With fans lining up to see the latest Harry Potter movie and read the latest book, we thought the time was right to take a look at the latest Harry Potter game; Order of the Phoenix for Xbox 360.
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 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In the fifth and most recent game tie-in, there are absolutely no concessions to Potter virgins.
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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 evil, so Harry gathers an army of students and teaches them how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts.
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The school 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; only a few areas 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.
This sandbox-style gameplay is, for the most part, an improvement. Loads of side missions and bonus objectives will keep you busy once the extremely short main story is completed – something that couldn’t be said of Order of the Phoenix’s totally linear predecessors. You can compete in chess matches (or Exploding Snaps) against each house’s champion; engage in wand duels with passing Slytherins; discover portrait passwords to open shortcuts through Hogwarts; search for hidden creatures; and attempt to get top marks in all your classes.
Crucially, most of the challenges outside the story are triggered by the player themselves, just by being nosy and trying out various spells on objects. We discovered the entrance to the Prefects’ Bathroom purely by accident, and solving the puzzle inside was purely optional. The reward for doing so, however, would be worth any Potterphile’s time and effort.
Unfortunately, the majority of extra missions involve activities so dull you wouldn’t even want to tackle them in real life –
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Other problems 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; the voice acting is variable with many of the kids sounding asleep; and the map of Hogwarts is useless, though magical footprints do help by guiding you to your selected task.
What carries the game through these weaker moments, however, is its charm and spirited embodiment of the movie. Cleaning isn’t as bad when you’ve got Ron and Hermoine by your side. Running back and forth isn’t as annoying when the environments are so full of life.
And, finally, spell casting works. The new system, which asks you to twirl the right analog stick through different rotations and directions, proves a much more enjoyable and immersive method than the dumbed-down controls in Goblet of Fire. Order of the Phoenix may not have as many action-packed sequences as that game, but it does capture a lot more magic.