STAFF REVIEW of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Xbox 360)

Friday, July 20, 2007.
by Tony Ingrassia

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Box art Well here we are, it seems like just yesterday when an orphaned child set foot on the steps of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and went from a mere boy to a wizard with quite a daunting destiny. Actually it was 5 years ago to be exact (In school years that is) when we first got a chance to play EA?s video game adaptation of the Harry Potter saga.

Like most video games that come from movies, unfortunately, the Harry Potter series was a nice family oriented, E rated, button pusher, and each successive installment really did little but update character, surroundings, and maybe a spell or two, which brings us to the most current installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I must admit I wasn?t expecting anything more than what I have come to expect, but from the get go this game seemed a little different than its predecessors. Had EA and Warner Bros done the unthinkable? Try and make a good movie adapted video game? Alright, the end all be all its not, but HPOP (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) has become the best installment to a stale formula and quite an enjoyable little game.

OK, so what?s so great about this game? Well, for starters HPOP does a great job of immersing you in the Harry Potter universe more than ever before. There is a better connection to what it must be like to be a student at Hogwarts, let alone Harry Potter himself. The game starts with a curious cut scene, I say curious because I haven?t seen the movie yet, but in a quick little Dementor attack and some news headlines you find yourself in year 5 of Harry?s adventures at Hogwarts. Once there the game turns into a well designed, interesting combination of discovery, training, and mystery.

The first noticeable difference is the spell-casting controls. More like a real wand would function, you cast spells by moving the left stick in various directions to cast a spell, no more button pushing for a few obvious casts, you are able to train Harry to acquire 6 non-combat spells along with 6 Dueling spells. Depending on the mission or quest your on, the spells needed will be available to you. The other part of the game is discovering Hogwarts, for the first time you really get a sense of the size and confusion that Hogwarts is. From the moving staircase to the talking portraits, they have done a great job of incorporating all the things that makes Hogwarts, well, Hogwarts. As you discover different areas of the school you earn ?Discover Points?, as they are accumulated, these points increase not only your proficiency in spell casting but unlocks a slew of hidden unlockables in the game. From interviews with the cast member to trophies, the list is long and elaborate. As you accept missions from fellow students and teacher you make your way through the halls of the school, a keen eye will detect secrets behind tapestries, hidden images in the mortar, and many other small mysteries. The game isn?t relegated to the school itself, it actually encompasses all of the school grounds so you do venture outside the walls to complete missions and continue discovering the mysteries of Hogwarts.

Your discovery doesn?t end there; to make your romp through the school a little easier you can discover the passwords needed to access secret passages hidden behind portraits, noting the same portrait in a different parts of the school should key you in on the shortcut. With the size of the school, and believe me you will get turned around a bit with all the winding hallways and levels, you do have access to the Marauders Map. The map has the entire school laid out for you to follow, but even with the map it can get difficult to maneuver Hogwarts so they implemented a ?Follow the Footsteps? system, where all you need to do is mark the destination on the map, once done, retuning to the game you will see footprints on the ground leading you to your destination. That being said, you can still veer off the beaten path to continue discovering Hogwarts and earning those Discovery Points.

The underlying story here is Harry contacting students that have signed up to be in the ?DA? Dumbledore?s Army and be trained by Harry in the Defense Against the Dark Arts, since the new teacher has a more passive approach to things. Interwoven in the missions and discovery are a few mini-games ?Wizard Games? if you will. The first is ?Gobstones? a Hogwarts version of marbles that can be played in a few different ways; the second is ?Exploding Snap?, which is a match game, and lastly ?Wizard Chess?. Wizard Chess is the best mini-game in the group, using regular chess rules, but with the addition of Hogwarts styling in which the pieces actually battle. This was one of my favorite parts of the movie and it?s nice to see it finally make it to a game.

All the main characters are represented in the game, obviously our three main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Along with them are Ron?s brother, familiar ghosts, and other students I?m sure you will recognize. Visually the characters are well rendered, as well as the look and design of the rest of the school, grounds, and the many effects you unleash as you cast your spells. The game includes 22 of the original cast members doing their own voice over work, these unfortunately didn?t include Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Emma Watson.(Hermione Granger). The music is fantastic, scored form the movie and included in the game form an actual orchestra and not snippets from the soundtrack, nice touch.

The game culminates with a battle with ?He who?s name shall not be spoken? and only you can save Hogwarts, the Ministry, and Harry. So brush up on your casting, learn all there is to learn and with a little help form your friends you ?May? defeat the evil?well you know.

All in all I enjoyed the game more than I thought I would. It was easy to learn, easy to understand, and it did a fantastic job of brining the Harry Potter saga to life. It?s without a doubt one of the better movies adaptations to hit a video game, and it?s a great title for younger gamers that are usually relegated to chasing and dodging in a linear fashion. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a nice change of pace form the current titles out right now. Very entertaining, I recommend checking it out.

Kudos, a very pleasant change form earlier versions.

Overall: 8.4 / 10
Gameplay: 8.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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