Review by Mayhemme

Reviewed: 10/20/04

There are Dementors on my computer screen...

...and they honestly give me the creeps.

I had high expectations for this game, as I had high expectations for the film. With both the game and the film, I was not precisely disappointed, but I was left feeling like I could have been a lot happier. We'll leave the movie alone, of course, but here are my feelings on the game:

Graphics -- 9/10

I really liked the graphics in this game. The characters seem much more real, less "boxy" than in the previous two PC games, and Ron's facial expressions alone are a treat. The school surroundings are beautifully rendered. One area where the game was an improvement on the film: Professor Flitwick looks the way he did in the first two games/movies, instead of the weird black-haired look they gave him in the third movie. I have special appreciation for the Dementors (as I said, they gave me the creeps) and also for Buckbeak, who is wonderful to behold.

Sound/Music -- 10/10

No complaints here. I love the music, the voices are great, and the narration during cutscenes and when viewing your collectible wizard cards is perfect.

Gameplay -- 7/10

This is where the game lost points with me. The game is engaging and addictive, like its predecessors, and I love the fact that you now play as the Golden Trio instead of just the Boy Who Lived. But there were a lot of things in the gameplay that bothered me:

~ Flying the hippogriff is mandatory, and it's bloody hard. I couldn't even say why it's so hard, but I found it very difficult. I had much the same trouble controlling the Draconifors dragon.

~ Each of the three kids performs a classroom exercise; these were an improvement over the previous games, as they've eliminated the element of forcing the player to trace an emblem on the screen. The spells they learn -- Carpe Retractum, Lapifors, Draconifors, and Glacius -- are entertaining. But in the previous games, the spells Harry learned in his classes actually got used throughout the rest of the game. These really don't; with two or three exceptions I can think of, the kids never use their new spells except in the classroom exercises and the final exams.

~ Speaking of the final exams, they are quite challenging. A lot of the puzzles throughout the game are relatively simple, but I found Harry and Hermione's exams in particular to be difficult. I'm almost thirty years old, folks, and more than once I felt like I was heading toward a nervous breakdown -- okay, maybe it's not that bad, but I did find certain parts to be so hard that I have trouble imagining a child doing them with ease.

Replayability -- 5/10

With how difficult and even dull some parts are, I have to agree with fellow reviewers that this game's replayability factor is kind of on the low side. After Hermione's final exam, I discovered I'd missed one of the challenge shields, but I couldn't bring myself to go back and try it again.

Story -- 6/10

As in the film, the actual story of the third book was brutally chopped to reduce the time it would take. That was to be expected. But some things were taken out that are sorely missed -- Quidditch, for example! Book three is when Gryffindor finally takes the House Cup, and the only Quidditch in the entire game is reduced to a simple cutscene sequence. We also completely miss out on Hogsmeade, screwball Professor Trelawney, Divination class, the destruction of Harry's prized broom, and most of Hermione's odd behavior which is later explained by the Time-Turner. And for the love of Slytherin, where the heck is Snape?

Other Odds 'n Ends

~ Fred and George's store full of magical items is a wonderful addition to the game, but it would be nice if the three forms of currency (beans, pumpkin pasties, and cauldron cakes) were a bit easier to exchange. That's a minor nitpick, though.

~ The enormity of Hogwarts has been made more accessible by the addition of a series of secret passages which allows the player to access any of the multiple floors in seconds, rather than running up and down the changing staircase. This is a HUGE help.

~ The Marauder's Map, on the other hand, was a bit of a letdown. Granted, it does show nice little maps of each of the floors and the castle grounds, and a pair of teeny footprints shows your location. But I noticed that there are rooms and such marked on the map -- for instance, part of the Gryffindor house dorm -- that you can't get to thanks to sealed doors. Why bother putting them on the map? Also, while the picture of each floor's layout is good, nothing is labeled, so you can't tell by looking at the map which room is what. On the whole, it's kind of useless.

~ It takes quite a bit of time for each new part of the game to load. It's mildly annoying, but I do have to commend the game-makers for at least putting this time to good use. While you're waiting for the new part to load, they provide a screenshot of the game and a helpful suggestion for gameplay.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, don't get me wrong -- there are several things to love about this game. The improved graphics, the complexity of some areas, and the hours of exploring to be done will keep your attention. But I can't help wishing there was a way to just rent PC games the way you can rent games for XBox or PS2; this is one that I would have rented rather than purchased.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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