Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Two years ago, I nearly pooped my pants. See, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix came out on the PC and it didn't suck -- in fact, it was decent. If you're just joining us, that's pretty much unheard of when you're talking about movie-based games. Now, with another H.P. movie bearing down on us, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is coming to your favorite videogame console. Can EA defy movie-to-videogame logic one more time?The answer is "yes." And although it isn't the greatest game in the world, some simplified mouse controls actually make this title a fair bit better than the last outing and makes for a pretty fun game.

If you're interested in this title, chances are that you've already read the books and are awaiting the movie. Still, I'll do my best to summarize what's up this time around: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are back for their sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, everyone's abuzz about the latest happenings in the world of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and Draco is up to no good. Sure, that sounds like every Harry Potter story, but this time things are really bad.

If you've read the books, you know what those bad things are, and if you haven't, this game really isn't going to explain what's going on. See, rather than have you play through the events of the movie, Half-Blood Prince just kind of uses them as touchstones. Sure, you'll participate in the big battles and see videogame cutscenes depicting key moments, but these events won't really be properly explained nor will they carry the appropriate impact. You're not here to play the movie; you're here to live in the movie's universe. 

What does that mean? Well, just like last time, you'll pick up the controller and become Harry in a fully realized Hogwarts. If it's in the movies, you can find it in this hallway-for-hallway recreation of the school. When you first start the title, sections of the building will be locked due to the latest You-Know-Who scare, but completing the game's events as they come quickly unlocks the place so that you can run around and do whatever you want -- which breaks down into the categories of making potions, flying, dueling, and exploring. 

Making potions is probably the most inventive mini-game in the title and gives you 16 brews to create in your trusty caldron. While most of the game is played from a third-person perspective, potions put you into a first-person mode... with invisible hands. See, icons pop up on the left side of the screen and you choose the corresponding ingredient with the mouse. You'll grab a beaker, move it to the pot, and pour it in using the keyboard. As you get deeper into the game's potions, the steps to create concoctions such as Fertilizer and Wiggenweld multiply and become more complicated. You'll need to bring the cauldron to a boil, wave off smoke, make ingredients bubble before adding to the stew, and stir up the contents.

This potion stuff is pretty interesting. On the one hand, it's just a game of Simon Says, but it's actually quite challenging when you get going. Some of these elixirs have a really small window of success -- you need to pour/shake/stir until the concoction is a certain color -- and you'll need to be on your toes to hit the mark. Add on the fact that there's a timer that's counting down and losing extra seconds every time you screw up (like when you accidentally spill on the table or miss dropping a piece of dung into the pot), and it's going to be hard to pull off a five-star performance. Thankfully, if you do get rated one-star, you can redo a potion as many times as you like, but it's not necessary to progress; you just need to finish it in some respect. Sometimes it can be very difficult to know when you're about to pour or drop something, but the mode is still fun.

Another nice addition this time around is flight. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry's the captain of the Quidditch team, and as such, you're going to need to log some time on your broom. Rather than give you free rein over the world, flight is very controlled here. You're chasing the snitch and the camera is always heading in whatever direction the gold ball is. This means you're not really controlling where you're going, but you're controlling where on the screen you are -- left, right, up, down.

What keeps this from being boring are star checkpoints throughout the match. You need to fly through these stars so that you keep time in your reservoir. If you miss a couple, the checkpoints will start going from green to red. If you miss a bunch, the red ones will expire and you'll have to restart the level. Basically, this is a timed race more than it is a Quidditch match, but it's still fun. Sadly, these things can go on a bit too long and it's a bitch to try and fit through the Quidditch goals when you have to, but it's still a fun experience overall and it looks good to race through the air and kick at other players trying to knock you off course. 

If there's one thing Order of the Phoenix sucked at, it was wand-to-wand combat. There were a ton of spells, but the commands weren't that responsive and the battles never felt that fun. Things are better here in Half-Blood Prince, but it's still not perfect. Here, you have six spells -- Stupefy, Protego, Expelliarmus, Petrificus Totalus, Levicorpus, and Charging -- that are performed with the mouse. You can leap from side to side by using the keyboard.


System Requirements

OS: Windows XP/ Vista/ 7
Processor: Pentium 4 1.8 GHz
Memory: 256 MB
Hard Drive: 5 GB Free
Video Memory: 64 MB (NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 400/ATI Radeon 7500)
Sound Card: DirectX Compatible
DirectX: 9.0c
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