via Betasim

So, I am (the fabled) Betasim.  I’m reviewing this particular game, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for 3 reasons:

  • I owe Alphasim a favor.
  • He won’t touch this game with an 11 foot pole, but wants it reviewed anyway.
  • I actually was masochistic enough to sit through the first 3 of the 4 HP games, so I can compare.

Harry Potter

Ok, let’s get some background.  The series has grown up with its target audience, so it’s no surprise that the first 2 games were overly simplistic platformers (collecting Bertie Botts’ Beans and Wizard Cards) working with pure novelty.  The third game gained some complexity (but we’re not here to talk about it), and what little I tried the 4th, I felt like gameplay had a lot in common with Lego Star Wars—which I’m a fan of, don’t get me wrong, but the makers had the wisdom to know not to take Lego versions of Han and Chewie too seriously.  HP&OOTP, then, is closer to a real game than its predecessors.  For those who watched the movie, it does a good job of maintaining the feel and replicating the story (mostly) of the movie.

This version has evolved to include mouse-movement spells (think simplistic take on Lionhead’s Black and White) differentiated between action spells (L mouse button) and combat spells (R mouse button).  The character’s movement now functions more like first person games (WASD like Oblivion and first-person shooters) without the stereotypical 1st person fixed camera.  In fact, one of the downsides to this game can be the camera work, which, despite its cinematic touches, can be exactly where you need it not to be.  Not only can you not change it, but it occasionally does a sudden shift akin to the sort that makes you accidentally run right back out of a door you just entered (L becomes R; Up becomes Down).  I may be nostalgic for SNES games, but not like that.

Let me make a few comments about metagame elements like menus, maps, and quest updates.  There are two game-related menus (not save/audio/video stuff).  One keeps track of some basic statistics (e.g. ‘Percentage of Hogwarts Explored: 58%’), and the other is both your map and your quests.  The good thing about this is, though the map (the “Marauder’s Map” actually) is not practical, you can click on an area of the map, a place name, or a character involved in a quest and in the gameplay itself there appear footprints (slightly neurotic ones) that will lead you to your destination

However, besides this the only what-to-do-during-quests help that you get is during storyline scenes, dialogue, and suggestive camera sweeps (‘ah, look over there, what’s all that?’ kind of stuff).  Climbing areas sometimes pose a particular problem because it’s hard to tell what’s climbable and what’s not.  And, if you’re wandering around the castle goofing off doing other things the only available reminder of what you’re doing comes from verbal cues from your sidekicks (who, I might add have this habit of following you everywhere.  If it weren’t for the fact that you need them for some spells and to propel the storyline, you’d be better of ditching them than constantly bumping into them in tight spaces).

So, besides some camera problems and some quest update issues I have (I’m spoiled from Oblivion, what can I say?) HP&OOTP is a reasonably playable game.  Most of gameplay involves your brain and some hand-eye coordination, often in a run-and-fetch or puzzles sort of context.  Battles won’t be enough to satisfy players of LOTR: Two Towers/Return of the King or the Kingdom Hearts series, but as far as the HP games are concerned, it’s a vast improvement.  In fact the theme of this game, for everything from graphics to gameplay to goodies, is an improvement.