me flapping my arms about while playing this Kinect stage. Tossing the explosive potion is just not working for me.
I'd have to play through a substantial portion of the game to capture some stealth footage, so here are the developers to explain how it works.
The Bottom Line
After two more light-hearted, adventurous jaunts in The Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix games, it seems odd that EA Bright Light Studios would take such a darker, more mature turn with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Perhaps the idea here was that both Harry Potter and his fans are getting older, and it was time for something less whimsical in the video game department. From what I've seen of Potter fans, however, it's that whimsy they thrive on, and now with Harry and friends' darkest hour upon them, that sense of frivolity is needed more than ever. I'm not sure Potter fans are ready for this sort of game, and I'm definitely sure EA Bright Light Studios wasn't ready to develop it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 was developed by EA Bright Light Studio and published by EA for the Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on November 16. Retails for $79.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the Xbox 360 version of the game completely on medium difficulty. Tried out the game's normal controller-based challenges, and then waved my arms at the Kinect sensor for an hour to test out the Kinect challenges.