The Harry Potter series of books has captured both the minds of children and adults alike. The movies haven't disappointed either and are amongst the highest grossing films of all time. For some reason, the video games that have been released haven't been able to reach the same level of quality that the movies and books have achieved. The latest game, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, continues that trend. There's a faithful re-creation of the Hogwarts campus to explore, but once you've seen the sights, there's not much else to do. Even the most diehard Potter fans will grow tired of seeing the grand staircase as they return from their umpteenth fetch quest.
Order of the Phoenix follows the story of the book and the movie of the same name. After narrowly avoiding expulsion for using magic in front of a muggle, Harry finds that Hogwarts' new defense against the dark arts teacher seems to have it out for him. To make matters worse, Voldemort is threatening to rear his ugly mug again, and Harry fears that the school will be unable to defend itself. With the help of Ron and Hermione, Harry rallies the students together to form Dumbledore's Army in an effort to ready them for a fight against the dark lord. This all makes perfect sense if you've read the book, but the story's exceedingly difficult to follow if you haven't read it because vast segments are told via brief rendered video cutscenes and newspaper clippings. It's easy to understand how a three-hour movie might have to leave bits and pieces out, but it's puzzling that an eight-hour game can't tell even the most basic aspect of the story.
Who knew that Harry's life was so boring?
Though the game's box says you'll get to play as Sirius Black and Dumbledore, you do so for less than five minutes, so you'll spend nearly the entire game controlling Harry. Ron and Hermione will be by your side the whole time offering hints on where to go or what to do next. You'll also encounter every recognizable character from the Harry Potter universe along your journey. The game starts off with a tutorial where you'll learn basic spells like wingardium leviosa (levitation), reparo (repair an object), accio (pull an object toward you), and depulso (push an object away) by helping people fix broken dishes, pack their suitcases, and move furniture--not exactly riveting stuff. On the PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation, 3, and Xbox 360, you cast spells by pressing a button to point your wand and moving the right analog stick in a specific pattern. Rotating the stick clockwise will cast reparo, pressing down twice will cast accio, and pushing forward twice will cast depulso. You can also use the keyboard and mouse on the PC and this works fine. On the Wii, you'll hold the remote vertically then tilt it forward to cast depulso. To perform wingardium leviosa, you'll raise both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk to lift the object then move the controllers around to maneuver the object. This works surprisingly well, and it makes it feel as if you are actually casting spells, which goes a long way toward making the game more enjoyable. The PS3 does use the Sixaxis' motion controls, but tilting and twisting the controller as you hold it in your lap doesn't add much to the experience.
Later in the game, you'll learn combat spells. These are cast in the same way as noncombat spells and mostly use the same patterns. But there will only be a few instances where you'll need to perform these combat spells because there's hardly any dueling in the game. This is probably a good thing because the combat isn't very good, and it's tough to tell if you're actually hitting someone. Even during the last fight, you just stand there casting the same spell over and over, waiting for a cutscene to signify the end of the battle.
Once you've learned some basic spells, it's off to Hogwarts, which is faithfully re-created in a game for the first time. The Hogwarts campus is absolutely huge, which is both a blessing and a curse. Fans should really get a kick out of seeing the grand staircase in motion and candles floating above the tables in the great hall, as well as sneaking into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. But traversing back and forth across such a large area quickly becomes tiresome. Once you find the proper passwords, you can use the passages behind paintings as shortcuts, but they don't cut that much time off the journey. Another problem is the in-game navigation system. You're given a map that lists all of the different areas on campus, as well as the location of each person you need to find. Once you've highlighted the person or place you're looking for, footprints will appear on the ground to lead the way. Unfortunately, the footprints are black, so they're difficult to see; they don't appear far enough in front of you, so you're constantly forced to stop to wait for them to appear; and the camera will often switch angles midstride, so you don't know which way you're facing.
Exploring Hogwarts is interestingâ€¦for a while.