If you've seen one Harry Potter game you've seen them all, that's how it's starting to feel when I put in the latest offering: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for review. I've given the game quite a hefty play-through and whilst not a big fan of the Potter franchise or the games I can say it kept me entertained enough to want to play it.
If you've been in the dark recesses of an abyss or something for the last few years, you've probably dared to try one or two of the previous Potter movie-to-game releases and been less than impressed, I know I was. So it was a bit of a shock to find myself enjoying this one as much as I did; now I'm not going to be an instant Potter convert just through one game.
The controls are fairly easy to get to grips with on the Xbox 360 version and you don't feel like you're fighting the control system or camera (much) to play the game. Where this game shines over the previous fare is that rather than try to recreate the same tired and tasteless formula over and over again, they went for something new.
No lame games of Quidditch or less than stellar fight sequences.
This is a game about side-quests and exploring Hogwarts. A Hogwarts I might add that has been created from the actual floor-plans and blueprints used in the movie. This is as true to Hogwarts as you're going to get on a video game (until the next game arrives and proves me wrong) at the moment and I really am impressed with how it's been brought to life.
It lives with students moving around and interacting with each other and Harry, this interaction varies depending on your House and adds a nice bit of interactivity to the proceedings instead of having a dull and listless cast of NPC's.
The attention to detail is staggering and the painting in the hall act like the ones in the movies, they have the whole sandbox environment laid out and gone are the linear levels and load times. You can learn six non-combat magic spells that allow you to fly (Wingardium Leviosa), repair broken stuff and so on. As you can imagine with a complete Hogwarts from the movie to explore there's quite a few unlockables and places to use those spells.
Moaning Myrtle's Room of Rewards does just that, you can get secrets and various unlocks by doing odd-jobs around the school as well as just exploring and messing around with your magic spells. I love sandbox environments and that's probably why this game appealed to me a lot more than the previous fare (linear and boring games).
As you can imagine, Hogwarts is big, it's vast and it would be easy to get lost. There's no HUD so EA have put in the Marauder's Map (one of the best things about Harry Potter even for a non-Potter man like myself) that functions in a very Saint's Row style where you mark a location on the map, close it and then follow the padding-footprints to your chosen destination. Its little touches like this that saves a game from mediocrity.
You can track people or locations this way.