July 5, 2007

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Wii/PS3/PS2/360/PC/MAC)
Electronic Arts, 2007
By Glenn†Given production@hippopress.com

Sweet! A summer movie tie-In. If you need me Iíll be in the bathroom hanging myself with my Wii-mote strap.

OK, itís not that bad. But the latest Potter game, as is par for the course, misses the mark by slavishly hewing to the films rather than to the books. The rich setting that the Potter novels present is fertile ground for game design, and Order of the Phoenix does take a hearty stab at allowing you to explore that world. Roaming the grounds of Hogwarts is freer than ever before, which is why itís a crying shame that the controls are so damn wonky. Bad cameras in a third-person adventure title are not acceptable any more, EA, please bear that in mind. Harry and company make the transition to next-gen well enough with the tone and character of the film incarnations mainly intact. Of special note are the motion controls that the Wii (and to a pointlessly lesser extent the PS3) introduce to the seriesí wand-waggling. I can feel why it should work, but after a few hours with the Wii I desperately wanted there to be an option for locking my wand target and just selecting the spell I wanted to use. Character models bear a fair resemblance to their on-screen counterparts (with nary a graphical difference in their various console incarnations) and the environs pack in every set piece for the series in an awkward but completist manner.

Things fit together in Harry Potter, but only in an I-restickered-my-Rubikís-cube-to-solve-it manner. In the better sandbox games your geography matters, clever layout, multiple paths and various tricks of geometry work wonders in covering up the back-tracking that these titles undoubtably force you into; not so at Hogwarts. Sure youíll find some secret passages by matching pairs of paintings but for the most part youíre gonna be running through that same clock tower from the same angle a hojillion times. And, despite its light bloominess, that gets a tad boring.

This is made worse when the most interesting aspect of the game is after youíve been skipped through the plot and are allowed to wander the world searching for hidden goodies. Casting various spells on various objects throughout the school, Harry can unlock rewards like interviews and featurettes. Neat, especially for the Potter fetishists. And the clever integration of the various wizarding games and especially the Marauderís Map as a directional tool show promise. Order of the Phoenix is the best of EAís Potter games by far but itís still not all there. Maybe when all the books and movies are out weíll get a bang-up wizarding game; for now this C will suffice ó Glenn Given