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Potter and his band of wizarding chums return for their fifth year at Hogwarts - but does it capture the magic of the school years...
- Intuitive and immersive Wii-remote controls
- Good looking Wii title
- Fully explorable Hogwarts
- Dull mission structure
- Clunky camera system
- Slow paced gameplay
This summer it's going to be very difficult to escape from Harry Potter. With JK Rowling's final instalment in the series set to arrive towards the end of July and the fifth movie due for release in the next couple of weeks, the triple-bill of Potter entertainment ends with Electronic Arts' adaptation of the feature film. The first title in the series to arrive on the likes of Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, The Order of the Phoenix follows the boy wizard in his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which sees the newly re-surfaced Lord Voldemort build up a new power base from the shadows.
Beyond the brand name, past games have generally treaded a line of mediocrity, and storyline aside haven't managed to pull players into the world created by Rowling. This year however, EA promises something different, with a small range of features all aiming to create the most immersive Potter game to date - not least the control system.
It doesn't take a wizarding genius to suppose that with its wand-like shape, the Wii version naturally lends itself to the spell-cast heavy game. Targeting with the on-screen pointer before waving the Wii-remote and nunchuk in one of several contextual movements (depending on whether you target on an object or a person), such as the sharp upward pull into the gravity-defying 'Wingardium Leviosa' or the push into a opponent-stunning 'Stupify', the responsiveness is surprisingly accurate and a fun novelty early on. Additional spells such as 'Ignitio' and 'Reparo' are used to complete the extended thread of piecing broken bookcases, statues, and set alight the torches that line the walls of the school...something that you'd expect the janitor to do
Like the Wii version, the PlayStation3 edition of Order of the Phoenix features motion control via SIXAXIS, with the game representative of one concern first aired when Sony unveiled their Wii-remote rip-off at E3 2006 - its awkward shape doesn't make for a more immersive experience. Coupled with that the fact that spell-casting using the SIXAXIS motion control is about as responsive as a lethargic sloth, and PS3 gamers will soon find themselves switching to the analogue sticks like Xbox 360 players. Arguably the least compelling is the PSP version of the game, which (due to the usual hardware issue, the lack of a second analogue nipple) relies solely on holding buttons down and executing combos of buttons. The Portable PlayStation isn't the most intuitive format to experience the Order of the Phoenix, and is every bit the generic port.
Unlike the control system (on Wii at least), the camera is far from responsive and ultimately becomes one of the letdowns of the game, nullifying all of the solid work EA UK has managed to do with the gesture-controlled spells. Largely out of the control of the player, getting the camera to look around at times can be clunky at best, and at worst, frustrating. Some level of camera control is available for players when they use the wand by moving the pointer closer to the edges of the screen, but it's not exactly an ideal solution.
For the first time in the videogame franchise, the true scale of Hogwarts has been revealed. From the upper tower housing Professor Trelawney's Divination class, down to the Great Hall, and beyond the walls of the school itself to Hagrid's hut, the Boathouse, and the Owlery, EA UK has undoubtedly been hard at work replicating the movies' and books' interpretation of Rowling's school. Ultimately, with most of the story set behind the walls of the school, that's to be expected. However, both the structure of the gameworld and the gameplay means that players will find themselves drawn into seemingly endless travelling up and down corridors for the bulk of their time in the game - which is about as fun as it was back in the days of going to school in the real world.
Treading the same old and dusty corridors of Hogwarts time and time again makes The Order of the Phoenix seem more like the adaptation of Groundhog's Day, not of a Harry Potter adventure. Treading the same old and dusty corridors of Hogwarts time and time again makes The Order of the Phoenix seem more like the adaptation of Groundhog's...see what I mean??? There's endless trudging up and down the Grand Staircase, the towers, and the courtyards with Ron and Hermione on Harry's footsteps, their only use seems to be to repeat the mission objective time and time again, which only serves to grow the frustration of walking around the same corridors time and time again.
Decidedly fractured gameplay, linked together with the inevitable cut-scenes that push the story forward to the events below the Ministry of Magic, and the death of Sirius Black makes the Order of the Phoenix one of the most crawlingly slow titles as it seldom breaks into a sweat. Rarely gearing up to be anything nearing compelling, it's hard to imagine even the target younger audience of gamers grinding through the dull missions once the initial novelty of using either SIXAXIS/Wii-Remote or analogue sticks to cast spells has worn off. Also, if the game's missions are anything to go by, the kids attending Hogwarts are probably some of the most apathetic in the country. Constantly bribing Harry, Ron, and Hermione that in exchange for completing their homework, or retrieving objects like a stolen camera or a gift, they'd attend all-important "Dumbledore's Army" meeting...which they'd already signed up to so they wouldn't get fried in a battle against Voldemort or his Death Eaters. The strange thing is that Harry is easily prepared to turn away requests for help from other students, so why shouldn't he just do the same for the "D.A." members? Probably because if EA UK didn't add such pointless and dull tasks, there'd be very little to the game beyond endless 'Reparo' spell casts to put a dilapidated Hogwarts back together, play Snap, Solitaire, or Chess with other students, or taking part in various lessons held by Professors Sprout, Filch, and later on, Snape. Instead, dull and/or frustrating searches for some randomly hidden warthog gargoyles, flowers, and even Sirius' malevolent House-Elf form the bulk of Harry's adventures. Occasional run ins with various members of the ambitious Slytherin house break up the 'action', but even these duels get bogged down after a short-time...though the game does switch playable characters towards the end of the game, with both Sirius and Dumbledore himself taking the fight to Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Away from the single-player game shared across the multi-platforms, the PSP edition also features a side set of Multiplayer duels, where players can fight in the Duelling Club, against the Ministry of Magic's Inquisitorial Squad (which includes Draco Malfoy), or take part in the battle underneath the Ministry of Magic itself. A likely attempt at bringing instant play gaming to a title that doesn't immediately lend itself to five minute blasts of gameplay, it doesn't excuse an otherwise mediocre port that is by far the weakest version of the adaptation. The DS also features a side-game of Quidditch, together with mic-enabled gameplay...where players have to blow the fire underneath their cauldrons to make it hotter.
But where could EA UK have improved the game? After all, their LA-based cousin studio managed to create last year's abhorrent Superman Returns tie-in without the need of sticking to any semblance of the movie's storyline - beyond a few scattered cut-scenes, that its. The fact is that Order of the Phoenix ticks many of the boxes necessary for a Harry Potter game: visually the characters and Hogwarts are both faithful to the hugely successful movies; the new switch to casting spells with analogue sticks or motion control creates an extra angle of immersion for fans of Potter to enjoy; and lastly, the main story thread stays faithful to the events of Harry's fifth year at the school. Perhaps next year gamers will be able to shout "Wingardium Leviosa" into microphones whilst swinging their arms about...and forget about doing other people's homework for them.