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Harry Plodder and the Curse of the Movie License (2 1/2 stars)
on July 14, 2011
I loathed Part 1 with a passion. The controls were clunky and largely unresponsive, the graphics, save for a few character models, were muddy and poorly textured, and the gameplay was rudimentary at best with ridiculous and repetitious side missions that did nothing more than to give the player the illusion it was more varied than it really was. Well a year has passed since that last disaster and I have to say that EA has largely corrected the nagging issues I had with the first game.
One major gripe I had with Part 1 was the unresponsiveness of the controls when trying to take cover and how I would sometimes get hit with spells regardless if I was behind cover. The controls in Part 2 overall feel tighter. If you see an object you want to duck behind, you're most likely going to be able to without issue. The spell cast system has also been updated. Gone is the cumbersome weapon wheel. Not only did it distract from the action, it was overall pointless given that Stupefy was the only practical spell to use against enemies. Now you can switch in between spells with the click of a button which really opens up combat since it allows you to easily cast one-two combos at your foes. The game also encourages you to try different spells given the situation. For instance, Stupefy is good for short ranged enemies while horrible for enemies that are across the map. Expelliarmus helps to break an enemy's Protego shield so you can then finish him or her off with an Expulso spell which shoots rapid fire orbs. The aiming reticule has also been polished. In Part 1, it tended not to stick on enemies in crucial moments. In Part 2, not only does it stick, it forces you not to spam the trigger button as doing so leads to erratic shooting. It's best to measure your shots so you'll know they're going to hit. Overall, I liked the combat. The fights were hectic with spells shooting over my head from all directions. At moments, I had to remind myself that there was no reload button as I took out Death Eaters coming from my right and my left while dug deep behind a wall.
Gameplay has also improved. There are no more pointless side quests or stealth missions that took away from the focus of the main narrative. Part 2 is strictly a linear affair with you plodding from checkpoint to checkpoint to progress the story along. The graphics seem much crisper this time around with more open and varied environments and impressive lighting. I liked how the game allowed you to play as different characters during the second half of the game. Granted, the mechanics are the same, yet it was a nice and welcomed variation. As a fan of the book, I was happy to be playing from different perspectives during the Battle of Hogwarts. The battle was a team affair with many heroes, not just Harry.
Now with the good, comes some of the bad. As much as I enjoyed the combat, it's basically the equivalent of whack-a-mole: Duck behind cover, wait till the enemy pokes out his or her head, and then shoot. There is very little variation to it as well. You either walk into a section of the map which triggers a slew of enemies to come charging out or you have to protect Hermione's backside as she tries to open a door. Not until the ending chapters which includes a fun chase sequence involving Harry and Professor McGonagall fighting a giant, etc., does the monotony break up a little bit. The game is also mercilessly short, about 4 hours and some change, for a $50 game with little replay value other than to boost your online rankings in some challenges which can be found in the main menu.
I'll never know why the last game of such a fantastic series of books and movies was more of a whimper than a grandiose send off. Part 2 is a lot better than Part 1, yet it still feels like a budget title. Though the movies have exceeded expectations, the last four or five games released by EA have been nothing more than decent to poor. Was this due to budgetary cuts or is it really as they say, difficult to produce a quality game based on a movie? Regardless, this may very well be the last Harry Potter game that we will see for quite some time (save Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7) and despite not living up to the source material, they have been a part of my Harry Potter universe as much as the movies, cups, t-shirts, key chains and action figures were. In the end, we can hope that a different developer can give this property the imagination and care it deserves.