Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: June 26, 2007
By the time you read this, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will have been released, ending the boy wizard's adventures at last. While the books may be over, though, there are still three movies left. Released shortly before Deathly Hallows, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is the fifth movie in the franchise. In the last year, the Wizarding World has gone to hell. Harry's arch-nemesis, the evil Lord Voldemort has been resurrected from the dead and begun an attempt to take over the world once again. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic, the leaders of the Wizard world, refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned. Rather than admit that war may be upon them, they set out to discredit Harry and his teacher, Professor Dumbledore, in the eyes of the average wizard. It's up to Harry to clear his name and convince the world of the danger at large, while also halting Voldemort's latest scheme. Not an easy task for a 15-year-old. Luckily for him, in the Xbox 360 game Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, he's got you to help him. Unfortunately, it might not be so lucky for you.
If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, don't expect Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to have a coherent plot. Events jump around seemingly at random, characters are introduced and vanish in a matter of moments, and there is absolutely no attempt to do anything to make the story flow coherently. Instead, it comes across as a "greatest hits" of the movie, which is, in itself, already fairly rushed. It's a minor complaint, since it is difficult to imagine a gamer interested in Order of the Phoenix who isn't familiar with the other forms of media, but it really takes you out of the general Hogwarts experience.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is recreated in painstaking detail. Every inch of the grounds, from the moving staircases to the common rooms, to Hagrid's hut are featured in ways that perfectly match their movie counterparts. The problem is that something that looks fantastic on film isn't quite as interesting in gameplay form. Hogwarts is large and completely confusing, which is to be expected from a magical castle, but it makes getting from location to location an exercise in frustration. Other than a few familiar locations, much of Hogwarts is identical, and that makes remembering exactly where to go annoying. Even worse is that once you've memorized the castle, it still takes forever to get from place to place. There are a number of portraits that offer shortcuts through the castle, but that trick only cuts down travel by a small amount. As beautiful and magical as Hogwarts is, that glamour starts to wear off once you've seen the same hallway a hundred times.
In theory, the confusing castle is supposed to be made reasonable by the inclusion of the Marauder's Map, which is a mystical object given to Harry in his third year at Hogwarts. It's a living map of the entire school, including moving dots that represent every living (and undead) creature in the school. The way this works in game is simple: You choose a person or location from Harry's list, and a pair of magical footprints appear on the ground. Now, the footprints are black, tiny, on the ground, and only a few of them appear at a time. What this means is that following the footprints do little to make Harry's trip around the school faster because players have to stop every few steps to readjust to the footprints … assuming they're not invisible on the dark stone floor or blocked by the terrible camera. The basic idea behind it is fairly clever, but the implementation is so poor that the Marauder's Map becomes less of a useful tool and more of something that simply exacerbates the frustration of exploring Hogwarts.
Of course, the most important element of a Harry Potter game is the magic. Order of the Phoenix has a fairly unique and interesting method of casting spells, although it feels more built for the Nintendo Wii than the Xbox 360. Players control their wands with the right analog stick (something that feels like it would have been more useful for a camera), and by moving the stick around, you wave your wand, and of course, specific combinations unleash magic spells. Harry can levitate objects with Wingardium Leviosa, repair broken statues with Repario, and light candles with Incendio. Casting any of these spells works very well, although it does feel more awkward than simply pressing a button. It isn't difficult to imagine it being designed for the Nintendo Wii and shoehorned on other systems, and I couldn't help but wish I had camera control instead of a movable wand.
With all this magic at your disposal, you'd figure there would be interesting things to do while exploring Hogwarts, but the honest truth is there isn't. Harry will spend 90 percent of his time cleaning — fluffing rugs, fixing paintings, and cleaning up leaves with a broom. It is boring busywork, and even doing it with magic doesn't change that. It really dulls the enchanted magic of Hogwarts when, rather than using your magic in unique and interesting ways, all you do is clean. There is almost nothing else on which you can use your spells. Cleaning has the bonus of earning you Discovery Points, which have two features: increasing the power of Harry's magic attacks and unlocking bonus features in the hidden Room of Rewards. While these are worthwhile rewards, it does little to make up for the dreariness required to earn them.
Besides cleaning, you also have a number of plot missions to complete. These involve collecting members of Dumbledore's Army from throughout the castle (of course, none of them will come along until you do something for them) in preparation for defeating the evil Lord Voldemort. While these missions offer a refreshing break from Harry's newfound maid duties, they quickly grow tedious. The Dumbledore's Army members mostly want you to complete fetch quests, which entails doing things like wandering around the castle to find missing items or occasionally using Harry's invisibility cloak to sneak through restricted areas. The latter sounds almost interesting, except that all Harry's invisibility cloak does is simply replace Harry with a blur and make him move at half-speed while removing all his ability to cast magic. That is exactly as fun as it sounds.
The other use of magic is in dueling other wizards, as opposed to hand-to-hand brawling. While the mundane household magic works pretty well, magical dueling is just dull. Casting spells in duels works exactly like the mundane magic, only the spells change. You instead gain a variety of attack and defensive spells, but they're mostly awkward. The magical spells themselves move in bizarre arcing motions that certainly make the battles seem as if they're playing out in slow-motion. Rather than a hectic casting of charms and countercharms, you just sort of walk slowly and toss snail-paced spells at one another. The common attack spell, Stupefy, requires rotating the stick, which is certainly not a natural feeling for an attack spell. The Disarming Charm is supposed to defeat enemies by disarming them, but for some reason, it doesn't. They simply fall over as if you'd punched them instead. The "Order of the Phoenix" movie has the greatest focus on dueling in the series so far, so it's a terrible shame that the game does such a poor job with it.
When you're not cleaning up the random messes around Hogwarts, there are a few of side-quests to complete. A number of Wizarding sports, such as Exploding Snap, Wizard Chess and Gobstones, are available to play. These mini-games are amusing but fairly slow and not really a worthwhile distraction from the main quest. Sadly, Harry's favorite sport Quidditch is not available, since Harry is banned from it during his fifth year at Hogwarts due to the Ministry's attempts to discredit him. Completing these mini-games unlocks bonus features in the game's hidden Room of Rewards.
For a 360 game, Harry Potter isn't too good-looking. Hogwarts is replicated quite well, but the actual textures and models involved are fairly dull. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix features all the characters from the movie, recreated using their likenesses, which ends up being a terrible graphical choice. Nobody looks natural, and the uncanny valley effect involved with the characters makes them all fairly creepy to look at. Even the best of them have weird, dead eyes that make close-up scenes disturbing. Anything that isn't human fares slightly better, but overall, nothing in the game is particularly more impressive than a classic Xbox title.
Some movie games manage to find fairly good sound-alikes when they are unable to get the movie actors, but Order of the Phoenix doesn't pull this off. While there aren't any really terrible voices, every actor sounds like he or she is reading at double speed from a script. There isn't a single natural-sounding character in the bunch. Even in the cases where they were able to get the movie actors, they sound rushed and more like actors than characters. The music is the usual few Harry Potter themes played lightly over the background. Nothing noteworthy at all.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a case of wasted potential because everything was in place for a game that would've been truly memorable. Controlling Harry in his battles against the Ministry and Voldemort while exploring a sandbox-like Hogwarts is a concept that seems to write itself. However, instead of the excitement and magic that surrounds Hogwarts, you get the monotony of backtracking through an incoherent castle combined with the "excitement" of cleaning up someone else's messes. Here is hoping that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince manages to fix the mistakes of these titles and release a game truly worthy of the Harry Potter franchise.
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