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Jeremy Jastrzab
04 Jul, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Review

360 Review | Half-arsed effort.
Part of the reason that we pay less for original games off the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Wiiware, is that they’re meant to contain substantially less content than their physical counterparts. However, wouldn’t it be great, if you paid less for a disc-based game that was very easy or doesn’t take long to complete. Such was the initial reaction when we saw the price tag on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Unfortunately, the price tag is a reflection of a more sinister motive that takes the average movie tie-in to a different level.

For the sixth time now, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the game based on the movie based on the novel of the same name from the Harry Potter franchise. Some of the games have been decent efforts, with the game based off The Chamber of Secrets being the most endearing of the lot so far. Even the last effort, Order of the Phoenix, had glimpses of the potential gaming excellence that the franchise could provide if there weren’t dollar signs flashing in the producer’s eyes.

Half-Blood Prince was amongst the most powerful of the novels, as the tale ominously lurched to a shocking and bleak penultimatum. Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, as the Dark Lord Voldemort strengthens his grip on the wizarding community. There’s a lot more to the story, especially surrounding an old text book that once belonged to the ‘Half-Blood Prince’. Whether all the themes and complexities of the novel have been fit into the movie will be revealed very soon, but the game stands as more of a highlights package than anything else. And not a particularly well directed one, if the stilted presentation is anything to go by. However, as with the previous movie/novel tie-ins, there is little to help those unfamiliar with the story. So unless you’ve read the novel, you might as well stay away.

I fart in your general direction.

I fart in your general direction.
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Apart from sharpening the controls for Order of the Phoenix, the biggest complaint out of the game was that it was essentially a chore simulator, where Ron and Hermione would follow Harry around as he completed mundane tasks for everyone that asked, while occasionally attaching onto the story. To the credit of Half-Blood Prince, the game takes out a lot of the mundane and replaces it with a more streamlined approach. Sure, you’ve still got a few arbitrary and unrelated tasks, but the game now revolves around three main wizarding activities: duelling, potion-mixing and flying.

Duelling is substantially improved over past games. Controlled mainly with the analog sticks and triggers, you gradually learn to attack, defend, dodge and charge spells, as well as earning a few more along the way. It helps that duelling is easy to pick-up but it still provides a challenge. Potion-mixing is a timed mini-game that requires good timing, precision and adaptability, and manages to retain tension and a bit of excitement even after you’ve mixed several potions. Flying simply has you on a broom going through several star-shaped gates and is the least exciting of the three. And that’s even with the re-inclusion of the wizarding football equivalent of Quidditch.

Pretty much all the events within the game are based around these three tasks. You only have three non-duelling spells at your disposal: Wingardium Leviosa (lift), Reparo (repair) and Incendio (light on fire). Surprisingly, they’re very rarely utilised for substantial story-based tasks. The near redundancy of your spells is a cause for concern, particularly given that you are playing a game about wizards and magic. However, once you get over the fact that you’re performing the same three tasks, there are a few nasty issues that begin to crop up.

Looks like my cooking made it into the game.

Looks like my cooking made it into the game.
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For anyone who has played Order of the Phoenix, Hogwarts will be a very familiar place in Half-Blood Prince. And that’s because it’s the exact same place. The developers have ripped the exact same castle for this game. Why ruin a good thing, ay? Instead of using the Marauders map to help you around, where you would choose a location and follow the footstep silhouettes, you now call on Nearly-Headless Nick to guide you to your next objective. This certainly makes things easier, but also much less engaging.

The problem with the using the exact same castle and streamlining the game has made for what feels like a stripped experience. Gone are the incentives to explore, particularly since you’re going through the same castle of two years ago, and apart from the arbitrary crest collection, there is very little to find or do. As a result of this streamlining, as well as castration of the story, the main game can be finished in around five hours. Crest collection and playing through the game’s duelling, potion-mixing and flying clubs for some decent unlockables can extend the playtime but there’s no reason to continue with them unless you’re achievement/trophy hunting. It could be argued that kids will appreciate this streamlining, but even they are likely to take note of the lack of reward for exploration and lack of appreciation of the source material.

Even though Half-Blood Prince is completely functional and fairly glitch-free, that isn’t enough to save face. Again, it makes us wonder how far the Harry Potter license extends, whether it only covers the movies or the novels as well, particularly as the original source material is abundantly rich in gameplay potential. Instead, we’re presented with a shallow and slap-dash experience that barely scratches the surface of what made the novels so popular. Overall, this comes off more like lazy design and an ostentatious cash-grab, rather than an attempt to make the game more endearing than its chore simulator predecessor.

Quidditch is back!...Somewhat.

Quidditch is back!...Somewhat.
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The visual presentation ought to be familiar to long time fans, seeing that they’re playing through essentially the same game that they were two years ago. Admittedly, Hogwarts is nicely recreated, mirroring the image of the school presented in the movies, and given the solid design, it’s almost understandable why the developers would want to keep it. However, despite the clean presentation and a couple of nice touches (such as when Harry takes the luck potion), more astute observers will notice some primitive technicalities. In particular, while the character likeness is there, there is no 'character' to be seen. That, and the cut scenes are very basic, short and lacking in creative direction.

None of the films actors reprise their role within the game. The sound-alikes do a decent job, even if the dialogue that they’re provided with is staler than last week’s bread. The writers (if we can call them that) don’t even seem like they tried. Thankfully, you’ll at least have some nice background music to listen to, with some very nicely orchestrated tunes that at times reflect the mood of the game. At the same time though, most will be familiar to those who have played the previous games.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a functional game that does the basic job of recreating a highlights package of the occurrences in the novel and film. Even at a slightly lower than usual price, the game really doesn’t have enough to justify anything other than a rent. The retelling of the story is poor, the streamlining of gameplay and recycling of the content comes off as a lazy cash-grab, and that’s despite having more than a year (possibly two) of development time. There have been worse movie tie-ins made, but few have been functional yet so desperate for attention. Even avid fans of the game will likely be disappointed with this half-arsed effort.
The Score
Movie tie-in or not, competent or not, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a half-arsed effort given the source material. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 Comments
4 years ago
Seems to be a fair review.

I absolutely loved Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Xbox360, mainly due to the exploration of Hogwarts. I'm disappointed that isn't present in this game.

I have picked up Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for nice and cheap, but won't give it a run until I have seen the movie. I imagine I'll have a little fun with it due to low expectations and strong fanyboyism.
4 years ago
It's weird.

OotP is a better game than HBP. They went backwards in the sequel...
4 years ago
even worse when you consider the fact the game was held back for another 6 months (?) to coincide with the movie, giving them more time to make a decent game if they'd wanted to.
4 years ago
They've gone backwards on all Harry Potter games ever since The Philosophers Stone came out on Gameboy Color.

I will still buy this out of sheer-fanboyism though, at least there's no way it can be as morbidly horrifying as The Goblet Of Fire ^^

1000/1000 here I come =)
4 years ago
Charly wrote
Seems to be a fair review.

I absolutely loved Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Xbox360, mainly due to the exploration of Hogwarts. I'm disappointed that isn't present in this game.
The exploration is still present , it's just that you're exploring the exact same castle as the one in OOTP. Exploration points have been replaced by collectible Hogwarts crests, which serve pretty much the same function. It's good for continuity, but bad for players who wanted somewhere new to visit.

Really, I'd say the game is about on par with OOTP, with the improved duelling mechanics being cancelled out by the lame Quidditch segments. The only thing that makes it "worse" than it's predeccessor is the fact that you're going through the same castle again. If you haven't played OOTP, then you'll probably enjoy this one just as much.
4 years ago
Spacebreak wrote
They've gone backwards on all Harry Potter games ever since The Philosophers Stone came out on Gameboy Color.
No, ever since Chamber of Secrets on the ye olde GBC.

That game was rad.
4 years ago
^ I couldn't get into that one =S Maybe it was bad timing for me.

Harry Potter 2 on GBC isn't all too common either. And I only just found out about a month ago that there was a completely different Harry Potter 1 on PC which I had no idea existed. I will have to hunt it down one day ^^
4 years ago
Spacebreak wrote
And I only just found out about a month ago that there was a completely different Harry Potter 1 on PC which I had no idea existed.
That was actually my first Harry Potter game, I remember Dad gave it to us for Christmas the year the first movie came out. icon_smile.gif Pretty forgetable though, the only thing I remember about it is that Peeves is in it, unlike the movies.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  2/07/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2008

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