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I typically begin each review with a little paragraph describing the context of my review and giving a little back story to the proceedings. Such an introduction is unnecessary here. In any context, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a horrid abomination of a video game, and should be avoided like a plague.
The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 fails on many levels. In terms of keeping up with the Harry Potter mythos, the game is a wreck. It constantly throws you into situations without offering even the slightest hint of continuity or context. If the books or movies are not fresh in your mind, the events onscreen will be an unintelligible blur. As a fan of both the Harry Potter books and movies, I understood what the game was getting at without much effort, but the way in which the scenes are presented are mediocre and confounding at best.
At least the characters will sound as confused as you will be. Only a few of the actors from the movie reprise their roles in the game, and the instances in which replacement actors were used are painfully obvious. Harry sounds absolutely baffled by the events occurring around him, and other supporting actors are equally bland. Even the actors from the films, like Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, sound bored. It is unfortunate, then, that characters absolutely refuse to stop speaking. You will hear Harry yell the names of his spells and insipid one-liners more times than you can count, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. If I hear “stupefy!” one more time, I swear I will gouge my eardrums with a basilisk fang.
So clearly The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a failure as a Harry Potter product, but great gameplay can save even the most dismal story from crashing and burning. Unfortunately, Potter falters in this regard as well. Taking a page from the Gears of War playbook, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 mostly plays out like a third person cover-based shooter. That’s right, the new Harry Potter game is a shooter. Instead of guns you will blast away with your want, using different spells to substitute the need for different weapons. Stupefy functions as your typical pistol-style weapon, while Protego will shield you from enemy attacks like a riot shield. Potions fill the rolls of grenades and smoke grenades nicely.
As has become the standard of almost every third person shooter, the left trigger allows Harry to pull in for a closer view of the action (this makes sense in most shooters, where the left trigger makes you look down the iron sights, but as far as I know wands lack iron sights) and the right trigger fires. Headshots do extra damage, you can duck behind cover to avoid damage, and you typically have an AI companion at your side at all times. This is typical third person shooting, but it is executed pitifully.
The aiming is wonky, making it difficult to line up shots correctly. Potions are helpful in concept, but in execution they are borderline impossible to utilize. The game never explains which potions do what, and unless you chuck the potion as far away as possible, you will be caught up in the blast and sustain damage from your own attack.
The invisibility cloak also comes into play heavily during the game, which should be no surprise to Potter fans familiar with the premise of the Deathly Hallows. Predictably, the cloak sections serve as a stealthy counter to the shooting segments, but sadly they are no better. These sections largely amount to walking around the brain dead enemies and offer very little challenge. The game attempts to throw in some challenge by forcing you to recharge your cloak fairly frequently. You do this by standing still. Allow me to reiterate: One of the major mechanics of this game is standing still and doing nothing. You wring more entertainment out of sitting on your couch and staring at a wall than you could from playing this game. At least with the wall you will not be assaulted by awful voiceovers and a crazed attempt at a coherent story.
The wall would arguably be prettier as well, because this game looks decidedly last-generation in more ways than one. Sure, the character models and particle effects are okay, but the faces are just eerie looking shells, and the environments are bland and jagged. As has become the standard for the series, Rupert Grint’s avatar seems to have gotten the short end of the stick, because he still looks like a creepy little monkey creature. The other characters do not fare much better, though.
The one positive thing that I can say about The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is that it technically functions as a video game. Pressing buttons elicits a response from the characters onscreen, and the game comes complete with some bonus challenges and collectables. The hidden newspaper reels and the like that are scattered around the world are actually kind of interesting, but I encountered a glitch that prevented these collectables from functioning properly, so even these mildly interesting elements are marred somehow.
As a longtime fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I am particularly disappointed by the overall lack of quality that permeates every aspect of this game. Sure, it has always been a bumpy road for the Harry Potter games, but they were improving. The fifth and sixth games were not all that bad. The open worlds were kind of cool and the collectables were okay. Those games, mediocre as they were, will sadly remain the high point of the beleaguered franchise. The seventh entry somehow manages to reverse all of the progress made through the entire series in one fell swoop, and the end result is just sad. A product this awful should not be associated with a series so stellar.