Harry Potter, JK Rowlings ever-popular fantasy series about a group of young magicians, is back this holiday with part one of the final chapter -- The Deathly Hallows. EA's Bright Light studio is also back for another movie-game, this time sporting third person, cover based shooting gameplay like Gears of War. Unfortunately for Harry Potter fans, there's a lot to be desired in this latest gaming adventure.
Deathly Hallows includes a Story mode, Challenges, and a Kinect mode for the Xbox 360. I thought this was a full blown Kinect game, but it's actually a separate mode that was probably tacked on fairly late in development to peak the interests of new Kinect owners, myself included. There are a few Achievements to pick up for playing through the Kinect mode, but for the most part, it's not very intriguing. You aren't really in control of Harry while playing the Kinect mode, instead, you cast spells by moving your right arm around as directed on screen as Harry moves around by himself. A total of twenty-two challenges, ten of which are for co-operative play, will have you flinging your right arm and hand around as you imitate casting a few different spells. The idea is okay and while it does work pretty well, it gets boring and tiring. I wasn't able to test this in co-op mode, but the single player Kinect challenges start to wear out their welcome about halfway through.
The Challenge mode includes fifteen challenges in Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulties. These challenges include surviving waves of enemies, sneaking around (a surprisingly big part of the game), and completing some basic objectives while racing against the clock. If you play these challenges while online, your scores will be sent to Leaderboards for your viewing pleasure.
The real meat of the game is in the story mode, however. Having not seen a Harry Potter movie or game since the third film, I expected to be a bit lost in the flow of the story. That's fair enough, but even after getting the basic gist -- Harry is trying to find a Horcrux to help stop Voldemort -- I had a hard time making sense of where Harry and friends were, why, and where we were going next. I'd imagine it all makes a lot more sense if you are current on the Harry Potter happenings or have seen the movie, but suffice it to say that the game doesn't spend any time trying to get you up to speed. I don't think that's a real problem, but just something you may want to bear in mind. On that note, I'm also not able to comment on how accurate the story and environments in game are compared to the film as I haven't seen it.
So this particular Harry Potter game features a lot of third person cover based shooting. Harry begins as a Level 1 but you can get him up to Level 20 as you mow down Death Eaters with up to eight spells that you discover at certain points in the campaign. Spells include stunning an enemy with stupefy, confusing them so they fight with you instead of against you, immobilizing them, and so forth. There is only one fire button, RT, so you have to switch between spells with the RB. You can tap RB to cycle between spells or hold to bring up a circular selection menu. Harry is also able to make a protective barrier for himself by holding LB. Additionally, you can throw different potions that are found in game by selecting them with the d-pad and using RT.
While Harry is capable of some powerful offensive attacks, it's important to get into cover as you will often be facing off against several Death Eaters at one time. This is done by pressing X, and it works pretty well. My biggest gripe with the cover mechanics is that many times, although you're in cover, you will still take considerable damage. Some cover is full cover, but a lot of cover still gets you hurt, so just bear that in mind. As far as combat goes, I found spell switching to be a little clunky, and ultimately, the original stupefy spell from the beginning of the game is your best choice. Zapping enemies with spells is best done with targeting (LT), but it doesn't work really well. If you manage to target the head, you get a near instant kill as you might expect, but the targeting is finicky. I think part of this was by design as there are certain power-ups that give Harry better spell casting accuracy but either that wasn't explained very well at all or the targeting system is just that flaky.
There are over a dozen chapters in the story that tend to zip by pretty quickly. Most of these involve third person combat, but actually a significant number of times Harry will don the invisible cloak to do some sneaking. While cloaked, the camera switches to a first person perspective. A triangular meter in the lower left of the HUD measures how visible you are -- if you walk, this meter drains, but standing still (even if looking around) begins to fill it again. If you try to run while in the cloak, it immediately disappears and you're in a third person view (and generally the mission either fails or you are forced into a tough combat situation). If an NPC bumps into you while in the cloak, your cover is blown as well. Having to keep an eye on that meter gets a bit annoying and it seems quite arbitrary to have in the first place. The sneaking sequences do fine to mix up the gameplay, but they could have been more interesting. Fortunately, checkpoints and load times come often and load quickly, respectively.
Another point to make about the gameplay in Deathly Hallows is the enemy AI. Generally, the AI perform well enough -- they pop out, shoot at you, and maybe take some cover when you fire back. Sometimes though, the AI seems like its scripted in such a way that they can run right past you and only actually 'see you' when they reached a certain spot. It's kind of odd to see, but it happens.
The presentation is okay, but far from outstanding. Animations in game and in cutscenes are kind of stiff and awkward although the textures and effects used are pretty good. Voices and music sounded accurate to their real life counterparts as well, so that's good.
That's about all there is to the new Harry Potter game; with that, let's get to the summary...