Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix PSP Review

The Harry Potter train is once again drawing into the ethereal station and pretty much every console and handheld format is going to be getting some movie love. The PR machine for this enterprise is huge, pushing out not only the films but a thousand and one spin offs, merchandise, soundtracks, work out videos and finally this game for the sturdy PSP.

If by some miracle, or alien abduction, you didn’t already know, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth fantasy adventure book in the Harry Potter series, based on the novel by J. K. Rowling of the same name. With two books left to go we are over halfway through the series with this episode. It is unlikely that you will need to have seen or played the previous games to follow what is happening here. The book has been seen as something of a halfway point in the series as well; with not as much action as the others in the series, it is the lull before the dramatic beginnings of the end. This was obviously a concern to both film and game, as they obviously rely on the written content to build their experiences around. Thankfully though, the film has been much more positively received; this obviously bodes well for the game as well.

As is the trend these days, an open and explorable game world is the order of the day. This gives a much more non-linear feel to proceedings, although at the end of the day you do need to complete the majority of the tasks in order to progress through the game. The game world itself looks stunning on that bright and crisp PSP screen. This is a complete virtual re-creation of Hogwarts, Harry’s school. The level of detail and texture work is really quite impressive. This aspect of the game has no doubt benefited from a number of different teams working on the environment for each of the platforms that the game will be delivered to. This justifies a much higher spend on these environmental parts of the development as they can be shared across platforms.

Compared to the console versions of the game, although just as detailed, the environments are not so fully populated with characters and objects. This is a shame as it gives it somewhat of a vacated feel. Whilst this is not totally out of keeping with the tone they are trying to achieve, it just doesn’t quite feel like the same place we have grown to know and love over the many books and films.

These high quality visuals are continued through to the modelling and motion of each of the protagonists. Not only are they good to look at, they also exist within the game world in a believable way. The refresh rate does chug from time to time, although this could be due to the fact that the game streams the environments in real-time to cut down on loading times (something that often dogs PSP titles). Whilst we would have liked the rate to remain more constant, if this is the price for the minimal loading, then it’s probably one worth paying.

The game starts once you have completed the tutorial sections and learnt some of the more basic spells. While the casting mechanic is obviously lacking the gesturing that adds some pizzazz to the PS3 and Wii versions of the game, the press and gesture action does feel quite good, and more importantly is easy to pick-up and learn. The game then progresses by leading you through the various tasks that you need to complete; these initial take the form of messenger errands, cleaning up Hogwarts and generally finding hidden rooms and areas around the map.

You are able to locate different people that you need to find by using the Marauder’s map. In true magical style, this works by mysterious footprints that appear on the map to let you locate the individual. The problem here is with the visibility of the map and the footprints. Whilst it is something of a struggle to see them on the console version, the reduced size and increased likelihood of reflection on the PSP makes the map almost redundant. For a key element of the game this is quite a blow as you can imagine.

Fans of the films and books will no doubt get a thrill from seeing the environments brought to life and playing as Harry, Ron or Hermione. There is certainly some magic to all this, but with the lacklustre frame rate and the some of the more mundane missions, you can feel a bit like the game is just trying to keep you busy for long enough so you feel like you have got your value for money. A more compact and densely populated experience would have been much more preferable. The ambition is commendable but it seems that either the team or the PSP weren’t quite up to delivering on every base.

This is probably more of a game for younger (and more forgiving) enthusiasts of the films and books than for your more mature gamer. That said, plenty of fun can be found by playing through the game with your offspring or siblings. The slower paced action leaves space for the sorts of suggestions and discussions that spring up while a group of you are playing it. Maybe this was part of the plan all along.

Another good game notch for your PSP belt.

8 out of 10