As Harry Potter matured over his years at Hogwarts, so has the story’s overall tone. Starting out as a lighthearted childrens’ adventure, it eventually became a dark tale of death, revenge and a fight for survival. The games have mimicked this dark transition, as each one dared to try something new. Harry’s latest outing, however, has more in common with the likes of Gears of War and other cover based third person shooters than you might expect for a game about young wizards.
The first part of the final tale has Harry and company far away from Hogwarts on a quest for Horcruxes, as they need to be destroyed so Voldemort can lose his immortality and be destroyed once and for all. While it makes sense for the game to shift its gameplay from the open-world format to a mission-based shooter, it fails to succeed in making it work.
If you’re up to speed in third-person shooters, expect to feel mostly at home as far as controls go, save for one major difference: the actual shooting. Expect your trigger finger to hurt after a mission or so as you constantly have to mash the R Trigger to shoot your spells. Couple that with a horrendous aiming system, which is so stiff it’s practically useless, that auto-aim becomes absolutely crucial to your survival.
As you shoot down Death Eaters and Snatchers, Harry levels up and gains new spells or certain boosts to stats. Each new spell is essentially a different “gun”. Confundo acts as a sniper rifle that will make enemies fight for you, Impedimenta fires a burst shot, Expelliarmus is a shotgun that will knock down opponents, etc. Spells such as Wingardium Leviosa are no longer used to solve puzzles as in previous games, instead it picks up nearby items to use as shields to block incoming attacks. Meanwhile the occasional Dementor can be easily defeated with a quick Patronus. This could have been an amazing system, letting players utilize a different spell for various situations, but they end up being pointless when you can simply spam Stupefy over and over again.
The level design is all over the place. Some levels, like the Ministry of Magic, are designed quite well and look extremely accurate, but the rest feel incredibly monotonous, seemingly having various random elements copied and pasted throughout. When not Stupefying Death Eaters, you will don the Invisibility Cloak for sneaking missions, which are by far the worst parts of the game. With the cloak on, you’re free to move around people, making sure you don’t bump into them. The cloak has a limited amount of time to use and either must be taken off or Harry has to stand still to recharge it. Since this takes place in first person, prepare to get bumped into all the damn time.
For Kinect owners, there is a side mission mode which acts as an on-rail shooter, relying on gestures to cast spells. Sadly, this mode is about a 100 times worse, and will make your arm want to fall off. To cast a spell, you simply thrust your hand forward, but not only does it not register sometimes, your shots fly all over the place, hitting enemies purely by luck. Since each mission has would-be wizards fighting for the fastest completion time, flailing your arm vigorously will almost always ensure you the top spot.
It’s not shocking that a movie game is terrible, but it is somewhat surprising since Harry Potter’s last two games have been fairly good. The uninspired levels, horrendous shooting mechanics, lackluster controls, and a tacked-on Kinect mode make this one Harry Potter piece of merchandise fans should stay far, far away from.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]