Electronic Arts for Xbox 360 (Gameplay may vary for DS, Game Boy Advance, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii and PC versions.)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Welcome to Harry Potter’s fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Things have changed around campus. Mean old Delores Umbridge from the Ministry of Magic has taken over the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes and isn’t teaching the students how to properly defend themselves. Snape is his nasty old self, but Dumbledore is hard to find.
Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10.0
Pros: The game brings the book and movie to life with an amazingly accurate 3D Hogwarts, good likenesses of the actors, many original actors’ voices and situations from the book and movie.
Cons: Gameplay often feels more like a scavenger hunt on Hogwarts grounds than an adventure.
This year a lot of people think Harry is bonkers, but Harry has more important things on his mind: He needs to prepare for Lord Voldemort’s next big attack, something nobody else seems to care about.
Most of Order of the Phoenix is played out in the form of “to do” lists in an enormous and totally believable 3D rendition of Hogwarts. We’re talking big … really big.
Running from Hagrid’s hut to the greenhouses where Professor Sprout holds her herbology labs can easily take you five minutes. Throw in the Room of Requirement on the seventh floor and Snape’s dungeon, the viaduct, owlry and boathouse, and pretty soon you have a huge world.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is out on every major gaming system. There is a stripped-down version for Game Boy Advance and a visually impressive one for PSP. Wand-intensive versions for DS and Wii take advantage of the DS stylus and Wii-mote.
If you’re looking for graphic pizzazz, you can’t beat the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
Order of the Phoenix begins with you—as Harry—fighting off dementors in London, then whisks you off to the Order of the Phoenix hideout. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand what Harry was doing in London and who brought him to the untidy house where the Order does its bidding. The game lets these details—and many others—fly by.
You must learn both combat and non-combat spells to prepare to defend the Ministry.
In the hideout, you learn basic spells by doing housekeeping. You learn spells that knock things back, pull things forward and lift things up. These spells come in handy once you land in Hogwarts, where the majority of the game is played.
Once you’re on the Hogwarts campus, your housekeeping duties aren’t over. Throughout your stay, you must fix pots, sweep leaves, mop floors, straighten tapestries, burn spider webs, hang pictures, light torches and more. You’re constantly commanded: “Harry, help Umbridge find these plants.” “Harry, find the giant in the Forbidden Forest.” Doing these chores increases your wizarding power and stocks unlockable surprises in your storage room.
Every time you reach a new level, a ghost named Moaning Myrtle appears and says something along the lines of, “There are things for you to see in our special room, Harry.” Those things include videos of interviews with the actors from the movie, movie clips and more.
In the beginning, all of that housekeeping might distract you from the game. But you soon learn that all of that housekeeping is the game. Oh, you get other tasks such as finding the 28 members of Dumbledore’s Army—Harry’s secret defense-against-the-dark-arts club—and locating the five talking gargoyles, but for the most part, you spend the game cleaning and straightening.
The series of errands you’re sent on have you running across campus or down seven floors.
The artists at Electronic Arts have recreated locations in great detail, and they look just like they do in the movies. The problem is that having gone to the trouble of creating these virtual places, they force you to see them again and again and again.
Frankly, Order of the Phoenix would be a very short game if they took the running out.
On the other hand, you never get lost. Other games are hard to navigate. With Order of the Phoenix, you not only get the Marauder’s Map to show you where to go, but you can also have the map guide you as you run. Just choose the person or place you need to go to on the map, and ghostly footprints will guide you as you run.
It’s a great touch.
All of that running back and forth would ruin most games, but in the case of Order of the Phoenix, it’s not a deal-breaker. The 3D worlds and characters are realistic and the game gives you so many new things to see and characters to meet.
BATTLING THE BADDIES
Ultimately, Harry does leave Hogwarts to enter the Ministry of Magic and face Voldemort and his Deatheater henchmen. By the time you get to this showdown, you will have learned both combat and non-combat spells. You’ll not only be able defend the Ministry, but you’ll also have the skills to clean up afterward.
The battle system in Order of the Phoenix is good, but not perfect. You have offensive spells to hurt your opponent and defensive spells for deflecting attacks. The fights themselves feel more like chaos than battles.
Kudos to Electronic Arts, however, for adding simplicity to what might have been an impossibly hard fighting system. You cast spells by moving the right thumbpad in unique ways—clockwise, counter-clockwise, up-down, etc. During the heat of battle, it’s easy to get sloppy with your movements, but Order of the Phoenix is quite forgiving. It reads your spells even when you’re not exact.
That keeps things fun.
ONE FINAL NOTE
There’s a term used in gaming (originally in robotics) called “uncanny valley,” which refers to the lifeless eyes on otherwise realistic characters. You’ll see a lot of it in this game.
Like most video games, the faces in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can seem frozen.
The model of Harry moves like a real person and has a recognizable version of his face—and even the real voice of actor Daniel Radcliffe—but has the flat, unmoving eyes of a statue.
Likewise, Ron looks real but a bit corpse-like. Hermione and Ginny Weasley look the scariest: Their faces are accurate but frozen in a snarl.
In years to come, game consoles will be able to unfreeze character faces. But at least for now, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does have some of the best-looking characters and sets of any game.