reviews\ Nov 24, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - PS2 - Review

First of all, big round of applause to Harry Potter for being the first and only thing to get my kid off of Pokemon (Thank goodness!) Now, I never read any of the books, and recently saw the first movie on DVD, but up until that point I never understood what made this little wizard such a popular character. Well, now I know that the humorous and quirky characters mixed with a great story make for a popular and entertaining new hero, and now EA has brought all of the fun, humor, and adventure into a fun filled title for the PS2 game system.


Since I have yet to see the second movie, I didn’t know what the story was for the second one. Well, in a nutshell (without giving anything away) Harry and his buddies Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts and House Gryffindor for their second year of wizard training, where Harry has to learn more about his magical gifts, more about his friends, and ultimately more about himself and his roots all in a 3-D action style presentation. You will guide Harry on a multitude of search and find, puzzle solving, or battle based scenarios outside of and throughout Hogwarts. 


EA did a great job on this game capturing all of the looks and voices of the characters from the film and books, and a superb job capturing the environments that look almost identical, even if a tad scaled down, to the film. Everything from the immense grounds of Hogwart’s dotted with details like Hagrid’s hut and the greenhouse for Herbs class are in the distance, but will move to the foreground with no stopping or load times. The school itself really amazed me when I first set foot in it, and even the Grand Staircase which shifts and moves was included and will help Harry get from level to level and class to class throughout the game.


Well, being a 3-D action title, you’re probably wondering how it plays. In a word … smooth. The controls are easy to get into, and the PS2 controller allows you to set up to 3 different spells or items at once, allowing for quick usage depending on the situation so you don’t need to hop back and forth equipping different ones repeatedly. The game will tell you when and where you can search, which allows for quicker gameplay instead of looking through every item you encounter, and Harry jumps and climbs ledges on his own which eliminates the need to waste a button for that function. The L1 button serves as a nifty little lock on function for battling imps, flying books, or a variety of other things or foes (Like the bratty and annoying Draco Malfoy), and allows for a N64 Zelda style circling and dodging movement for easier combat ability.


In addition to smooth controls, there are also a ton of things in and outside of Hogwarts. EA did a great job mixing up various gameplay elements and mission based play styles, and while the missions are all in a set pattern and run one after the other … the environment is huge and allows for plenty of exploration and there are a multitude of things to find and do. There are also some areas which borrowed ideas from games like Metal Gear Solid 2, which will have Harry sneaking around Hogwarts and around the surrounding grounds avoiding detection by patrolling night watchers and such. Of course getting caught doesn’t mean death in this game like MGS 2, but it will result in house points being deducted which makes it harder to beat those brats in House of Slytherin later on.


Now, Harry takes Defense from the Dark Arts class in the books and the movie (and in the game too) … but he isn’t quite strong enough in that field obviously since there are a couple of dark and evil technical issues that pop up every now and then. The first of these is a normal 3-D game problem these days … the camera. There is a one-button press to line it back up behind Harry, and there is a button to get a first person view as well to see what’s in front of you, but being in front of a door or wall will prevent the camera from circling behind you and needing to move at certain strategic times can get a little frustrating. There were also a couple of weird collision detection issues where getting behind a barrel caused an earthquake with the camera, and there were a couple of moments where I was levitating in thin air about an inch away from a ledge.


To the game’s credit, these issues were only minor things for the most part, and were forgotten when I got more and more addicted to the story and the game. As for the camera, EA has done a better job in trying to put ways around it into this title than a lot of other games with similar issues out there … to give credit where credit is due. Now, the PS2’s limitations get a little apparent as you move along, and there are some really annoying load times in between some areas or when having to start over due to getting killed. I know that sometimes great graphics, gameplay, and huge levels have to take a back seat to the load times … but it doesn’t change the fact that it can break the excitement when in the middle of something or an exciting moment.


Graphically, this game has done some really amazing work in the colors, the characters, and the lighting effects. The environments were really impressive for the most part, and some areas are downright creepy … complete with floating ghosts and dark corners. Things like shadows from a classmate running down the stairs will stretch along the wall as they come running down to meet you, and little effects like stained glass reflections on the floor or sunlight streaming in through dust were added for additional effect. The voiceovers were done straight from the movie at times, and the mouths move in unison with the dialogue about 95% of the time. The music itself is orchestrated and sets the tone well for the various areas of the game that you will visit, and will change tone or pitch during exciting or creepy areas that are played through. 


Overall … and all technical issues aside … this game will definitely please the Harry Potter fan in your life. Others who enjoy a good 3-D action title will probably enjoy it as well, since even if you were to strip the big and famous namesake from the game, it still provides a solid, addictive, and fun action title. So brush up on your magic, grab your wand and Nimbus 2000 broomsticks … and hop aboard Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the PS2 for an unforgettable experience for the whole family!


Gameplay: 8.7

The controls are easy to get into and learn, and the sheer size, secrets, and unlock able or collectable goodies (The Witches and Wizards trading cards for example) are a lot of fun and will keep you looking around and searching every area you can find. Add in some neat additions like playing Quiddich or searching for Bernie Botts Beans and you’ve got a lot of things to do. There is some camera and minor collision detection issues, but nothing that will cause lack of enjoyment. The load times can and may get a little frustrating for some.


Graphics: 9.1
This is an awesome presentation of Hogwart’s … inside and out. Great lighting, massive exploration areas, and cool secret areas are all over the place. The characters, while a little on the computerized side, look almost identical to their movie counterparts. All your favorites ranging from Ron Weasley to Hagrid are found here and there to interact with.


Sound: 9.2
The sound for Chamber of Secrets pulls one heck of a great tag team combo with the graphics for an awesome presentation for both the eyes and ears of the player. The voiceovers are awesome, and the music is orchestrated and sets a great tone for the stages and levels that you progress through.


Difficulty: Medium 
While a lot of the mission based play is somewhat linear, younger players may need some assistance from an older player from time to time in navigating certain areas or finding that one level to solve a puzzle here or there.


Concept: 8.9 
A great story and a great game to compliment it. EA did a good job of getting yet another popular movie license and making it work … just like they did with Lord of the Rings last month.


Overall: 9.0
This is definitely a fun and addictive adventure game that will grow on the youngest or oldest of Harry Potter fans. It’s difficult enough to be challenging for all ages, but easy enough for all ages to enjoy as well … and even some issues here and there won’t stop the fun. In addition, it even provides a solid title for those who aren’t as into the books or movies, and could stand on it’s own as a good action game even without the big name attached. If you like action games or are a Harry Potter fan; this should be on your holiday wish list somewhere this year.  


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