As far as video game adoptions of movies go, the Harry Potter games have remained right around average. They generally offered adventure gameplay that had a slant on collecting and exploration. They never really wowed, but they were never really bad either. They were meh, but a meh that hardcore fans could accept to recapture some of the magic of Harry Potter’s world, pun intended. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, EA decided to do away with the old adventure game formula and instead move towards something closer to a third-person shooter. Unfortunately the results are a dull story with broken controls, and bad gameplay.
The Deathly Hallows Part 1 game would have been a fine addition to the Burger King titles that cost $4.99 and came with a Whopper. That might be a little harsh, but the $59.99 price tag is hard to justify for this game that feels like an afterthought — something that EA assigned to its in house developer EA Bright Light Studio, and just didn’t really care what they did as long as it was released in time to coincide with the movie.
Given the proper time and motivation, developing a good Harry Potter game should be a simple matter. You have a fully realized world with a massive fanbase, and the subject material is ripe for adaptation. Inherent in the world of Harry Potter are several spells—offensive, defensive, and others — that could rival any of the dozens of games that feature some form of magic. The story is strong enough that if a developer was allowed to take their pick of the books and movies and create a game based on the series without being shackled to it, then we could have a Harry Potter game that is among the year’s best. Just look at the very fun and underrated Lego Harry Potter games. Instead, what we received is a game that was obviously rushed and never treated with much care. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good either. The game is also hurt by the several superior big name releases that surround it like Black Ops, Gran Turismo 5, and Fallout: New Vegas to name just a few. In a world of games that are the equivalent of fine dining, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a McDonalds Happy Meal.
The story, as seen in a much better movie
Deathly Hallows follows the movie with a loose retelling of the story, but it is often an inaccurate one. That isn’t a big deal when you consider that game adaptations of movies need a bit of room to breathe, but the inclusions are usually fairly boring. Saving muggles and wandering through random and non-descript warehouses was not a part of the original material, and for good reason. The plot parts that are taken directly from the source material are usually mentioned in cut scenes that vary from bad to laughable. If you have never read the books or seen the movies (which is admittedly a small percentage of people that are going to pick up this game), the way the plot is handled is so odd that you would probably be lost from the start, and not just from unfamiliarity with Harry Potter. Sure, the game is made for fans, but it just shows that there was something broken along the way. It is either lazy game making, or a sign that this game needed a lot more time in development. The story is handled so inelegantly that any connection you have with the characters disappears quickly, and you have to accept, rather than enjoy, the retelling.
If you are a fan of the Potter stories (and haven’t read the books), do yourself a favor and check out the far superior movie first (check out our review while you are at it). You’ll be glad that you did.
But the story is a small part of this game, and the cutscenes are just momentary respites from the combat. The game attempts to recreate some of the scenes of the movie, but it does so with a much heavier focus on fighting than was in the movie or book. Where Harry, Ron, and Hermione fled from a scenario in the film, they are forced to fight their way out to escape in the game. Pretty standard movie to game adaptation stuff.
There are also several points where you are asked to go off on random quests that have nothing to do with the story and are not taken from the book or movie. They are generally fairly long quests, and have you do mundane things like save people, or survive waves of enemies. Without them, the game would be much shorter, but it also might make a bit more sense and be more interesting.
Deathly Hallows should take about five or six hours to complete — which is about double the length of the movie, but it features twice the pain. The game is a slave to the movie’s plot, and the small additions add nothing to the story, but since the story is handled so awkwardly, that is a minor gripe compared to the rest of the way the plot unfolds. To a degree, that is what you expect with adaptations like this, but expecting it doesn’t make it better. The plot of the movie is solid, but forcing into a game that doesn’t seem to care much about it makes for a dull time.
The graphics could have used a bit of magic
To put it as simply as possible, the graphics are dated and uninspired. There are moments where they look alright, but in general they are far behind the curve. Part of that is because of the colors, which are muted, but mostly it is because of the character animations that look sluggish and don’t match up. The cut scenes also feel last-gen, and the blocky and unnatural movements are far more apparent here than anywhere else. When people talk, it is laughably bad to see their jaws flap like they are speaking a different language, then the sound is dubbed over them like an old school 1970s kung-fu movie. There is a definite lack of polish that is further hurt by slowdown that frequently occurs when too much happens on the screen at once. Or when Harry is running up a hill. Or just standing there. It happens often.
The “acting” in the cutscenes is downright terrible, and it steals any emotional resonance that the story offers. It becomes almost a parody of the real plot, especially one scene at the end which is meant to be the emotional climax of the game. Instead of tugging at your heartstrings, you will probably laugh. It is that bad.
The in-game voices repeat the same spells, taunts and warnings shouted over and over and over again, that you might soon hit mute to save your sanity. The rest of the sounds are nothing special.
With the story already being defined by the property that it is based on, it is up to the gameplay to stand or fall on its own merits. And fall it does. The game plays like a third-person shooter, with a camera that follows Harry over the shoulder. As enemies appear, you lock onto them, then fire off spells at them in exactly the same way that you would shoot a gun.
When you fire your spells, it typically takes several shots to drop your opponent, meaning that you will usually end up running in circles around a bad guy, hitting the attack repeatedly before moving on to the next guy and repeating. There is a cover system, but it is frustrating to try to lock on to enemies, and the damage you take seems to involve some strange conditions that the game never really let’s you be privy to. The camera also tends to zoom into a closeup of the back of Harry’s head or his back. This makes it much easier to simply jump up and run in circles than rely on the protection of walls or hedges.
As you progress, your spells become more powerful, and you can cycle through them with a spell wheel. The game offers three victims for you to try these spells out on: Death Eathers, Snatchers, and Inferi. Once you have seen them once, you have seen them the next 20 times. Enemy design is not a big part of this game. Neither is their AI, as you will find them walking into walls, or standing immediately behind you without actually attacking.
The combat would be just dull and repetitive on its own, but mix in a broken targeting system and camera, and it quickly becomes frustrating. You will frequently find yourself locked onto nothing, while enemies behind you take pot shots. To undo this, you need to release the target lock (despite the lack of an actual target) then spin around and lock onto a new enemy. Once they are defeated, you will likely find yourself staring off into space. At best, it is a weird glitch, at worst it is a further example of a rushed and broken product that was pushed onto the market.
The game also features a series of stealth missions that turn the game into a first-person sneakfest. These are a welcome addition to the game, but they tend to be instant-fail missions. If you can’t get out of the way of the enemies who will walk in no real pattern, there is no chance to recover, they will immediately attack you, and anyone nearby will join in. There is no strategy to it, just repetition and luck.
There are also a series of challenges that are nothing special, and are generally time-based missions. You can then head online and check the leaderboards. Like everything else, it feels like an afterthought.
If you play on the 360, the game offers a bonus set of missions for the Kinect. There are six levels that each give you a set of magical attacks to use that are activated by particular hand movement. To send a stun spell, you snap your wrist at the enemy; to put up a protective shield, you push both hands forward, etc., etc.. The game puts Harry on a rail to allow you to focus on the spells. In theory, it is a great idea. Odds are if there isn’t already a magic-based Kinect game in development that allows you to cast spells with the wave of a hand, there soon will be. The problem is that there is no strategy to it. You will simply snap your wrist, or maybe raise your left hand and point with the right (as another spell requires) over and over again. It is also sometimes difficult to pull off certain spells, although the movements are fairly simple. The novelty quickly wears off. Very quickly.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is an uninspired mess that features graphics that would have looked good on the last generation of consoles, and gameplay that is frustrating to the point of nearly being unplayable at times. There are some interesting aspects that are appealing, and it was a good decision to take the series in a new direction to match the darker tone of the movie, but the game does not live up to its potential.
The combat is fun for a bit, but is soon revealed to be repetitive, and little more than button mashing. The cover system is flawed and really isn’t all that necessary, and the missions are long and boring. This game is destined for the bargain bin, and even the most ardent fans should think twice before dropping the full retail price for this game. With the world of Harry Potter so easily adaptable to the medium of video games, it is sad to see how dull the latest Potter title turned out.
Score: 3.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by EA)