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Review: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince - Xbox 360, PS3

by Steven Williamson on 7 July 2009, 17:27

Tags: Harry Potter and the half-blood prince, Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), PC, Xbox 360, PS2, DS, PS3, Wii, Action/Adventure

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Gameplay impressions

What do we like?
Though the look of Hogwarts has simply been ripped from previous games in the Potter franchise, you can’t fail to be impressed by how well the school has been designed. From the finely detailed classrooms, Grand Hall and common-room, to the impressive architecture of the castle’s courtyards, towers and turrets, no stone has been left unturned to conjure up an impressive looking Hogwarts. From Hagrid’s Hut to the Herbology Classroom, fans of the books and movies should therefore enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies around the castle grounds and its vast interior.

There's some enjoyment to be had out of the three main mini-games (which take up a large portion of the gameplay,) particularly creating potions. You have to follow on-screen prompts and pick the right ingredients, pour them in the cauldron and then heat them up by flicking the right analogue stick up and down. Though the premise is simple, it’s is challenging having to move swiftly between different potions while making sure that you pour the right amount into the cauldron. You also need to stir the concoction and wave any smoke out of the way should you get the measurement wrong. Having to do these actions while up against the clock proves to be a entertaining challenge.

Spell casting and combat moves have been well mapped to the controller and the bad camera angles that have plagued some pf the previous Potter games happily don't surface. This makes for an all-round much smoother experience. There's a good range of attacking and defensive spells to master, including Petrificus Totalus, which freezes your opponent, or Protego, that deflects any spells that has been cast at you. During duels in particular, it can be an exciting game of cat and mouse as you try to second guess your opponent, dodge attacks and then let off a Stupefy spell to stun them, or an Expelliarmus spell to knock them to the ground.

Generally, the audio work does well to capture the magical world of Harry Potter and to emulate the high quality soundtrack and acting that we're used to seeing in the movies. Though not all of the official Harry Potter movie cast has lent their voices to the game, there are some strong performances from the stand-ins, particularly from Adam Sopp as Harry Potter. The real actors who do provide their voices, such as Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, do a great job at delivering some witty lines - and some really awful ones.

If you've played the Potter games before and enjoyed them, there's no reason at all why you wouldn't enjoy Half-Blood Prince. Essentially, it uses the same backdrop from previous games, only throws in some new ideas, such as potion making, and mixes them with some familiar Potter escapades, such as Quidditch and spell casting.

What don’t we like?
Despite having some brilliant source material work with, key elements from the Half-Blood Prince book and tons of relevant information has been omitted. The game has obviously been designed to be played by people who have read the book or have already watched the movie - anyone else will find it hard to make out what's going on and even some Potter fans will be disappointed at the lack of attention to detail.

Hogwarts on the other hand has been impressively detailed, although for some reason you don't have a map to help you find your way around or to encourage you to explore. You can call for help from Nearly Headless Nick who'll guide you to certain areas and encourage you to follow him, but a map would have been far more appropriate. However, though there is some enjoyment out of exploring and finding familiar haunts from the Harry Potter universe, there's not actually much to do when you get there. Outside of the three main mini-games, there's little worth exploring Hogwarts for. Sure, you can search for hidden crests and the hundreds of mini-crests, but it's a fairly monotonous chore.

Though we've enjoyed playing two of the three mini-games they do soon get repetitive. Making potions and joining the Gryffindor Duelling Club to take on increasingly difficult challenges provides some entertainment in the short-term, but the Quidditch game feels unfinished. Having played and enjoyed the Quidditch World Cup videogame and enjoyed Quidditch in the other Harry Potter games, this school sport seems to have taken a step back in terms of quality and fun factor. Instead of being involved in an actual game of Quidditch, you're really just testing out your broomstick skills and using your left stick to guide Harry Potter through check points around the pitch. Okay, so it's simple and accessible for kids to pick up and play (perhaps that's the idea behind it's simplicity,) but personally we only found it only relatively enjoyable for a couple of games. By our sixth game, we were quite happy to end our Quidditch experience without wanting to be school champion.

Though we've generally spoke highly of the representation of Hogwarts, there are some inconsistencies in the graphical quality throughout the game. Some of the character models look great, like Potter, but others look like they've been mushed together haphazardly in the shortest possible time, Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley in particular. Similarly, some of the cut-scenes lack the polish you'd expect from a money-spinning franchise that has such a huge following.

Final Thoughts
Suffice to say, we're disappointed with this sixth iteration of J.K Rowling's masterpiece. Harry Potter is a license that has the potential to be made into an amazing videogame, but the developer only ever seems to settle for average. Hogwarts looks great and we had fun for a while with two of the three mini-games, but overall there's very little to do in such a large game space; it's a wasted opportunity. Still, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince will fly off the shelves quicker than a Firebolt and Harry Potter fans will get some enjoyment out of playing as their favourite wizard once again and exploring the magical castle of Hogwarts.

Final Score - 6/10

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