Seeing EA’s latest Harry Potter game in action for the first time is pretty startling. Not only does everything look slicker than ever before – an entirely new game engine has been built specifically for it – but the atmosphere is one of incessant foreboding. If you were inspired to compare it to another game, there is only really one that immediately springs to mind. And it isn’t one of the previous Harry Potter titles. It’s Remedy Entertainment’s superb Xbox 360 chiller Alan Wake.
The dusky visuals and eerie atmosphere are both in-line with the bleak tone of the source material of course, but the emphasis on action here displays a similarly acute knowledge of the property. The game’s Executive Producer Jonathan Bunney draws attention towards the fact that this story follows Harry as he learns to function (for the first time) without the safety net of Hogwarts and its staff, and without many of his old friends around. The more action-orientated nature of the book means that in Bunney’s estimation, the gameplay this time features about ten times more action than previous Harry Potter titles did.
Our hands-on time with the Xbox 360 version of the game involved partaking in a series of brand new challenge quests. These modes – separate from the main campaign and boasting map-specific online leaderboards – are an instantly familiar (and compelling) combination of score and time-attack missions. Using a mixture of combat and detection, you cautiously move around a small environment – ours was a misty field that could have been ripped straight out of Alan Wake – as you seek out and dispatch every last one of your ghoulish assailants.
Selecting the correct spell to use in any given situation is exactly the same process as choosing which gun to use in a conventional FPS. Some of Harry’s spells can be superficially likened to things like machine gun fire and hand grenades, and one of them performs the same function as a sniper rifle. When things get a bit dicey, snap-on cover is never usually too far away, and whilst cycling through spells via the traditional ‘wheel’ menu system is fast and intuitive, simply clicking RB will instantly move you onto the adjacent spell.
The controls are crisp and the animation fluid, and using the sniper-like spell on one of our enemies drew out attention to some seriously impressive facial animation. Some people expressed a bit of mild concern about the visuals when it was shown at E3 back in June, stating that this game looked rather too much like the previous one. In terms of visuals, Deathly Hallows: Part One has truly progressed in leaps and bounds since then, but it’s the confident gameplay shift that most impresses – unexpectedly, it’s a sleek and robust third-person action title.
In addition, we also managed to have a brief session with the Kinect version of the game, and to be frank it currently stands as the most impressive display of the Kinect technology that we’ve yet seen. It’s remarkably responsive – you raise your left hand to take a stance, and then use your right to aim and fire – and despite one minor hiccup (which was a result of a sudden change in lighting, which is remedied by simply placing one hand over Kinect’s camera for one second) playing the game with Kinect is looking like it may possibly end up being the most entertaining option.
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One is due for release on November 19th, on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS.
Watch the Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One trailer here: