reviews\ Dec 1, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - GC - Review

Mr. Harry Potter has dazzled his way into countless hearts across the globe with a myriad of products currently making the rounds that have the “Harry Potter” name alluringly affixed to them, there is no doubt that the Harry Potter franchise is unfathomably immense and in turn is a huge money maker for everybody involved.  Electronic Art’s first attempt to recreate the magical world of Hogwarts was decidedly lackluster and didn’t even make it to any 128-bit consoles.  Nevertheless, it earned truckloads of money for EA and provided adequate financial support to make the second release all the more exciting.  Their newest videogame entry, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is being released on nearly every major platform and the Gamecube version can even interface with the Gameboy Advance title via link-cable, something that makes this version stand out from all the rest.  But does this title manage to get the job done in the fun factor department?  Well, that depends, do you like lush, detailed environments, Zelda-esque dungeons and exploration, and countless interesting personalities to interact with?  Yeah, I thought so.


One of the best things about Chamber of Secrets is how close the developers stayed to the story purported in the book and movie without resorting to simple fetch quests and lame puzzles in order to integrate all the popular elements from the original plot.  You will (obviously) play the part of Harry Potter, wizard extraordinaire and Quidditch player elite, as he makes his way through his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The game starts out with Harry at Ron Weasley’s house, so the beginning portion of the book is regrettably absent.  But from there on out nearly every notable encounter and transgression is faithfully intact.  For those not in the know, this second installment in the series revolves around a mysterious force that is killing various people in the school, in particular those of non-magical descent.  It will be up to Harry and his two best-friends, Ron and Hermione, to unravel the intricate mystery and hopefully get in some Quidditch practice along the way.


The gameplay found in Chamber of Secrets is not unlike that of the last two Zelda games on the N64.  Basic actions like climbing and jumping are done automatically when the situation calls for it, spells can be easily mapped to three of the four face-buttons on the Gamecube controller.  The big red A-button is your general all-purpose button and allows Harry to open doors, initiate a conversation, grab onto certain objects, and perform certain maneuvers like a Metal Gear-esque wall shimmy.  Simplicity is certainly key in Chamber of Secrets gameplay, and the developers did an excellent job in this regard.


Progression is split into a day-by-day-type basis wherein a certain task or two must be completed before you are able to call it a night and retire to your four-poster bed.  Often you will be woken up in the middle of the night and be required to do something.  At the end of each day at Hogwarts you’ll be shown the scores of the various house teams, by the end of the year you’ll need to make sure that your team, Gryffindor, has the highest score in order to win the house cup.  Each objective that you must complete are based on events taken straight out of the book.  For example, in part of the game you must report to Herbology class in order to learn the spell “Diffindo”.  You’ll acquire the spell by taking the Diffindo Challenge, which consists of Harry going through a number of different areas where the Diffindo spell is required to progress.  There are many spells such as this and they will all necessitate the completion of a challenge in order to “learn” them. 


But taking class courses in the various arts of wizardry isn’t the only thing you’ll be able to do in Chamber of Secrets.  During the course of the game you’ll be able to participate in three games of Quidditch against the various house teams, with the last game being played against your team’s rival, Slytherin.  Just as in the book, Harry will play the position of seeker and his goal will be to catch the golden snitch.  This can be accomplished by going through rings on the Quidditch field that the snitch leaves behind as an indication of its trajectory, after flying through enough hoops you’ll be able to use a turbo boost to catch up with the snitch.  At this point you must hit the A-button at precisely the right moment in order to actually grab the snitch, if you fail to grab it you must start all over again.  If Harry does well enough at Quidditch practice he will be given a spanking new Nimbus 2000 that he can use to fly around the entire school grounds.


Aside from the obligatory main quests and Quidditch action that I am sure most Potter fans are expecting, there is also a nice dose of extras thrown in for good measure.  Talking to Neville outside the school’s main entrance will give you the option to participate in various challenges that include gnome tossing, gnome dunking, and broom racing.  There are also tons of famous wizard cards that can be found throughout the quest and traded with other students.  Not to mention the exclusive GBA link connectivity that allows you to travel to Gringrotts Bank and scope out Harry’s horde of gold.  But the really great thing about Chamber of Secrets is the fact that all this can be done at your discretion, you never feel like you are being forced to push the story ahead further.  Diehard enthusiasts of the Harry Potter books might be a little peeved about some minor alterations in the story though.  For example, the magical diary that Harry comes across audibly speaks to him rather than making the words magically appear and disappear on the blank pages within the diary. 


As far as aesthetics are concerned, Eurocom did a great job of recreating the original vision of J.K. Rowling’s story.  The sheer size and scope of the various environments depicted throughout the game are staggering, to say the least.  Hogwarts, for example, is a seven-storey tall castle with seemingly countless rooms, passageways, and secret areas.  It can be a little intimidating at first since you are given free reign over the school almost right from the onset.  The developers also included a full digital recreation of Diagon Alley, replete with every store mentioned in the book, most of which you can actually go inside of.  The textures used on all these areas are top-notch and an amazing amount of attention to detail was given to every object in the game.  Animation is great, though perhaps not as impressive as the rest of the visual package.  Some of the most spectacular visuals occur when Harry is riding atop the Nimbus 2000, the environments stretch out as far as the eye can see.  The on-screen action usually runs at a steady clip of 60 frames per second, though it does have a tendency to chunk up when a large amount of objects and characters are on-screen at one time. 


Various lighting techniques were also used to great effect.  As Harry wanders around darkened corridors you’ll notice the small emission of light from his wand, and if you perform a spell, such as Lumos, which basically allows Harry to use his wand as a torch, the objects around him will light up and cast realistic shadows.  The one downside to the engine Eurocom went with in Chamber of Secrets is the sometimes-shoddy camera angles, which can easily throw your orientation off.  More often than not, this problem can be corrected by use of the camera-controlling C-stick or by hitting the L-trigger to align the camera in the direction Harry is facing, but in particularly claustrophobic areas there is nothing you can do to get a good view of the action.  But this is a minor gripe on an otherwise excellent game.


Aurally, you can expect a great combination of superb voice-acting, sound-effects, and music.  The actors that EA commissioned for this title sound almost exactly like their big-screen counterparts, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that the voice-actors didn’t quite know what kind of mood the script was going for, but 99% of the time it is dead-on.  The enchanting orchestrations that you’ll hear while running through Hogwarts or outside in the Forbidden Forest are spell-binding.  The developers really did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the Harry Potter universe in nearly every conceivable way.


I wasn’t expecting this game to be as entertaining as it is, movie-to-game titles rarely receive this much top-notch programming treatment but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is positively a work of art that any fan of the series would be happy to own.  It isn’t exactly a long-term gaming experience since it can be easily beaten in two or three sittings, but there is plenty of raison d'


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