Seven months. That’s how much extra time EA Bright Light has had to tweak and polish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after its release date was pushed back thanks to the movie’s theatrical slippage. The time could have been spent perfecting one of the most valuable game licenses. Instead it seems as though Harry and company were dumped in the Vanishing Cabinet since the game’s completion last year and left to gather cobwebs. Draco would be proud.
Like most family games of late Half-Blood Prince suffers from catastrophic Wii syndrome. The game’s clearly been designed with the waggle stick in mind. From the awkward potion mixing lessons to the wand-waving duels, every action would work better with a motion controller.
The problematic camera highlights the issue perfectly. In a sane world, camera wobbles would be corrected with a flick of the “look” controls, but thanks to some thoughtless control patching, this merely waves Harry’s magical fleshlight about.
But it’s the giant step backwards from Order of the Phoenix which offends the most. Bastardised controls we can half accept; inferior versions of the last game’s features are a little harder to swallow. Half-Blood Prince boasts none of the story progression of before – choosing instead to edit out key scenes in ways which would confuse even J.K. – and it’s so reliant on its three main minigames that there’s little room for any other content.
Dueling, potions and Quidditch: at any given time you’re probably involved in one of these three tasks. The first is almost a carbon copy of Order of the Phoenix’s scraps (though dodging buttons replace the speedy sidestepping of before), the second is a cumbersome mixing game that suffers from imprecise controls and confusing depth perception, and the third is a lengthy and disappointing on-rails glide to snatch the snitch. In any other title, each minigame would be little more than a side-quest. Unfortunately in Half-Blood Prince there’s no real main adventure to speak of, only brief ‘run-here’, ‘go-there’ quests to link these three activities together.
Hogwarts itself is superbly recreated, in part because it was already believable in the last game. There are subtle differences but liberal use of copy and paste has helped to churn this one out quickly. As a result, navigation is easy enough for anybody familiar with the series. Newcomers, however, will struggle endlessly to accept the convoluted corridors.
In lieu of the retired Marauder’s Map breadcrumb footsteps, you can instead call upon a (tragically voiced) Nearly Headless Nick for guidance, but to extend the time between the bland minigames Harry can search for the Hogwarts badges. Sometimes this involves repairing broken emblems or hurling heavy objects into walls with Wingardium Leviosa, but mostly it’s simply a case of prodding random objects with a push spell. Glowing lamp post? Push it for pickups. Boulder? Push it. Sign? Why not... push it?
Order of the Phoenix’s diversionary puzzles were a fun way to extend longevity but here the push-everything tasks are lacking focus, much like the rest of the game and its pitifully butchered plotline. A real shame, especially given the promise shown in Order of the Phoenix. Fingers crossed for Deathly Hallows: Part One.
Jul 1, 2009