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Game Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


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Game Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Topic: Video Games 2:39 am EDT, Jul  6, 2007

"Disappointing" is a word I don't like to use about a video game--mainly because this means I was just "disappointed" out of fifty bucks when this happens, but nonetheless it applies to EA's new Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix game.

Not even the magic of the Wii-mote could save this one, because somehow EA's code manages to have trouble differentiating frantically waving the thing in counter-clockwise circles from frantically waving the thing in clockwise circles. This is pretty dire, considering that I've got at least three other games that handle this task just fine.

It is neat to see characters which mostly resemble the ones from the movie on your screen and presumably vulnerable to said frantically-waving wand, but no... except for a few rather baffling (because of the hideous wand-movement parsing and lack of effective tactile feedback) battle scenes, you're not allowed to zap anyone at any time. The best you're allowed is to point your wand at people and look at them menacingly to make them run away. This is important because the AI controlling the other characters makes them about as aware of their surroundings Helen Keller, so you'll be shooing students out of your way on a regular basis--including your two ever-present tag-alongs, Hermione and Ron. Rest assured, it won't take you long to decide that perhaps if one of them were to "fall" and wind up in the hospital wing, it wouldn't be such a terrible thing.

Gone is, sadly, most of the plot from the book, which might explain why it is that the thing feels like a mood-stabilized, Disney-esque version of the book. It also might explain why it is that Sirius Black is somehow now a cheerful, upbeat guy. (For those of you who have forgotten, Black has just spent the last several years being tortured around-the-clock by Dementors in Azkhaban). There's a moderate-length cutscene near the end where Dolores Umbridge gets taken away by the centaurs, which makes no real sense at all, and somehow a screwey-looking giant is involved in this, making his second blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance, which seem to be glaring evidence that at one point there was a lot more game planned here than was actually shipped. Adding insult to injury is the "Room of Rewards"* which contains the now-standard plethora of useless junk meant to represent you having seen all 9/9 of the Jade Thimbles Of Sewingness and having set new records in the nostril mining mini-game--roughly half of these "rewards" are simply trophy items which you're shown close up for almost two full seconds (not exactly long enough to admire much). The other half are basically the anemic stepchildren of DVD "extras" about the already lackluster video game where you get to see things like Emma Caufield gushingly admit that the game showed her new levels of realism in how video games can be. Clearly, Ms. Caufield has never played a video game before this one--or perhaps it's more of the work of the idiot who's writing what she says when she's not playing the Hermione character. (Seriously, have you seen this girl talk to the press?)

...and bugs... Let's talk about bugs, because this game has 'em. Clearly EA is still rushing things out the door without doing much quality control, because at four different points I ran into bugs that were very clearly the result of shoddy coding, because they went away when I saved and reloaded the game. One was an invisible wall preventing me from moving certain objects to where they were supposed to go, another was caused by me knocking an object off a high ledge when I was supposed to instead levitate it and then drop it (puh-lease!), and two were simply dialogs getting stuck because the engine apparently handle the idea of a character needing to say things for two different quest lines at the same time.

On the bright side, if you like poking and prodding at random things for no apparent reason (like in Myst) there's a huge number of "hidden" things to "discover" in an environment that really does a decent job of looking like a low-resolution version of the movie set. There's lots and lots of sparklies hiding under, behind, and within just about every movable object in the game. Every so often you will have gathered enough sparklies to "level up" your curiously lackluster spellpower an unfathomably small amount (I could never tell anything changed)... and then you will be harassed by Moaning Myrtle with a request for you to come to "our secret room" to "see things". Ahem. This happens with such regularity that it begins to seem like a creepy neighbor's wife perpetually on the make for young Harry.

I give this a 2 of 5. :/ Rent it for the novelty of waving a wand about, but save your big money for something else.

Game Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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