Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Xbox 360 Review
Editor’s Note: This game was a source of much debate in the DarkZero offices, Matt has a lower opinion of the game than the reviewer of the PS2 version.
Just in case you’ve been living in a bunker for the last three weeks, the last Harry Potter book has just been released alongside the fifth cinematic outing of everyone’s most/least favourite wizard, stirring the world into an absolute frenzy of speculation and revelation. Chances are if you’re a massive fan of the books you’ll have only recently returned to the internet for fear of being bombarded by spoilers via Facebook or MSN, but if you are a fan of the series who’s yet to finish the final book and yet you’ve still somehow ended up clicking on a link containing the words Harry Potter then you’re a braver man than I…
In my first few minutes with the game I was impressed with the graphical sheen that the game’s introduction proudly presented – the main menu is rather deliciously presented and the colour palette used throughout the game is well chosen and consistent, giving the world depicted an edge of beauty that still shines through despite the jagged edges and dodgy textures found throughout. This however is where the praise hits a wall, as I’ve nothing else nice to say about Harry Potter on the 360.
First up, Kudos to the team for creating a decent replica of Hogwarts castle, but after the first ten minutes of going ‘Ooh it’s just like in the films’ you’ll soon realise that the harsh reality of this careful reproduction is a game world consisting almost entirely of stairs… Now, this mightn’t have been so noticeable had they put any discernable content into the game, but as it stands the majority of the game revolves around mindlessly travelling from A to B performing menial tasks as you brainlessly follow a set of magical footprints which guide you to your next location. The footprints seem to be a nice touch at first glance, but it soon became clear that they were a necessary game mechanic; the Marauder’s Map which shows your location in Hogwarts is nothing short of absolutely useless for any form of manual navigation, and even after hours of play, attempts to find your way around without any aids is frustrating to say the least. Throughout Hogwarts there’s a bunch of mini-games to try your hand at – all of which are dreadfully made (the only exception of this being the rather ingenious exploding-snap patience, a variation on the classic pair matching memory game but with a ten second self-destruct timer for each incorrect pair turned over). Not only are the mini-games rubbish, they’re also inexplicably triggered without asking for confirmation that you’d like to play the game; a single press of X at the wrong time leaves you forced to finish the mini-game before continuing. In the time spent reviewing the game I grudgingly had to play two unwanted games of chess after foolishly talking to a bloke in the Gryffindor common room by accident…
The music’s ripped straight from the films so it’s just as lovely as you’d expect, but the voice acting is abysmal – this is amplified by the horrendous attempts at lip-sync and the inadequate selection of audio samples; it’s bad enough that the place seems sparsely populated by the same ten character models, but it’s even worse that within an hour of playing you’ll have heard all the random soundbites the game has to offer. Even most of the students talking to each other around Hogwarts seem unable to comment on anything other than the life and actions of Mr. Potter himself – considering the huge amount of potential references that could’ve been used in overheard conversations, what’s actually offered seems a little weak.
So what’s the magic system like? Awful. After doing a lovely job of allowing you to control the movement of Harry’s wand arm directly using the right analogue stick; a feature which appeared to suggest a degree of control that could’ve been the basis for a brilliant gesture-based system, the game evidently once again quietly ignored its own potential and includes a dull UP UP/DOWN DOWN/WIGGLE CLOCKWISE system which lacks any kind of charm or precision. You’d have thought this would be to make the controls more accessible to younger players, but even these simple commands aren’t recognised very well by the game – the spells requiring the stick to be rotated in perfect circles repeatedly left me feeling particularly frustrated. Still, it doesn’t matter too much because you won’t actually be using that much magic in Hogwarts this time around. Apparently having recently become home to a bunch of vandals, the entire of Hogwarts seems to be a bit rough around the edges and most of the time your magical skills are put to use in the form of caretaker work – lighting torches, fixes vases, putting paintings back on walls, and so on. There’s not a wide variety of different types of caretaker tasks, and you’ll have literally seen them all in about fifteen minutes of playtime. The game will try and suck you in to this repetitive grind with the promise of ‘discovery points’ which will unlock making-of videos and the like as you ‘level up’, at which point the game will also mysteriously claim that ‘Your Spells Have Become More Powerful’… Whilst I’m not going to go as far as to say that this claim is a downright lie, the nature of most of your spell usage is largely task based, and there’s certainly no discernible difference that I’ve been aware of despite having levelled up ten times. The whole discovery points system alongside the guise of RPG elements show The Order of the Phoenix up for what it really is; a nasty and cynical piece of cobbled together rubbish.
People who rave about any sense of immersion in this game have been fooled – it’s pretty to look at by all means, but as a world it’s hugely empty and lifeless, lacking most of the charm and intrigue you’d hope to find in Hogwarts. As a game it’s just incredibly badly made all round, making more textbook design mistakes than you can shake a stick at. All minor issues aside though my main problem with this title is an unforgivable similarity to the dire Superman Returns; putting you in control of an amazing character with hugely exciting potential, then forcing you to work as a caretaker – expecting you as the player to just bite the pillow and take it because you love Harry. It just ain’t right.
It’s evident to the trained eye that the development team spent so much time making the environment that they never actually got around to making the game itself. The fact that it attempts to sate your appetite for magic by filling Hogwarts to the brim with menial caretaker tasks in exchange for obligatory collectable stuff shows a complete lack of imagination, the entire game having been seemingly engineered to do nothing more than keep kids busy for a good 10-15 hours. None of the content in this game seems to have any substance to it whatsoever, having been crudely shoved into the game purely because without them it wouldn’t have been a game at all – it would’ve just been a kid running up and down a bunch of stairs.
No magic to be found here. Nasty and cynical, your kids deserve better.