Harry Potter's growing up fast, isn't he? No longer the charming kid/cute boy/snivelling little git (delete as appropriate) he once was ten years ago, everyone's favourite wizard prodigy is now a teenager dealing with conspiracies, murderers and fantastical beasts. At least he doesn't have a problem with spots.
As Harry grows up, so do those who have been avid fans of the books, films and games since childhood. It is for this reason that Electronic Arts has something of a dilemma on its hands – movie tie-ins are supposed to be as accessible as possible, but in the past that has meant developing simple games that kids can understand.
The boundaries will have to be pushed further for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
– are you kidding me?) so as not to bore the now-grown up target audience. But as a family-friendly franchise, there's an obligation to not go too far ahead and alienate a new generation of kids getting into the books.
It's a proper conundrum alright, and one that EA has not ignored. Playing through a stage where Harry had to sneak his way into the Ministry of Magic showcased the balance that the Bright Light studio has tried to maintain here. There's an acceptable amount of challenge for older players, but controls and HUD design is kept as light as possible for younger fans to jump right in.
Separated from the rest of his band of merry friends (that'll be Hermione and what's-his-face... Ron, that's it), the player must guide Harry through a maze of sullen corridors guarded by about ten thousand different enemies that are out to find Potter, now he's something of a wanted man. You can either choose to fight them, which would be insane, or you can try and use some stealth by using an invisibility spell. They'll be none the wiser.
The game is largely played in a third-person perspective, just like in previous Harry Potter games, but when you use this invisibility spell the camera flips to first-person and an icon, that can only really be described as a fuse arranged in the shape of a triangle, appears in the corner of the screen. This fuse burns down with movement and close proximity to enemy guards, but if you stop for a second and get away from nearby foes it slowly regenerates.
Beyond the Source
Obviously, if the fuse depletes, you become visible again and you don't want to be in the middle of a wizard scrum when that happens. It's not the only spell Harry has at his disposal though, just in case it all goes wrong – a selection of defensive and offensive tricks can be combined to keep your pursuers at bay, such as dispel move Expelliarmus and rapid fire explosive Expulso.
There's a lot of attention to detail in terms of location, character animation and even in terms of going beyond the source material – I'm told that there are a few areas in the game that expand on some of the scenes from the movie. That alone will be enough for Potter fans everywhere to enjoy. In terms of gameplay, it feels solid enough, if lacking a little in depth – going from corridor to fight scene, corridor to fight scene.
It might just be the particular stage I played though, so I'm keeping an open mind, and what's respectable is that Bright Light isn't just going through the motions here. The Ministry of Magic has multiple routes within it – some easier and quicker than others – but to help you along the way you can engage a spell called Four Points. It won't necessarily take you through the best route to the end, but it does provide an optional helping hand to those struggling to navigate the level.
The Xbox 360 version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
) includes an extra mode that takes advantage of the Kinect peripheral. It exists purely as an optional time attack and had no bearing on the main game, but I couldn't resist giving it a go anyway just to see how Microsoft's new toy could provide a vastly different experience.
As it stands, it's a little shallow. Harry runs around some ruins in a forest landscape automatically, and your job is to pose in different positions to get the hero to cast spells on enemies. Flicking your right arm forward casts Stupefy, a little blue pissy laser thing that knackers most of your opponents and probably the easiest spell to perform as it requires little effort.
Meaner baddies appear throughout the course of the stage though and as Harry pussyfoots around ancient structures, you're going to need a bigger arsenal. You can cast another spell, Confringo, by holding one hand up and another forward, like a letter 'L' – that shoots a range attack that can blast all nearby enemies. You can also throw potion bombs by motioning a throw with your left arm.
Kinect is a little funny about detecting exactly what you want to cast, and having to aim is cumbersome too. You have to shake your hands several times to shoot just one spell, and it can get awfully tiring after just one sitting (standing?). This may have been with some form of auto-aim as well, which is a bit worrying.
However, after a little while you start to get a feel for how your movement is translated in the game and can sort of work around these issues to have a fun time regardless. Ultimately, your mileage will vary on this one.
In all other respects though, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
seems to be a coming-of-age for the game series, just as much as it is for the main character himself. We'll soon see if the finished product can attract all kinds of audiences while adapting slightly to the changing demands of the series' now older gamers.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is heading for release on the 19th November for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS and PC.