Thursday, 12 March 2009

PC Game Review - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a nice interpretation of the second in the famous series of books. Coming mainly in the form of a 3D exploration . platform / puzzle-solving game set in Hogwarts School for young magically-inclined students, it's a major step up from the first Harry Potter game in several ways.

There's plenty to explore in Hogwarts, with secrets aplenty, and you must also attend classes where you first learn spells (in a too-easy game of pressing the right direction key at the right time), and then far more interestingly put them into practice in a challenge set by the teacher. You must use the spell you've just learned, along with any others you already know (all spells from the first game and any you've already learned in the new game) to complete the challenge. There are lots of things to collect within each challenge - if you can find them. While simply completing the challenge isn't particularly challenging in itself, finding all the secret areas and collecting every object housed within can be relatively tough. You can redo the challenge at any time and earn house points if you beat your best time, if you want to try to find more of the level's secrets, or simply if you enjoy playing that particular level.

In between lessons there's plenty of mischief to be done, especially of course because of the Chamber of Secrets itself. The story unfolds in line with the book, with the menace of a great beast lurking somewhere within the school, the mysterious diary of a former student coming to light, Hagrid being accused and Dumbledore's position as Headmaster being in danger... Some points might be a little lost on those completely unaware of the storyline beforehand, but it's done very well on the whole. There are a good number of characters from the book here - as you would expect, much of the action revolves around Harry, Ron and Hermione, with baddies Draco and Lucius Malfoy and the stupid Goyle to be contended with (and in the case of the latter, to be impersonated).

As with the first game, the voice acting of the children is quite good, but disappointing when it comes to the adults. Dumbledore sounds muffled and half asleep, which McGonnigal just sounds awful. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilroy Lockhart, is the exception to this - he's very funny. Snape doesn't sound too bad either I guess. The music is okay but seems rather lacklustre and, while it's pleasant enough most of the time, doesn't really add any atmosphere to the game. Some of the dialogue was quite funny (particularly when Harry temporarily turns into Goyle), and some of the creatures are amusing - particularly the house-elves when you pick them up (there's just something about the way they say "get off" repeatedly in evermore annoyed tones that strikes me as funny).

One of the things that's improved from the first game is the graphics - though the improvements made aren't amazing, they are significant. In particular the character's faces look a lot better - authentically 3D rather than looking like someone's stuck a bad photo in place of people's heads. The environment looks okay - there's not a great deal of detail and it does look like an old game, but the backgrounds are more generously decorated - it's amazing what the addition of a few paintings can do. The moving staircases are kind of fun, although I fell off them a couple of times at first as I wasn't expecting them to move! Any relatively modern system should be able to run everything at full detail settings without slowing the frame rate down significantly.

The main part of the game is fun and, whilst not providing enough challenge to experienced gamers, has a few tricky moments and a couple of panicky bits where, for instance, you're suddenly dropped in a pit of spiders without warning. If you're really afraid of spiders, this may not be the game for you as there are quite a lot of them! The level design is good with no dead-ends; again they could have been more challenging, but there is a bit of replay value in beating your best score in the challenges.

There are some other aspects to the game such as collecting Bertie Botts Every-Flavoured Beans (which pop up in the most amazing places), which can then be used to trade with other students. This is a nice feature of the game although a little limited in scope. You can also collect (via finding or buying them) wizard cards, which come in bronze, silver and gold variety. Well actually gold you won't be able to get until much later in the came, and that's only if you manage to get hold of 40 silver cards, which are quite rare to find and pretty expensive to buy. For every fifty bronze cards that you get your stamina will raise by one bar - extremely useful. There is a duelling club where you can challenge students at wizard duelling - for a price, though you win back double what you put down if you win. Then there's the Quidditch - a decent interpretation of the strange wizard's sport, where it's basically a race between you and the opposing team's Seeker to get to the snitch first - at any cost.

Overall Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a very enjoyable game, but there were some problems with it. Graphically there were one or two glitches, mostly nothing important. A couple of dialogues had missing references so the characters remained silent and a strange message came up in the subtitles field, but again that was nothing particularly important. More worrying however was the fact that the game crashed if you tried to re-enter the Diffindo Challenge (every time), and there seems to be a bug that prevents you from accessing the final cut scene, despite having completed all of the story elements of the game and most of the optional ones too. This was a little frustrating, and meant that although I'd completed the game, it somehow never felt like I'd actually completed the game! (Speaking of completing, battling the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets was much too easy!)

Though it is definitely better than the first Harry Potter game, with more breadth, scope (and happily the ability to skip cut scenes!!), with the above problems coupled with the fact that it's still relatively short and somewhat lacking in real challenge, I think it's not quite worth 4 stars. Still for Harry Potter fans, especially young fans, it's an enjoyable gaming experience. If you've played the first game and enjoyed it, I can guarantee that you'll enjoy this one more.

See also my review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for PC.


Daneil Fletcher said...

Erkin Bekbolotov is just like you. He has a strong obsession with Harry Potter

CaptainD said...

Er... I'd hardly call it an obsession! The books, games and movies are usually entertaining, but that's as far as it goes.

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