Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)July 1st, 2009 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Wii, Xbox 360
Video games based on movies don’t usually fare well with gamers or critics, and games based on movies based on books don’t usually fare well either. But every once in a while, there are games based on the latter that surprise their audiences. This was the case with the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But with the recent release of Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, was the last game a stroke of luck?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince follows Harry’s sixth and second-to-last term as a student in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With countless attacks by the Death Eaters the passed year, including the inevitable resurrection of Lord Voldemort, the Aurors of wizarding world have put up tight security measures throughout Hogwarts, leaving a sense of discomfort among the students. The novel’s characters are now 16, coming of age, and are realizing that times will never be the same. While it sounds like your typical Harry Potter book in the series, fans know that perhaps the biggest plot twist in the series occurs in this story. So if you’re unaware of what’s happening, this game really won’t help.
While the game is loosely based on the movie adaptation of the book, the storytelling in no way captures the emotion that viewers of the movie will feel, and it’ll undoubtedly not even come close to the book. Like its predecessor in the Order of the Phoenix, they key component in what makes this game good is the wonderful environment to be experienced. Half-Blood Prince simply has you reprising Harry Potter’s role as a student at Hogwarts, and everything is at your disposal from attending class, navigating your way through the halls and fields of Hogwarts, and even having a few backyard fights with those annoying students from the opposing houses.
After a few portions of the game that work as a tutorial by having you perform simple tasks, you’ll find yourself at Hogwarts rushing to get to your Potions class, which is now taught by Professor Slughorn. From Gryffindor House, Potions is a long way, so unless you want to get Harry lost exploring the big halls of Hogwarts, you can call upon the services of Gryffindor’s Ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, to help navigate through the huge campus. Once arriving in class, you’re instructed to review a few of your potions, and that’s where things get a bit interesting, depending on which platform you’re playing the game on.
On the Xbox 360, it’s just a simple matter of picking and choosing and pressing buttons. If you’re playing the game with the PlayStation 3, you’ll mostly be using the sixaxis analog sticks to get things done. It can get pretty complicated at first, but there’s no real way to really fail. In fact, if you fail, you actually get to start over again, so mistakes are easily corrected. The Wii actually handles things pretty well and adds a more realistic touch. The motion-sensitive controls allow you to pick things up with a simple flick of the wrist, and you can do things such as poor the chemicals into the solution by doing a pouring movement with your arms, and you can do things such as shake the pot or ingredient simply by shaking your Wii Remote. In fact, the Wii controls are almost perfect with potions—it’s just unfortunate that there’s no support of the WiiMotion sensor.
When you’re not concocting potions in the game, much of the gameplay revolves around exploration, and that’s truly where the game shines. The movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the first experience that gave avid readers of the book an actual visual of the wizarding world, but it wasn’t until the 5th video game (Order of the Phoenix), that people had the chance of exploring the depths of the world. Half-Blood Prince capitalizes off of its predecessor’s best feature by further expanding the world, granting you access to places such as the Boathouse and even the path to the Hogwarts Quidditch stadium. Also, through plot-driven aspects such as the Pensieve, Harry has the opportunity to view places such as Hogsmeade, or even the area where Tom Riddle grew up. At first, not every place becomes accessible due to the security measures the Aurors put around campus, but as you progress through the game, each area opens up as made evident by Harry’s constant peers through the Marauder’s Map.
Exploring the depths of Hogwarts is definitely a great experience, but the only thing bringing the experience down is something that brought down the experience in the other games as well. Harry still controls like a drunk. Not only does he run slowly, but when trying to turn, it requires unnecessary rotations of the analog stick (of all platforms) and it can be quite annoying. Also, using the left shoulder button (or the Z button on the Wii), Harry can dash to get to areas faster. While you feel a good sense of speed with a blurred atmosphere, maneuvering Harry becomes even harder, adding to the annoyances.
Also spread throughout the wizarding world are Hogwarts crests that you can collect that unlock more minigames, artwork, and other cool easter eggs to enhance features within the game. There are 150 in the game, and a select few of that amount are split into pieces, kind of like the Pieces of Heart in the Zelda games. Obtaining these require you to perform different kinds of objectives, including rotating your wand at random objects with an aura, or by solving different kinds of puzzles. It adds a bit of a fetch quest in the game, so it’s something perfectionists can look into.
Harry’s lazy control is not just limited to exploration either, but it also is a bit of an issue in Quidditch. If you remember the Quidditch World Cup game that was released last generation, it’s almost nothing like that. Since you’re Harry, you’re forced to play specifically as the Seeker—whose job is to catch the snitch, get awarded 150 points, and end the game. Unfortunately, all that requires you to do is fly through a series of glowing hoops that allow for you to get more time to catch the snitch. If you miss a few, the hoops turn into a reddish color that symbolizes lost time, and if you run out of time, your opponent will get to the snitch first, guaranteeing you a loss. While going through a series of hoops is an easy feat, the game makes it troublesome by not only having the camera abruptly follow the snitch (and therefore have horrible camera angles), but you have both your teammates and opposing Quidditch players in the way as you try to approach each hoop. Crashing into things will affect the speed of your broom heavily, so your reflexes and ability to adapt with a bad camera will become essential in order to win Quidditch games.
When Harry’s not walking around campus, making potions, or playing Quidditch, he’ll run into random bullies challenging him to duels. This is where things become rather fun. Again, the controls are a bit questionable—the PS3 once again requires you to use the analog sticks, the Xbox 360 has you simply pressing buttons in a slow fashion, and there’s a lot of waggle action on the Wii. The spells at your disposal include charging—holding back to make your attacks stronger, Stupefy—a fireball, Expelliarmus—a purple ball of energy that knocks your opponent off their feet (quite curious… because in the book, this was a spell that disarmed your opponent), Petrificus Totatlus–a spell that petrifies or stuns your opponent, Protego—a protective aura, and Levicorpus—a cool spell that allows you to lift your opponents and hang them upside down, leaving them exposed to any attack. Health in these duels is represented by orbs on the bottom of the screen on each side, and obviously—the person who loses all his balls first loses. The cool thing about dueling is that there’s an option to duel just about anybody in the game, including Ginny Weasley. While the controls are a bit blocky, they’re easy to learn, and dueling is even easier because spamming your attacks are pretty much all you need to win because there’s no limit to your magic. The guys here at Gamer 2.0 particularly had fun by shaking the Wii Remotes endlessly, causing an excessive amount of fireballs to hit Ginny—even when she’s down. Filthy peasant.
While the environments in the game look incredible and definitely give you the feeling of really trudging through the halls of Hogwarts, the character models are actually quite horrible. It’s cool to run into a character and have them moan in displeasure, but the fact that each character is incredibly ugly and in no way resembles their real-life persona takes away from that experience. Ron, in particular, looks like an albino robot, and considering this is EA—a worldwide leader that’s published games like Madden and The Sims—games with incredible detail to people, it’s a bit disappointing.
While the visuals are barely presentable, the soundtrack is definitely as exciting as the musical score given on the movies, but of course, the problems come from the game’s tireless voice acting. While they sound like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, the acting part of it proves that it’s not really them.
As for which game to get, it depends what’s more important. The Wii has superior controls, while the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions provide the best presentation. Because of the PS3’s lack of real sixaxis support, the Xbox 360 version should receive the nod due to its more user-friendly presentation.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a title that gets a lot of stuff right because of its glorious presentation of Hogwarts and interesting bits of gameplay with the potions and duels. Though nowhere near perfect, players should find the gameplay quite interesting and it’s a good way to remain amped for the film’s upcoming release. Of course, to really enjoy this experience, you have to be a Harry Potter fan, and if you’re playing the game for the plot—you’re making a big mistake. Either way, if you’ve ever wanted to go to Hogwarts, this is your best shot at a realistic opportunity.