Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 8, 2005
I am writing today a critique of the new Electronic Arts game adaptation of the Warner Brothers film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, itself an adaptation of the fourth book in the much-loved series by authoress extraordinaire, J.K. Rowling. Before going much further, I would like to clarify to you, the reader, that I am more than somewhat familiar with this series. I have read each book twice and seen each of the movies several times as well. I don't line up for hours or days every time a new book comes out or dress up in the colors of my favorite Hogwarts house, but I'm no slouch when it comes to the lore of Harry Potter. That said, let us examine my thoughts while playing this game.
Upon seeing the movie this game is based on, it became clear that I had finally become one of "those" people – the ones that whine about sections of a book that had to be cut out for the cinematic version. It is a secret shame; I now consider myself to be as bad as all those purists who griped about the lack of Tom Bombadil in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. Once I scorned thee, ye odious fanboy gits, and now, I have joined your ranks. While I enjoyed this latest film, I couldn't help but think "It's okay, but nothing compared to the book." Now, having suffered through as much of this game as I could handle, I can't help but think "I liked the movie better." That's being kind, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
This release purportedly allows you to experience the events of the movie from a more interactive perspective. You play as the three main characters: Harry Potter, Hermione "herr-MY-oh-nee" Granger, and Ron Weasely (None of them are voiced by the original actors, incidentally). While you only really control one of them at a time, all three are almost always with you under the control of the CPU. The objective is to combine spells and abilities in order to progress through various challenges: the mysteries of Hogwarts, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and ultimately the defeat of Lord Voldemort himself.
This is what Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire promises, but what it delivers is an entirely different experience. Yes, you do have all three characters on screen, but to maintain the group, some drastically wild alterations to the events of both the film and the book have been made. For example, in the film, Harry is shown from afar the dragon he must face in the first stage of the tournament. In the EA treatment, Hagrid takes all three of the characters into the Dark Woods, then bails on them immediately after the Horntail escapes and begins ravaging the forest. You are then given control to escape both the woods and the wrath of the serpent. As a final head-scratching change, this particular stage is in a swampy marsh, not a forest.
Alliterative and abstract alterations aside, there are other mechanics that have been included that don't necessarily make sense, yet have been draped in the finery of "Harry Potter" in order to cover any non-sequitur confusion. Every creature or trap defeated in the game explodes in a shower of Bertie Botts Every-Flavor Beans that must be collected for points or health and an increase in a magic power pool. So far as I recall from the books, this particular magical confection came pre-packaged a`la Jelly Beans. According to EA this candy is in fact what all evil creatures are actually made of. If (as the saying goes) "you are what you eat", then I suppose this explains how Voldemort grew up to be such a jerk. Sweet tooth, you see.
You are meant to utilize various types of magic: "Jinxes" to stun enemies, "Charms" for utility spells like Wingardium Leviosa (lift and separate 'em) or Aqua Erupto (the perfect solution to the burning ring of fire), and the all-purpose "Accio" spell for drawing in those tasty beans and other such bonuses. Frequently, these spells only work when done in unison, but thanks to the horribly ineffectual AI, you'll spend more time trying to get your companions to clue in as to what you're trying to achieve than you will actually casting powerful spells. Increasing your powers comes with each successful completion of a level (you'll be playing each level more than once); you gain "cards" that increase things like your jinxes, charms, accio range, and health. You can also buy cards that give you bonuses against specific creatures. If you load a level you know will have fire salamanders in it, you can be better armed by slotting in a card that deals specifically with overheated reptiles.
The graphics are decent, relying primarily on a great deal of bright and colorful particle effects. Offset by the bleak setting, the contrast works reasonably well. The models are low-polygon affairs with a satisfactory degree of texture detail. This is the mid-to-upper end of the second generation of 3D graphics; no one will mistake this game for Far Cry or Half-Life 2 anytime soon, but it looks better than Quake. Sadly, appreciating any design acumen is next to impossible due to the constant battle with camera control. It's also worth mentioning that instead of using pre-rendered CGI for movies and cut scenes (or even clips from the film), the developers chose to use layered still scenes in sepia tones. Sometimes this works, and sometimes this doesn't. The grainy bitmap used to show the "dark mark" of the Death-Eaters near the beginning of the game is an unfortunate example of how this could have been done better.
You will note that I mentioned fighting the camera. I cannot stress enough how atrocious this aspect of the game is. To be perfectly blunt, the complete and utter lack of camera control is the number one fun-killer in the Goblet of Fire. Initially designed to be played on a control pad with an analogue stick, the clumsy adaptation to the arrow keys has not worked in any way to lessen the frustration you'll feel as you get attacked from off-screen by enemies you cannot see or react to because you can't shift your point of view to see what's going on. Oftentimes, objects in the foreground obstruct everything visible, forcing you to run around in circles until the camera adjusts itself. All of this amounts to a perpetual battle that isn't entertaining in the least.
Forced repetition is a very bad thing in a game. Unfortunately, that is exactly what you'll find yourself suffering while playing the Goblet of Fire. Each level requires a certain number of "Triwizard Shields" that unlock the next stage, and the only way to gain them is to play each area you've unlocked over and over again until you've found them all and can move on and do it again on the next level. Even the first stage of the Tri-Wizard tournament needs to be repeated, unless you somehow manage to fly it well enough the first time to get all three of the required Shields, which is a difficult proposition at best, considering that you aren't given any tutorials or advanced preparation for the mechanics of flying.
In case I haven't made it perfectly clear by now, there is essentially nothing about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that is any fun at all. I know this sounds harsh, but in my professional opinion, there is no excuse for a company like EA to have done such an uninspired and lackluster job with this franchise title. Adapting the visual acumen of a thrilling movie that happens to be based on a fantastic book into a game should have produced a dynamic blast of escapist fun. However, the illogical changes to storyline, the painfully horrid camera control, the incredibly dense "AUI" (in this case, artificial un-intelligence), and the forced "do-overs" all combine for an experience that fails utterly to entertain. The passable graphics are all that stand in the way of a 1.0 rating, so I'd say your money is far better spent on buying the books.
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