J.K. Rowling is a true master at capturing the excitement and fear of adolescence. Sure, she penned a series of seven novels based on a young wizard and his search to find and destroy he who must not be named, but it’s not just the setting and magical world that fixates audiences, it’s the overarching and relatable themes of death, sorrow, joy, wonder, mystery, and that transformational period known as youth. Her stories attract both young and old audiences alike and has them lining up for the latest movie adaptation of the first half of the last book in the series. But so far, just about every attempt to capture those emotions and excitement in a game has fallen extremely short.
With the final book of Harry Potter comes the darkest tale yet and therefore the darkest film. It’s clear after playing the videogame adaptation that developer EA Bright Light tried very hard to create a game that coincides with the more grown-up Potter audience; after all, the first book came out more than 10 years ago. Harry has grown up in that time, and so has the audience.
Past Harry Potter games have been less than stellar, but this most recent entry is painstakingly flat. This is incredibly disappointing because the story is excellent and Rowling's world is rich, full of interesting heroes, villains, and locales. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 The Videogame, sadly, lazily throws some shooter gameplay on top of the story and calls it a day.
As mentioned previously, Deathly Hallows is a far more darker outing compared to previous entries in the series, as one would expect given the narrative’s transition from covering more light-hearted affairs to touching on themes of death and despair. The story picks up after Dumbledore’s death, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide it’s time to put an end to Lord Voldemort once and for all. Instead of returning to wizardry school, they set out to find Mr. Volde’s remaining Horcruxes, which are a piece of an individual’s soul that are used to become immortal. In order to vanquish Voldemort once and for all, Harry and company must destroy these soul shards.
The game has two distinct styles of play – namely third-person combat and stealth - though it ultimately fails to execute either in a remotely compelling way. Instead of being a dark voyage through the English countryside, London, and the Ministry of Magic, Deathly Hallows dissolves in to a broken, generic shooter, filled with less than appealing character models, poor lip-synching, and more bugs than an ant farm. Most of the game has you wandering around with your two mates, casting spells at various, yet overly repetitive enemies. You’ll fight Death Eaters, Snatchers, Dementors, and other generally incompetent foes, while utilizing a simplistic cover system that is at best broken, and at worst downright atrocious. The game has moments of “man, that was almost cool” with things like destructible cover, though they are relatively short lived. Specifically, if you cover behind an object too long, it breaks—go figure—but actually lining yourself up behind the cover is extremely unresponsive and downright irritating. You can also create your own cover, and use it to your advantage to thwart enemies, which offers a nice little twist on the proceedings. However, your fellow chums prove less than helpful throughout the adventure. Instead of using cover, they blindly fire into walls at enemies around the corner -- and it’s not like these spells can penetrate walls, either. Nope, as AI partners go, Hermoine and Ron are sadly just about as obtuse and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things as you can get.
In terms of battles, the combat is decent enough to enjoy for the six to eight hours you’ll get out of the game, albeit only just. There’s even a bit of diversity in the spells, which you acquire as Harry levels up. You simply click the right trigger to call up a wheel of spells, and chose your arsenal. There’s spells to disarm, immobilize, and even confuse enemies into shooting their buddies. The combat is overall pretty repetitive, but it’s not completely horrible to the point of evoking sheer hate. Nope, we’ll get to what caused us the most grief later. Elsewhere, while you’ll use your magic wand throughout the game (you can pretty much get through the entire game just using Stupefy) you’ll also get random potions that serve different purposes in combat. There are basic health and strength potions, but there’s also a potion that traps enemies—which is pretty much the only way to destroy those pesky pixies. You’ll pick up these potions scattered throughout levels, and off of dead enemies.
The game is clearly made with simplicity in mind. It’s not like we were expecting Metal Gear Solid-style depth in regards to gameplay, but there’s no question this title was intended for people that care more about the books and movies than they do playing an actual game. Ironically however, it fails to accomplish even this; the game deviates from the actual story and as in past games, it struggles to deal with the in-game events that do not occur in the source narrative. This will obviously come as a frustration to diehard fans, so it’s hard to call this an authentic Deathly Hallows experience.
Throughout the game you get various side quests that have nothing to do with the actual plot. These challenges pop in out of nowhere during the story and force you to complete random objectives, like saving Muggles from the Ministry, or destroying an onslaught of enemies. These are rather pointless and should have been left for after the main storyline finished; instead it breaks up the actual plot and left us scratching our heads. In terms of the overall difficulty though, things couldn’t be more simplistic. You’re even given a handy spell – dubbed Four Points – that creates an illuminated path that guides you to the next objective. This is helpful, of course, but emphasizes the fact the game does little to have you explore the actual world on your own without having someone (or rather, something) holding your hand. There are some collectibles on offer, like Potterwatch, Newspapers, and Deathly Hallows Symbols, but overall the game offers a decidedly linear experience. One thing that became a particular nuisance the further we progressed through the game was the fact that enemies re-spawned during open-area fights. All you have to do is run from point A to point B to get to the next dull cut-scene, and while you’ll want to gain the experience points that come with defeating enemies, sometimes it makes more sense just to hot tail it out of there.
If you can somehow get past the lackluster combat and poor cover system, you’re almost guaranteed to feel overwhelming frustration with the game’s stealth component. Instrumental to this feature is the Invisibility Cloak, which Potter must use in order to skulk around the place and accomplish numerous objectives, like investigating offices in the Ministry of Magic. Put simply, we were nauseated when in stealth modes, as using the Invisibility Cloak means you have zero peripheral vision. As such, we found ourselves being forced to crank up the volume a bunch in order to discern any nearby threat. It’s almost like EA Bright Light is playing a joke on us. When you are in stealth mode, the game has a nasty tendency to pop enemies directly in front of Harry, and they don’t tend to move around—they just stand there with a dumbfounded look on their face. If they do move, typically in an annoying pre-determined path, they end up walking in circles. As soon as you bump into someone and your identity is revealed, they open up a full can of magic on your butt without so much as flinching at your presence. Overall, enemy reflexes during stealth sequences are so appallingly unrealistic, that it becomes an exercise in sheer embarrassment to play them out.
Problematically, it doesn’t help matters that Potter’s latest videogame endeavour is marred even further by its decidedly average visual presentation. Character models are poorly rendered, clothing sticks to people like super-glue, and the lip-synching is virtually non-existent. The game clearly tries to emphasise the film’s dark look and feel, but the end result is a decidedly ugly and depressing visual interpretation of what should be a compelling and gripping fantasy world. In addition to the poor graphics, the audio work isn’t much cop either, with the voice acting in particular being the worst offender in terms of aural presentation. Expect to hear the same phrases over and over again to the point of the whole affair becoming almost comical in its sheer repetition.
We try not to get our hopes up on games based on movies that are in turn based on books; they tend to let us down. However, the nature of Deathly Hallows is as such that it’s simply begging for a half-decent game adaptation, so we couldn’t help but approach the boy wizard’s latest outing with a degree of optimism. Indeed, there were so many things developer EA Bright Light could have done with this game, but instead opted to conjure up nothing more than a dull, ropy-looking shooter punctuated by awful stealth sequences. As such, while there’s still one more instalment left (Deathly Hallows Part II) that will hopefully extricate the Harry Potter universe from videogame mediocrity, we’ve already all but given up hope on the series.
-The Final Word-
With poor visuals, flawed gameplay and a narrative that fails to adhere closely to the source material, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a colossal disappointment for gamers and Harry Potter aficionados' alike.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|