Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
28th Jun 2007 | 08:30
To be frank, if you don't know your Dumbledore from your Dementors, your Sirius Black from your Severus Snape, or your Hagrid from your Hermione then you're advised to run far, far away from Order of the Phoenix. Five game tie-ins later, there are absolutely no concessions to Potter virgins, which actually makes this the best game of the lot.
New characters are at a premium, so instead of getting bogged down introducing more eccentrics on top of an already bloated cast, you're immediately thrown into the slightly-more-adult-than-usual story. The basic gist is that a new teacher is appointed at Hogwarts to keep watch over the students, but she turns out to be a bit crap, so Harry gathers an army of students and teaches them how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts. Job done.
What fans want from a Harry Potter game - and what's been sorely lacking from previous efforts - is the feeling they're actually at Hogwarts and are able to explore every nook, cranny and secret passage and interact with everyone and everything. Order of the Phoenix delivers this in spades. As you wander around the school you'll overhear students mocking Ron's new appointment as a Gryffindor prefect, pupils from rival houses taunting Harry, and ghosts and portraits in paintings making comments about Harry's notoriety.
KING OF THE CASTLE
Hogwarts is dauntingly huge and includes all the key locations from the books and films, such as the house common rooms, the Great Hall, Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom and the Trophy Room. For the most part you're free to explore wherever you like, and only a few rooms and secret passages remain locked until you complete a task elsewhere. You can also venture outside to the castle's grounds where there are just as many things to see and do, and if the PS2 version tends to chug along here, then there are no complaints about the game's impressive scale.
This allows a more sandbox-style gameplay that the series has been crying out for since, well, the Philosopher's Stone. Taking its cue from LEGO Star Wars II, there are loads of
side missions and bonus objectives to keep you going back for more once the fairly short main story is completed - a feature which couldn't be said of the previous completely linear games. You can compete in chess matches against each house's champion; tidy up Hogwarts by repairing broken statues and structures; discover portrait passwords to open shortcuts through Hogwarts; and get top marks in all classes among many other things to do.
After five hours we'd got through a sizeable chunk of the story but had only completed about 20% of the game, and one or two of the puzzles had even proved relatively challenging for our bulging and devious adult-sized brains.
JOIN THE GANG
Crucially, most of the challenges outside of the story are triggered by the player discovering them for themselves, either by accident or just by being nosy and trying out your spells on different objects. The bulk of your time, however, is spent tracking down characters who may be willing to join Harry's army and then completing tasks on their behalf in order to persuade them. These range from handing in an essay for a teacher to collecting a book from the library for a student, but occasionally you'll get to participate in something a bit more exciting than simple fetch and carry quests such as magic battles with rival students or Tomb Raider-esque athletic challenges. Spells are cast using the Right analogue stick, which proves a far better method than the dumbed-down context-sensitive system of Goblet of Fire, while a handy spell book stores your magic and shows the type of stick movement required to cast them.
There are a few problems of course, most of which linger over from previous games in the series. Camera control is still out of your hands, and you'll frequently find it chooses the most awkward position, especially in some of Hogwarts' narrow passageways; the voice acting is variable with many of the kids sounding lifeless; the map of Hogwarts is useless, though there is compensation in the form of footprints that appear on the floor ahead of you directing you to a selected task; and repetition starts to set in about one third of the way through.
What carries the game through some of its weaker moments is its charm and spirited embodiment of the movie. It's a shame that it has taken five games to get a good Potter game, but this bodes well for the final two movie tie-ins. Recommended.