previews\ Jul 19, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


Electronic Arts has been making games based on the Harry Potter franchise for nearly ten years now. The series of games have spanned three generations, and expanded past movie tie-ins to feature a title based on the sport of Quiddich and, more recently, a LEGO adaptation that covers the first four books. The core games, however, have been somewhat varied, with each attempting to encapsulate the magic of the Harry Potter universe, no matter what gameplay it might take the form of. Despite these efforts, none have really succeeded, and most of the sales were driven by brand loyalty, as opposed to quality products. This year, with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, EA is looking to change that.

As the series strays further from wandering around Hogwarts, so does the gameplay. The action/adventure/platforming of the games based on the first six books is gone with Deathly Hallows. Instead, EA has opted to move the series into what is essentially a third-person shooter. Now, Potter can take cover behind debris, pop up, and use his wand like a gun. Actually, he uses it like a number of guns, with each spell representing a different weapon. Stupefy is the generic sub-machine gun spell, Expelliarmus works a bit like a rifle, and Confringo charged up to unleash a rocket-launcher-like blast. Curiously, the Cruciatus Curse, one of the three forbidden spells of the Harry Potter universe, makes a showing as well, something that will surely be a point of contention for any Harry Potter fan that would hate to see the game’s protagonist using a torturous attack that would land him in Azkaban for life.

It’s a big change, but considering the direction of the final book/film it really does make sense. The last novel is packed with combat, and there’s very little difference between shooting bolts of magic from the tip of a wand and firing bullets. Actually, it’s nearly identical, and EA has been able to harness the similarities between the two perfectly. Instead of trying to find a unique, original way to bring the idea of spellcasting to gamers, making the wand a gun allows them to cop from some of the best third-person shooters in the industry without making it feel like they’re actually stealing. It might sound devious, but it’s not, and the result is a game that plays like Gears of War while still feeling like Harry Potter.

It looks like Harry Potter, too, though the visuals are definitely a step up from the other games in the series. It looks much darker than the last few, and features a grittier style, in general. Both Harry and the Death Eaters are animated very well, and the effects from spells being slung across the battlefields look fantastic. It doesn’t hold a candle to some of the better looking games to be released as of recent, but there’s no denying that it’s a far better looking game than most movie tie-ins.

The direction EA is taking with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is definitely strange. Regardless of how well the third-person shooter system fits the gameplay, it’s likely going to isolate some fans of the series, especially the ones expecting to find a magical adventure inside the box. Instead, it’s going to be darker; as it should be. It’s a risk, there’s no question about it, and it’s likely going to be better for the changes. Let’s just hope the developers come to their senses and remove the Cruciatus Curse from the game. Seriously, it’s like, one of three he’s not allowed to use.

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