I went into Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince telling myself to have an open mind. I thought I was probably five to ten years older than the audience the game is aimed at, and all the wand work is probably designed for the Wii so playing it on my Xbox 360 may be a chore. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have bothered with all that open mind business, as the game was genuinely enjoyable from the offset.
As another movie looms closer it is time to see how the game fares. You venture back to world of wizards for your sixth year at Hogwarts, in a return to the sandbox style that was set down for the series in Order of the Phoenix. However, it’s not all the same, as the challenges that were littered around the school before that required you to use a variety of spells to gain access to new areas – or unlock new abilities – have been removed. In there place is a new crest system, in which you will find yourself exploring and utilizing a variety of spells to move or gain access to these crests. Whilst it is essentially offering the same premise as the previous game’s challenges, the over simplification makes the whole process somewhat less rewarding as you will yearn for a little bit more.
The game doesn’t really pander to gamers unfamilier with the Harry Potter universe, which is probably a good thing. If it were to stop to explain every wizarding term such as an Auror or a Muggle each time they were used it would begin to infuriate those in the know. And let’s face it, if you don’t know of the world of this wizard by now, you probably aren’t looking to buy this game; likely because the rock you have been living under has no power sockets.
The music of the game is one of its better achievements, with appropriate music throughout, even down to the upbeat jazz for when you’re “feeling lucky”. It’s a shame the same praise can’t be offered for the voice acting. Only a handful of actors from the movie have lent their voices, and whilst some give good performances, such as Rupert Grint, it feels others may have phoned it in. The actors who are put in place to stand in for the ones not reprising their movie roles feel somewhat lacking, due to the fact they have to spend the entire time doing an impression of the real actor this is not surprising. It’s disappointing that more of the cast couldn’t have taken the time out to lend their voices to his game.
One of the main aspects of the game is exploration, which is quite enjoyable as Aurors periodically unlock sections of the school granting you a larger area to roam in. Unlike the slightly annoying breadcrumbs of Fable II, Harry Potter gives you the Gryffindor Ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, to guide you about Hogwarts. It is optional as to whether you want him to lead you, and the ‘back’ button will summon or release him of his task of leading you to your next objective. Throughout the early segments of the game this was practically essential, as I spent a lot of time lost, but you soon get to grips with the castle and the numerous shortcuts, in the form of portraits.
Aside from exploring the world, the other aspects that make up the game are a small handful of mini-games. These are in the form of Quidditch, Potion Making and Dueling. Each is vital to progress through the game, as you will have to pass potion class, win the match or defeat the Dark Wizard to progress. However, if you feel you want to do some more of each of these tasks there are clubs dotted about for you to practice and compete in, maybe even becoming dueling champion for your house.
Quidditch will have you taking the familiar role of a seeker, as you dash through floating stars in a race to catch the golden snitch. Though was fun to play, it felt a bit too much on-rails and more freedom would have been appreciated. Potion Making is possibly the most fun aspect of the game, with various concoctions to make, and a myriad of methods to make them. From pouring liquid to dropping in items, from heating the cauldron to stirring it, from shaking bottles to clearing the smoke this is a fun and frantic activity that gets harder with each potion you make. Dueling serves as both as a competitive sport at school, and a method of combat on the field of battle. With a small handful of spells you do battle in a one on one fight. The use of shields, charged attacks, stuns and cover does add an element of tactics, however, it still remained far too spammy and I would have liked to have seen a system with perhaps a little more finesse.
The story gets a bit mangled, which seems common ground for movie tie-ins. However, the exploration of Hogwarts will allow you to look past that.
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Whilst more wizardly activities would have been appreciated, the ones they have are fun and engaging.
They utilised the score of the movie well, as the music is one of the game’s strongest offerings, a mixed bag of voice acting lets this down though.
A fairly short game, with only a handful of reasons to go back in, such as crests or badges for the obsessive among you.
For fans of Harry Potter this game will be a blast, with a great world to explore. Newcomers to this world of wizardry may find some areas lacking though.