Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review - 09/07/2007

It’s amazing how devastating the transition from an original source to a videogame can be. In OOTP’s case, the films managed to capture most of the Potter boy’s charm. But somehow, the developers were strapped for ideas when it came to projecting J.K. Rowling’s visions into a mere 10 hour action/adventure/collect-a-thon.

The game, published by EA, contains their usual polish and ‘official-ness’, and utilises the Potter brand to bring us a fairly accurate representation of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Most of the young witches and wizards from the film are present, with a few noticeable exclusions of the more grizzled magical veterans who are no doubt being occupied with Broadway rather than staring down EA’s bottomless pockets. These omissions include Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Alan Rickman, and the rent-a-voice replacements don’t really do a convincing job of living up to their high standards. Not to worry though, as the game is less about the movie and its plot, and more about traditional movie tie-in gameplay. By this I mean an unholy amount of ‘step ‘n fetch’ gameplay.

At first, jumping straight into the story mode (the only mode on offer, you can forget about any wizard duelling multiplayer modes or Quidditch tournaments here), exploring the school is a joy. The location is fully realized, from the owlery right down to the boat house, and there are even additional details for fans of the series to spot, such as Neville’s pet toad in the Gryffindor dormitory. You can sense the work that went in to making a fully functioning and seamless Hogwarts, with pupils doing their daily rounds, and no loading times from start to finish. However, all this counts for nothing when Harry runs like a depressed diabetics sufferer. It soon becomes more of a chore to traverse the ancient castle rather than a wonder.

Most of the game’s 10 hour-and-under lifespan is spent backtracking, seeking objects, and running unnecessary errands for lazy children. It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding countryside when a boy named Dean has just asked you to find five talking gargoyles, (coloured a dull brown to frustrate you that little bit extra).

The plodding pace of the game suggests that EA, unsurprisingly, cobbled together a quick movie-tie-in, lashed with a few story-propelling cutscenes. The way the game begins, with a character asking you to perform an action, you wiggling your stick for four seconds, and setting off another cutscene, goes to prove that there isn’t much game to be found amidst the polish. In actual fact, most of OOTP centres on you locating about 20 school chums to take part in Dumbledore’s Army and rebelling against the tyrant-like teacher Professor Umbridge.

To people with no knowledge of the plot of the book or film, there won’t be much learning to be had here. The storyline is poorly communicated through confusing and sloppily constructed cutscenes that assume you are either a die-hard fan, or actually inside the trippy head of Miss Rowling herself. There is even a hastily assembled cutscene featuring Hagrid, which lasts for the better part of five seconds. Now, to lesser fans of the book, there will be people wondering: ‘who’s that big fat beardy bloke who cropped up there for a minute only to be never heard or spoken of again?’ But to those in the know, it’s obvious that this extra character was tacked on because, well, he’s in the film isn’t he? And films must be followed at the expense of the game. Apparently. Additionally, making poor Harry negotiate the various corridors searching for recruits, when in the film there was hardly a kafuffle about joining Dumbledore’s army, neither adds towards presenting an appealing game, nor an easily followed story.

The voice talent, including Ralph Fiennes and Rupert Grint, put on a mostly solid performance, and make the most of the otherwise unnatural and contrived-sounding script. The NPC’s and Hogwarts pupils are also tolerable, apart from when they clutter up the hallways, forcing you to stay rooted to the spot while they spout lines such as ‘Potty wee Potter’ in your bespectacled face. The talking paintings, on the other hands, are a bore. They act as the portals or short cuts in the game, but instead of merely delivering their lines and asking you to perform tasks so they can be unlocked, they tend to take up your time with drawlingly delivered lines that aren’t funny or useful. It took the ‘Fat Lady’ portrait (portrayed by Dawn French in the film but a random fat woman in the game) more time then it takes getting up to the seventh floor then to ask for a password. Well, maybe not that long. Not that this password-shortcut system even matters. They don’t cut massive amounts of time off your journey. I even unlocked an achievement that awarded me for walking 10 miles. Some shortcut. Come on, I’m ‘the boy that lived’, I survived a Voldemort attack, why must I use my legs!

Just when you thought, with the Chronicles of Riddick and Pirates of the Caribbean, that games based on movies were starting to be taken a little more seriously, along comes OOTP. This isn’t a bad game, just one full of contradictions. The castle is a well designed setting that can be explored at your leisure, by why bother when you are restricted to a snails pace? The musical score is excellent, refined, and suits the mood perfectly, but it’s rarely put to use. Even the combat is a mostly solid affair, with the Wii edition utilising the remote and nun chuck attachment to make you feel as if you are using a wand to cast spells, and the SIXAXIS functioning similarly on the PS3, but I can only think of about four occasions when Harry got his duel on with other characters.

A wholly unremarkable affair that even fans of the series will find a bore due to the tedious and painfully plodding gameplay. All in all, contains less magic than a date in Burger King with a drunken Paul Daniels.

- Ben Griffin



EA Games