It’s another term at Hogwarts, another film – this one a bit darker than the last (again) – and another video game licence from EA. But before you begin waving your wand and practicing your ‘reparo’ incantation in eager anticipation, don’t get overly excited. This year’s Potter experience, while initially engaging in some measure, soon runs out of steam.
The school of Hogwarts remains the same as ever with its sprawling grounds, rotating Escher-like staircases and talking portraits that offer shortcuts. You’re free to roam the pupil-packed halls, collecting crests to unlock goodies, or taking on challenges in the three areas of the wizardry curriculum the game focuses on: wand duelling, potion brewing and quidditch.
These exercises are smartly polished mini-games, particularly the potion brewing where the player must mix multiple ingredients, shake bottles, stir and heat the cauldron to the correct level, all against the clock.
Quidditch is a simple 3D flying game where the object is to steer through a series of gates, and while it’s harmless enough fun, it’s a bit too basic. Although it does feature some superb surround sound: in fact, sonically, the Half Blood Prince is a joy to the ears if you’ve got it hooked up to a 5.1 surround system.
Wand duelling is the same as ever, with a combination of defensive and offensive spells to fling by waggling the right analogue stick, and a number of house duelling ladders to climb. Mind you, it’s on the easy side to master once you work out which spells are best used in combination.
The main meat of the game, however, is the plot, which unfolds via a series of linear quest objectives and cut-scenes. And there are several disappointments here, not least of which is that the way the cinematic scenes are stitched together between tasks seems disjointed and artificial. The story doesn’t flow well as a result.
A lack of imagination hampers the quests and some tasks are very basic indeed (go there and talk to someone, for example). Repetition is also evident – at one point you fight five wand duels in a row, which gets a little tiresome – and many quests are just plain uninteresting. There are some genuine puzzles here and there, such as escaping from a locked room using a combination of spells, but these instances are few and far between.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is over quite swiftly, too. We were pretty stunned to find ourselves completing the adventure after just five hours or so. Admittedly we didn’t take on every single potion or quidditch challenge, but did a fair few of them. Yes, there’s also the challenge of unlocking all the achievement badges and finding all the crests scattered about Hogwarts, but we felt little compulsion to pursue that goal.
As an aside to the main game, there’s a brief diversion in the form of two-player duels which are played locally (no online options are present). And that’s your lot.