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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

6 September 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix follows Harry, Ron and Hermione through their fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry's believes that “He Who Shall Not Be Named” is back and when the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor declines to teach spells to defend against such dark forces, Harry and his friends make the situation personal. Harry Potter debuts on current generation systems with this title, and it looks better than ever.

As many gamers know, it’s hard to find a game adaptation that's actually fun to play. After many attempts (many, many attempts), game developers have begun to discover which parts of the film work well in the video game industry, and which parts don’t fit at all. Though you have had horrible experiences in the past (Spider-Man 3...), with this year's Harry Potter, you should be pleasantly surprised.

Although it has its flaws, Order of the Phoenix is what a Harry Potter game should be. Rather than trying to create fake action, EA concentrates on really making you feel like you're at Hogwarts. Past Harry Potter games have at many points completely out of place, with side stories everywhere to make the game more action packed. Well, Order of the Phoenix is a bit different. Even though it still has invented side stories so that the player isn’t just walking around class all day, it also follows the story in almost the same way the movie does.

EA tried to make the game feel like the movie as much as they could, so that means no health bar, no points, nothing. The only time a HUD ever shows up in the game is when the player enters a different room; it’s just a small message on the screen to let you know where you are. Aside from the simplistic map that appears every time the main character enters a room, players are given the Marauders Map. If you’re a huge fan of the films, you will probably love the detail they put into the paper – it’s an old yellow parchment that contains the entire Hogwarts layout and includes the ability to track anyone in the building. The map is brought up by pushing the select button; from here you can see where you are and where everybody else is on the map. You can then select what person you want to go to and when you exit the map you just have to follow the footprints to your location. An interesting thing to note is that the footprints match exactly the same ones in the film.

Another interesting part of the game that adds to the feel of it is that whenever you are passing people in the hallway they will react to you differently depending on what house they are from. If you pass a Griffindor they may complement you or tell you that they can’t wait for the next meeting of Dumbledores’ army, and if you pass a Slytherin they may throw an insult or two your way.

Besides the messages telling you what room you are in and the footprints on the ground, the game feels like you are actually in the movie. Something that adds more to this movie-like experience is that the castle is an exact blue-print of the one in the movie. The visuals are significantly improved from all the other Harry Potter’s, so the environments are beautiful and the paintings on the wall move just as they do in the movies.

There are many things to do in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. With more than 35 tasks for Harry to magically make his way through, the game is focuses on personal exploration of Hogwarts very strongly. You'll learn six non-combat spells: push things backward with Depulso, smash stuff with Reducto, all of which are your starting points. Hogwarts is primarily a sandbox environment, so you could just wander around the school using Wingardium Leviosa to place paintings on the wall or Reparo to fix broken pots. From these little things, each move unlocks around over 4,300 discovery points hidden around the place that make Harry's spells more powerful and unlock secrets in Moaning Myrtle's Room of Rewards. During a majority of the first half of the game, you will have a number of tasks to finish as you assemble members of Dumbledore's Army. After the break, you'll have a dozen or so to finish up as you try to challenge Professor Umbridge and prepare your squadron for “He Who Shall Not Be Named”.

Throughout a long story, you'll need to battle many kids, some from Slytherin, and the dark lord himself with six combat spells you've learned thanks to Hermione. Stupefy is used to stun your opponents, Expelliarmus will disarm them and Petrificus Totalus will paralyze them for a moment and allow for more attacks. The only way you'll know if you're hurt or hurting your opponent is by watching them, since there is no HUD. If Harry's hurt, he'll usually fall down to the ground.

With these battles, comes the use of Sixaxis controls. Some games, such as Lair, make Sixaxis feel natural. But Harry Potter: OOTP doesn’t. The Sixaxis never matches the accuracy and feeling of casting spells with the right analogue stick. When played with motion, all the player does is move his hands around like a bimbo. There is no general direction to these Sixaxis controls.

A nice touch is that cut scenes are built on the game engine, so everything looks and plays the same. The good things about this is that at many points, players will not realize that the cut scene has ended and are further immersed into the game. The bad side is that the characters always look pasty and just not very full of life. Their faces don’t move much when they talk and the animation with their faces is pretty much just their jaw moving up and down.

The sound effects are very well done and are pretty realistic, and the music is great too. The voice acting is impressive, but a lot of the actors in the movies didn't do the voices for the characters and that was pretty obvious at some parts. Something to be noted right away was that at many times you couldn’t hear what a person was saying because the music just drowned out their voice. This definitely drew away from the experience.

The animations are pretty fluent throughout the game, but they are overdone at some points, like when Harry has his wand it looks like he is swinging a bat.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a great game and is fun to play for fans of the books and movies alike. The game immerses players in a cinematic experience because there is no HUD and the characters react in a way that is believable. Unfortunately, the game has quite a few flaws like the dull cut scene animations and a couple of graphics problems like horizontal tearing. There are a lot of things to do like side missions and bonus features to unlock, so they should keep you going a bit after the 20 hour plot. If you’re Harry Potter fan, prepare to enjoy yourself at Hogwarts for the fifth time.

-The Final Word-

This year's Harry Potter game engulfs the player in a cinematic and movie like experience that past versions have lacked. Although it has a couple of graphical and gameplay hitches, this immersive experience is something for all Harry Potter fans to try.
  • Bonus features and many extras to unlock.
  • No HUD immerses players.
  • Environments are direct adaptations from the film.
  • Mediocre animations.
  • Graphical issues such as tearing.
  • Dull cut scenes.
7.0
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