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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 review: A tragic spell

Justin McElroy

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If you can point to one attribute responsible for the worldwide success of the Harry Potter franchise, it's that it works on several levels. Whether you're an adult or child, softy or stoic, you're bound to find something in the books that speaks to you.

In a twisted reflection, EA Bright Light's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 manages to fail on many, many levels. No matter what you may be willing to forgive, rest assured, Hallows has already found several other ways to skirt competence.

Gallery: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (6/2/10) | 4 Photos

Failure as a representation of the Harry Potter franchise:

You know that classic scene in any Harry Potter thing ever when Harry stands in a field and tries to kill hundreds of Death Eaters (enemy wizards, to the uninitiated) with only his wand? No, you don't. Because that never happened, because it would have been terrible. The Harry Potter books and films are about cooperation, about smarts and above all, about how some forces -- like love, friendship and even death -- are stronger than magic. In contrast, Deathly Hallows is about "Stupefy! ... Stupefy! ... Stupefy! ... Stupefy!"

That's the phrase you'll hear Harry shout countless times as you gun down legions of brainless wizards. There's no cleverness, no puzzle solving. Heck, most of the spells you use on enemies aren't even that different, just variations on the Stupefy theme. Prime example: Expelliarmus, the disarming spell, actually disarms wizards by knocking them to the ground.

That's no exaggeration: I survived the huge final encounter in the game by putting on the cloak and standing in a corner.

Even if you forget that the plot is incomprehensible unless you're following along in the book, this "Gears of Potter" style of game is still a terrible fit for the universe. If you're a fan of the franchise at all, I think you'll find it pretty depressing. But not as depressing as its ...

Failure as a game:

If Deathly Hallows failed as hard at being an adaptation of the Harry Potter franchise as it did at being a game, it would be called "Jerry Lopper: Tax Attorney" and would follow Jerry's day at Jogwars Investment Banking as he attempted to craft barely legal tax shelters for the company's high tier investors. That's a long-winded way of saying it's very bad at being a game.

Besides the utterly brainless combat, the only other thing you'll do in Harry Potter is sneak around in his invisibility cloak in first person, trying to reach a location without bumping into enemies and losing your disguise. I guess it's almost sort of interesting the first time, but that quickly dissipates thanks to a couple of failings. 1. Your cloak has to be frequently "recharged" by standing still for long periods of time. You can probably guess how fun that is. 2. You occasionally are, for no reason, sent sliding 10 or so feet the left or right when you come to a stop, which almost always sends you tumbling into a foe and ruins your stealth attempt. The bug came up literally every time I used the cloak, and the fact that Deathly Hallows shipped with it is mind boggling.

It's perhaps to be expected, then, that EA Bright Light seems to have forgotten it put the cloak in the game so frequently. That's no exaggeration: I survived the huge final encounter in the game by putting on the cloak and standing in a corner. The number of levels in which this "put on the cloak and walk to the end" strategy works is really shocking.

The game doles out a handful of different power-up potions and never explains what any of them do, and they all look the same so there's no way knowing if it's worth fighting across a room to grab one. The useable potions (like one that explodes or one that makes a cloud of noxious gas) are similarly problematic, since unless Harry's a good 30 feet away from his target, he's blown up too! Magical.

I don't have a caption for this photo, I just didn't want to waste space I could use to tell you how much I hate this game. Wow, do I ever hate it a lot.

There are collectibles you can find, like stories from in-fiction newspaper The Quibbler (lovingly presented in the same blue UI text as everything else) and mini radio shows about Harry Potter recorded by Fred and George Weasley, which were actually kind of neat. Sadly, I had to stop collecting them after the second time I got stuck opening one of the suitcases they were encased in and had to reload my game. Thanks, guys.

Failure as a demonstration of Kinect:

The Kinect-enabled portion of the game has been cordoned off in its own separate area of the disc. It's basically a miniature on-rails shooter where you use hand motions to cast different spells to battle an army of pop-up wizards.

Confession: Holding up my hand and flicking my wrist forward to cast Stupefy at a Death Eater was fun for about 30 seconds, until I realized that there wasn't really any "aiming" to speak of -- if there is, it's utterly broken. Succeeding seems to only be a matter of how quickly you can wave your hand (and for how long you can do so without getting exhausted).

It's as carelessly and haphazardly designed as everything else, but it did bring me a solid 30 seconds of pleasure, so I guess it's the least faily failure. But just barely.

Failure as an overall product:

This is the worst, laziest, most manipulative type of licensed game making. It's a top-to-bottom disaster that nobody, especially not anyone who gives a crap about Harry Potter, should play. To be slightly dopey for a second: Considering that there's only one more film in this beloved series to adapt, to be this sloppy with the next to last entry is a real slap in the face to J.K. Rowling and everyone else who've worked to make other facets of the Harry Potter empire live up to the source material.

The only good thing about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is that there's no sense of unfulfilled promise, as even if it had been executed well, an "all shooting" Harry Potter is still a terrible idea that misses the point entirely.

This disaster luckily won't leave you wondering what could have been, but it may just leave you wishing that The Boy Who Lived ... hadn't.

This review is based on the 360 retail version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 provided by EA.

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