haggis's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Xbox 360) review

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: A Review

What made the last Harry Potter game relatively enjoyable (for a movie tie-in) were the solid visuals and exploration. This more recent attempt, however, only manages to make the last game look even better.

Hogwarts still looks very good, for the most part. The layout of the school has been firmly established, so if you've played the previous games in the series, you'll mostly know your way around. There are new areas, of course, which are woven together with the older parts of the school quite well. You'll wander through the halls and remember puzzles from the earlier game. It's all done quite well.

But therein lies one of the problems: the areas are all too familiar. Sure, there are new items to find (including Hogwarts crests and mini-crests) but you'll be looking in most of the same places. The previous game managed to mix up the treasure hunts in a way that this game does not. It's all crests, from beginning to end.

And that might be fine, if the single-player story was well done. To call it a disaster is to be kind. The story rockets along at a breakneck pace. It makes little to no sense if you haven't read the book. But let's be honest: you've probably read the book if you're playing this game. And that's all the worse. Anyone who even mildly liked the book will be offended by the way the story is handled here. Beyond the normal editing done for a movie, the game makes the mistake of telling you most of what happened rather than actually showing you. Most of the story is given in after-the-fact lectures from Ron and Hermione.

Here it is important to note one of the game's incredible shortcomings: the character models. When still, they look quite good, but the animations are horrible. The running looks floaty. They are stiff and unbelievable. More significantly, some of the major characters (including Ginny) sometimes completely lose their facial animations, or occasionally only some of them. It is quite disturbing, let me tell you, to watch the Harry-Ginny love scene with her unblinking staring eyes. Creepy. And it happens throughout the game.

The game is incredibly easy. Even for neophyte gamers, there is no challenge to be had here. Spellcasting is reduced to constant spamming. The controls are responsive, for the most part, for casting spells. But there is an unexplainable and often infuriating lack of sensitivity to the movement controls during fights. On top of that, the normal movement speed outside of fights is often infuriatingly slow. But that's ok, right, because the game allows you to run. Except that while running you'll find that steering is impossible. Unless you're going down a straightaway, running is completely worthless.

The game does offer some other minigames during the main story, including Quidditch and Potion Making. Quidditch consists of a practice mode followed by a game mode. What this means is that you'll have to play each course twice to move on. The movement is on rails, essentially. The camera follows down a pre-designed track, throwing up circles to pass through. There is limited movement for Harry on screen. Occasionally there will be dummy targets to avoid, or other Quidditch players smacking into you.

In general, these scenarios are frustrating and boring. They are not difficult, but the movement is so jerky and unpredictable that you feel like you're fighting the controls. The mode should have been abandoned.

Potion making was more enjoyable. In fact, it is the highlight of the game. A list of ingredients must be assembled in a limited amount of time. The sticks control which item to pick up, which must be moved over the cauldron and poured in. Other items must be dropped in a certain number of times. Sometimes potions must be shaken first. Heating and stirring are also involved. It's actually enjoyable and challenging, and one of the only parts of the game that is satisfying to complete.

That said, it's not perfect. It is frustrating at first to know when certain items are above the cauldron. A shadow does appear (sometimes) to aid in aiming, but it can be frustrating at first, given the time limit. But with some experience this becomes less of an issue.

Overall, this game simply won't appeal to anyone but a fan of the series. And even then, I suspect most Harry Potter fans who are gamers will find this game obnoxious, boring and frustrating. Still, there is Hogwarts to explore, and the game does manage to not screw that up horribly. If exploring Hogwarts is all you want to do, though, best to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix out of the bargain bin instead.

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