When I played last year’s Harry Potter movie tie-in, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was pleasantly surprised at how decent the game was. With movie tie-ins, it’s difficult not to be cynical about a game’s quality, but last year’s Potter game gave me hope that movie games didn’t have to be utter rubbish. As I started up Deathly Hallows, I was excited to see if any improvements had been made to the already-solid formula presented last year. However, what I got was a horribly linear experience with poor mechanics that didn’t even try to represent the experience of the movie, the book, or even a halfway-decent game.
The game starts with Harry and Hagrid escaping from some Death Eaters who have taken to the skies to try and exterminate the boy wizard. As you are flying through the air, you are quickly introduced to what will become the game’s central mechanic: wand fighting. And no, this is not the casual wand-fighting we saw in the last game that involved speed and coordination. This is a completely different beast more akin to first person shooting. We’ll call it “wanding”. Sure, this sounds a little out there, but the mechanics are almost identical to that you would find in a shooting game: you can aim through a reticule using the left stick, lock on with the L2 button, and then fire with R2. I will admit that this mechanic intrigued me at first: who would have thought Harry Potter would try to blend in with the shooter crowd? But I quickly realized that this experiment is a failed one, as first-person wanding just isn’t interesting enough to give this game any staying power.
One of the biggest flaws with the combat system is that it is far too shallow. The game does give you a handful of spells to use, but all you ever really need is the default spell, which dispatches enemies quickly and efficiently. Sure, you CAN cast protection spells over your friends, but they are never in real peril, so it is sort of a waste. And Harry Potter is never in any real danger either, as the game gets rid of life meters in favor of peril screens (similar to what you would find in Call of Duty or Halo) that last only a few seconds. As long as you can find some cover to duck behind once you notice everything around you slowing down, you won’t have a problem staying alive.
The actual spellcasting mechanics are also so ridiculously simple that wielding your wand feels more like wielding a shotgun than a magical apparatus. Continuously hammering on the fire button is the only way to really excel in the game, and blasting through levels like you’re Marcus Fenix becomes monotonous quickly. Shooters add gameplay variety by including different guns and new enemy types, but there is no variety in Deathly Hallows, which makes the experience that much duller.
Combat in Deathly Hallows may be the most overt misstep in the game, but there are other areas where the game falters as well. One of the biggest praises I had for Half-Blood Prince was the open world aspect of the game. Sure, the game had an underlying linearity to it, but there were collection quests and chatty NPCs dotting the landscape, which made exploration worthwhile for those wanting more from the game than simple story-based quests. However, Deathly Hallows gets rid of the open world aspects and substitutes it with tiny claustrophobic levels that are often simple enclosed areas or even straight lines. There is no inspiration at all behind the design of the world of Deathly Hallows, which is just a shame.
There is one area though where Deathly Hallows does outshine its predecessor: visuals. While character models were a little too simplistic and environments a little too bland before, the visuals in this entry in the series improve on nearly every aspect of the original. Character models in particular are highly detailed, and Harry Potter and Co. look extremely good. The different environments also sport a good amount of detail, although NPCs and enemies sometimes have a jarring amount of repetitive design elements. However, this is a small quibble, as the visual design overall is impressive.
But despite the game’s good looks, the other production values do suffer in Deathly Hallows. The sound in particular is one area that could have definitely used some help. Though the game’s cast of original actors and sound-alikes seem to try hard, the game features some really wooden performances, and chatty NPCs have a tendency to repeat the same stock phrases over and over, which grates on the nerves quickly.
You can expect to get about three to four hours of play time from the game’s main story mode. Although that sounds a little short, it is around the average for movie-licensed games, so there’s no real surprise there. The game does try to beef up its contents with a challenge mode that has you participating in small mini-quests that are scored and ranked, but these challenges are largely forgettable, and without a multiplayer component (beyond the leaderboard), there’s no real reason to play through them.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 looked to change up the series and provide some innovation with the new wand-based combat mechanic. However, boring implementation of the mechanic, uninspired level design, and some poor production values (with the exception of the visuals) sink this game into a poor representation of the Harry Potter franchise. If you want a good Harry Potter game, you are better off playing last year’s Half-Blood Prince. Sure, it doesn’t look as smart, and it was far from perfect, but it was a much more enjoyable experience at the end of the day, and one I think the team who worked on Deathly Hallows can learn from. If you must experience Deathly Hallows’ video game component, this one is only worth a rental at best, as you won’t get more than a few hours’ play time from it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The visuals are the one area of this franchise that has been improved. The character models look great comma and the environments are nicely rendered. 2.8 Control
Though the wand-based controls are simple to pick up and play, they lack depth and become monotonous quickly. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voiceover quality is hit or miss, but repetitive dialogue wears on the nerves quickly. 2.2 Play Value
Though the addition of a challenge mode does make for some replay value, the game itself isn’t all that entertaining, and it’s unlikely you’ll want to play past the four-hour story mode. 2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|