In 2009, the Economist published an article arguing that Harry Potter had revolutionised Hollywood. Their central premise was that this once humble collection of children’s books – written by a solo mother in between jobs – has now become the epicentre of a global media franchise. These days Hollywood is just part of the equation, any serious global media franchise has got to have its own coffee mug, tea towel and video game.
I suppose the Economist got it right. Potter power is everywhere. Even “grown ups” are getting on the bandwagon. Harry brings in the megabucks and everyone is looking to cash in.
EA Games is no exception. Their subsidiary, Bright Light Studios, has conjured together a piece of film merchandise for devout fans. I’m assuming this game was developed, made and marketed at the devout-fan-who-will-buy-anything crowd. Because when viewed alone, this title is an absolute travesty.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) plays like an unfinished, under-developed and incomplete muddle.
The title attempts to follow the story of the final book (and now two-part movie) by tasking Harry, Ron and Hermione with the job of finding and destroying all of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes – mundane everyday objects with parts of his soul in them. He needs to go, but they’ve got to go first.
But if you really want to know what happens, don’t play the game. Just watch the movie; or if you are truly committed, read the book. This game’s storyline isn’t going to offer anything beyond that so you might as well go straight to source.
The gameplay itself is repetitive and frustrating difficult. Potter has a variety of spells he can cast and, depending on his environment, the game bizarrely switches from third to first person for no apparent reason. Each spell is rendered with minimum effort and accompanied by Potter squawking its name.
Now, at first, firing harmful magical spells at others with complete disregard for their safety is kind of amusing. And there will be gamers out there who have fantasised about disarming a Death Eater with a well aimed stupefy. But after the tenth or eleventh yell, you’re going to get really sick, really fast, of that word. Or any of the other spells names for that matter. Can’t Potter mutter it under his breath or something? It would save poor gamers a lot of audio agony.
With the spells themselves Bright Light Studios had a massive opportunity to do something cool. In the novels, Rowling paints an impressive picture of Potter’s Expecto Patronum spell – a misty white stag that shields Harry from the fun-sucking mouths of Dementors. In the game there is no stag. It’s just a white blob – and a colossal let down.
A colossal let down is probably a good term to recycle when describing the combat. It would be funny if it wasn’t so bad. It ranges from mind-numbingly easy, to controller throwingly difficult, all the way to bizarrely broken.
Death Eaters are supposed to be Voldemort’s elite guard, comprised of the nastiest, most evil wizards the Potter universe has to offer. They shouldn’t be able to be picked off with low level spells while they confusedly run up and down stairs because their path finding is broken. Having a game that actually works properly is kind of a pre-requisite for release.
Conversely, some random enemies are nigh on impossible to defeat. Blocking for whole minutes while you try to pick off demon fairies (whose hitboxes are able to inextricably trap you in place) one by re-spawning one is not a fun time. It’s a chore. A chore with no obvious reward beyond the game allowing you to ask Ron what room you should search next. But that reward is just more indomitable creatures to waste your time with. Waiting for a Death Eater to fly into your reticule because the camera won’t let you pan high enough to target said Death Eater isn’t a chore. It’s an embarrassment. Additionally being restricted to the simplest spells (which are upgraded in strength the more you use them, but without any noticeable difference in effect) ignores the richness of the wealth of lore that now surrounds the Potter franchise. Granted, Avada Kedabra might be on the Ministry of Magic’s list of big “oh no you didn’ts”, and it’s probably against Harry’s boyish good morals, but it would sure as hell make this game more entertaining.
When not easily demolishing Death Eaters or being confounded by Pixies, Harry can don his invisibility cloak and sneak around. This stealthy mini-mechanic is interesting, by dint of being a change in pace, but its novelty quickly wears off. The mission-design for its use also needs a serious re-think. Engaging in the invisible cloak variant of ‘hide and go seek’ with Death Eaters and or muggles (you won’t know until you get close enough to tell them apart) is a complex mix of tedium and aggravation.
When wearing the cloak your view is partially obscured by its fabric, but with it off the difference in visual quality is not all that dissimilar. Overall the graphics are mundane, bland even, and do not come close to taking the full advantage of the PS3 and its processing power. Additionally, the facial animations of your compatriots – so crucial to a character driven title such as this – are jerky at best and at times verge on the plasticine. But at least the majority of characters are voiced by their respective actors from the movie, which does provide some continuity between the film and video-game. The London Philharmonic scores the title as well, which is nice. But when the best thing about a title is listening to the soundtrack, you know you’ve got a problem.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) is not a very good game. For a title that banks on the charm of witches and wizards, it’s disappointing to find a game almost totally devoid of magic. The title feels as though it was rushed through production without much regard for how finished it actually was. And if that’s true it’s a terrible shame, because this is subject matter – regardless with how fatigued with it we might be – that does have a wealth of potential.
Maybe EA Games could rename Part 2 “Harry Potter and the Multiple Revenue Streams”. Because if we are going to be honest, that’s all this title really is.