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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Preview

publisher: EA
developer: EA
genre: Action Adventure

PIV, 256MB RAM, 5GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: E

release date: Jun 25, 07
» All About Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on ActionTrip

Gearing up for the upcoming movie premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (mid July 2007), Harry Potter fans will also get a chance to try out the latest game, presently in development for the PC and next-gen consoles.

Now, as much as we'd all like to vomit at the prospect of EA grinding yet another worn-out franchise, they are going to liven the game up with several new elements, in the hope of attracting a wider gaming audience this time around.

EA UK, the development studio behind the project, is surprisingly enough, adding a fresh addition to the Harry Potter universe. Unlike earlier games in the long-running series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix attempts to mimic the ever-present GTA recipe. No, you can't hit or molest pedestrians in this game. Keeping a distance from linear gameplay formulas, traditionally present in all Harry Potter games, the developers are now giving you a chance to explore a larger environment. The newly implemented mission structure entails moving around the large Hogwartts campus, in an effort to recruit new members of Dumbledore's Army. The basic idea is to lure the player to devote as much attention as possible to keep searching and adventuring at Hogwarts, taking part in all missions, not just those that are story-related. Fans might also wish to know that, besides Harry, the game offers other playable characters such as Sirius Black, Fred and George Weasley and Albus Dumbledore.

Since we broached the story, I'm sure some of you would like to know more about it. H. Potter devotees should already be aware of how the narrative starts. In this chapter, Harry Potter got expelled from Hogwartts for exercising his magical skills outside the school premises, which he did to defend himself from Dementors. Little Whinging (the fictional English town) is where players begin their adventure. Once you're introduced to the game's new spell system via the tutorial, you'll be able to move on. The game stays close to the movie plot. The development team was granted access to a great deal of art and design documents, which were employed for bringing the big-screen adaptation to life. They also got a chance to hang around the film set, which gave them a more precise insight on various design parameters and where they should take the game.

By the way, as you travel around Hogwarts you get to completing a diversity of side-quests for other students, as well as for numerous 'talking portraits,' which hang on the wall of the famous magic school. Carrying out tasks for the portraits is indeed useful for many things. For example, after completing a mission you can unlock passages and shortcuts to move around more easily (if I know anything about Hogwartts, this feature can prove most helpful). Scattered throughout the game are so-called "discovery points," which are used as milestone markers. The discovery points are activated by finishing many different challenges, leading to new spells and level advancements. Confrontations with other students will also ensue, as you play wizard chess, gobstones (equivalent of marbles) and exploding snap competitions. These can be played at any time throughout the adventure against progressively more challenging adversaries.

The game lets you determine one of the three available difficulty levels, but no matter which one of these you choose, it's always possible to consult to Hermione or Ron for clues and guidance. Nearly Headless Nick is also there to help should you really get stuck. Incidentally, the three levels weren't just thrown in for the fun of it. Gamers playing on more difficult levels eventually get access to more powerful spells that may be used against stronger foes later on in the game. Such features will undoubtedly add to the game's replay value.

Even at this stage, it seems quite obvious there's going to be a dissimilarity between certain versions both visually and in terms of controls. Texture patterns, reflective surfaces and additional background detail appear way better on the X360 and PS3, as opposed to those seen in the Wii and PS2 versions. But, overall, when it comes to design, it looks as though a decent effort was put into each version.

Still, Wii users have one advantage, as expected. This particular version is being tweaked with utmost care to assure an enjoyable ride as you swing into action with the Wii-mote. As Harry draws his wand, players use the Wii-mote directly to cast spells. We were also told that the spell-casting is rather straightforward and easy to master - you may perform any spell with a flick of wrist. In case you were wondering, Harry gets to wield a familiar choice of spells such as incendio (fire), wingardium leviosa (object levitation), accio (pull), depulso (push), reparo (repair) and reducto (blast). Normally, progressing further through the game unlocks more spells.

Although Harry Potter games were always targeted for slightly younger audiences, this title should have a few extras and additional challenges for more experienced gamers.

As it stands, EA is yet another developer to re-institute the well known GTA formula - we've seen the gameplay mechanism reappear in countless games before (rather unsuccessfully in, say, Spider-Man 3). Anyways, let's hope it works for Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix hits shelves on June 25, 2007.



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