“These are dark times, indeed…” runs the opening line to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the contractual videogame tie-in of the hit, Hollywood movie. Unfortunately, having played the digital atrocity from start to finish, we’re inclined to agree. Rushed and shoddily assembled to coincide with a cinematic release, videogame tie-ins aren’t always cut from the finest of cloths, but it’s safe to say their quality has been on the rise for a number of years now. Kung Fu Panda silenced critics with a number of Metroid-esque nods, Toy Story 3 was a sandbox of polymer delights, and Lego ‘Potter proved it was possible to breathe life into a familiar franchise. Unfortunately, however, the same can’t be said of Bright Light’s latest, which never quite manages to escape its cruddy tie-in status.
A cover-based shooter of generic proportions, its hard to imagine how any party will derive enjoyment from Deathly Hallows. Beyond aesthetics, there’s very little on offer here to match, let alone transcend, its cinematic counterpart. Even the central narrative arc – which reads like “The Moron’s Guide to Competent Game Plots™ ” – has been poorly executed here, making for an experience that’s about as magical as a weekend away with Boris Johnson. A shame too, as it was all sounding pretty tasty on paper. With Dumbledore out of the picture, and The Ministry of Magic waging an ethnic cleansing war on anyone with but a hint of ‘conscience’, Harry, Ron, and Hermione embark upon a quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes (fragments of the serpent-man’s soul), and bring peace and prosperity back to the land.
Unfortunately, what could have proved to be a sprawling action-adventure title never translates to anything other than mindless wand-waving, coupled with some of the most uninspired stealth sequences ever devised. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the game bothered to explain the intricacies of J.K’s lore, but EA Bright Light obviously doesn’t care for such trivialities, dumping you into repetitive fight after fight, with little or no explanation as to why you’re there. Cutscenes do, of course, attempt to flesh out the proceedings, but unless you’ve an obsession with all things ‘Potter’, you’d be hard pressed to know what the characters are harping on about. Even as long-standing fans of the series, we had trouble deciphering how certain scenes were connected to others.
This is, in part, due to the game’s non-chronological structure, which allows you to complete various missions in any order you please. During the game’s opening half, for example, you’re granted the choice between three missions. The first plonks you into a fire-spewing dragon’s lair for a spot of char-grilled espionage, whereas the other two have you rescuing Muggle-born wizards from enemy Snatchers. Not once, however, did the game care to explain how these events came to be, nor did it bother to explain the stealth mechanics we were supposed to be employing within them.
In fact, Bright Light explains its diversions so poorly that it’s hard to imagine how series’ fans will understand what what’s going on, let alone casual punters, to whom the game’s simplistic spell-casting was presumably designed to appease. What transpires then is a linear, cover-based romp with all the complexity of a lightgun shooter. Enemies appear as if from nowhere, waving their phallic wands around like drunken composers, and it’s basically up to you to send them packing with a few (hundred) squeezes of the right trigger; an easy task when you consider that enemy A.I is almost non-existent.
To the game’s credit, it does at least pretend to dish out the kind of mechanics seen in more established shooters. Dustbins, pillars and upturned tables can all be used to provide momentary cover, and there are a vast array of spells and potions to acquire and chuck at your foes. That said, cover is often so badly placed (and, in some cases, easily broken) that you’re never really granted respite from the onslaught of enemy spells. And with so many enemies vying for your blood, the only way to make progress is to cast “Stupefy” like it’s going out of fashion, rendering almost every other spell unnecessary. Occasionally, you’ll need to cast Confringo (a highly explosive spell) to break through environmental barriers, or even a Expecto Patronum (to ward off Dementors), but such instances are few and far between.
Certain missions even require Harry to don his invisibility cloak. However, while such instances could have offered weary players a well-earned break from monotonous wand-waving, Bright Light’s use of stealth is frustrating to say the least, and certainly won’t have Snake crying into his pillow at night. Under the silvery folds of Harry’s invisibility cloak, players are forced to walk around in first-person, usually in search of Death Eaters disguising themselves as Muggles (non-magic folk). From the busy streets of Central London, to the snow-laden paths of Godric’s Hollow, these scenes are often visually beautiful, but rarely offer up anything more engaging than simple back-and-forth shenanigans, making it clear that the developers are simply stalling for time.
The other problem lies with the first person perspective itself, which offers no way to see just who’s creeping up behind you. This wouldn’t have proved a problem had pedestrians followed scripted paths, as you could have learned their routines and acted accordingly, but unfortunately they just wander about in any old direction; stopping dead in their tracks, walking through walls and generally making your life an absolute misery. Bump into anyone and your cover will be blown – spelling insta-death from every conceivable angle.
In the end, you’ll just end up hotfooting it to the nearest checkpoint instead, whilst ignoring the concept of stealth entirely. Of course, it isn’t long before this kind of thinking worms its way into the shooting sections too. Hilariously, however, running through levels often yields a greater success rate than playing the game as was originally intended, and it’s not long before you begin to wonder why EA even bothered, were it not for the acquisition of the ‘Potter license.
Indeed, it’s the game’s association with the Boy Who Lived that makes EA’s adaptation even remotely palatable. Character-likeness is generally spot on, environments are generally imaginative, and a majestic soundtrack (pinched from the latest flick, no less) makes the game appear far slicker than it really is. Even so, there are holes to be picked in the game’s aesthetics. Hermione looks every bit as graceful as she does on the silver screen during cutscenes, but holds herself like a bloated sumo wrestler during the interactive portions of the game. Animation is frequently stiffer than Alan Rickman’s jaw and characters rarely bother to make eye-contact when speaking.
Even with the addition of 22 Kinect-specific missions (which turn the game into an actual on-rails shooter, complete with spell-casting ‘arm-wavery’ for two), it’s hard to forgive EA Bright Light for the utter train wreck that is Deathly Hallows’ main game. From Ron and Hermione’s arthritic spell-casting animations, to the below-par voice acting, and recycled environments, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an insult to its sumptuous source material. And an even bigger slap-in-the-face for long-standing fans of the franchise.
Our advice? Save your pennies, and go and watch the movie instead…
Rating: 4/10 (Review Scores Explained)
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