I have been a Harry Potter fanboy for quite some time, since the first movies release if you want an exact date. I have played Chamber of Secrets but missed the Sorcerer’s Stone. When this game hit the shelves I was right there to nab it and get started on my adventure. It’s always interesting to see books made into games because you see how someone else interpreted the book, which could be both good and bad.
In this Harry Potter adventure we learn that Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison and is coming after someone at Hogwarts. That someone is suspected to be Harry Potter, of course. While I won’t go into much detail about the story, since most of you have probably seen the movie or read the books, I will say they did a pretty good job converting it to a really fun game.
This time around they updated the engine, choosing the Unreal Warfare engine if I’m not mistaken. For those that don’t know the Unreal Warfare engine it is quite powerful, offers great visuals, and runs great all across the board. Obviously Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t look like Unreal 2004, that would be silly. It does, however, look great and really brings the new world that is Harry Potter to life.
What I didn’t know when I played this game was that the scenery has changed. The castle was changed a bit and the grounds were changed as well. This is all adapted from the movie, incase you didn’t see it or haven’t noticed. Hagrid’s hut is further away from the castle and there’s a nice courtyard with lots of goodies that you cross all the time. All of this looks incredible, and in retrospect it does match the movie perfectly.
The characters got a new look. They show facial expressions when their faces are in focus. You can see Harry’s brows furrow when he gets angry and you can see Ron’s face light up with fright when he is scared. This is mainly seen in the cut scenes since the game is played in the 3rd person. A lot of the characters in the game look like their movie counterparts except Harry, which I found a bit odd. Lupid looked incredible, an absolute copy of what he looks like in the movies even down to the scars on his face.
The scenery in the game is what you would expect. As you can walk around in the castle, the dungeons, and the Hogwarts’ grounds you will have scenery that is applicable to both. The textures do repeat a bit but that is standard. The artists did a fine job in changing things up so you don’t feel like you are walking in the same area the whole time. Different levels of the castle offer different paths, pictures, and carpets. All of the textures look nice and crisp. The characters are very smooth at the highest resolution and I don’t notice a performance hit at all.
The castle got a slight makeover. With the new engine it looks marvelous. In the cut scenes it looks enormous and inside you can get a feeling of its depth with all the hallways and dungeons. The layout of the castle remains the same, for the most part. A few things have changed but there is still the important portrait room as well as the moving staircases. Some rooms have changed, but they did stay true to the books with the locations and looks of the classrooms.
Overall the graphics in this game rock. I love the new look, the location of things may take a bit of getting used to, but it isn’t that bad. All of your favorite characters are there to see and act out the story. There is a lack of appearances by teachers other than Hagrid and Lupin. They do have their parts in the game, but it would be nice to see them more often since they are all such lovable characters.
A really cool addition to the audio is the sound effects. They have been improved so much. I don’t remember if Chamber of Secrets had this ability but when you walk over different types of terrain your footsteps sound and echo differently, more life-like. If CoS did have it PoA did a much better job at it and it is far more obvious. Since you do a lot of running around in the game it is nice to hear some different sounds as you traverse the castle grounds.
The music is as good as ever. All of the different styles help the game change and enhance the mood and setting. The theme of the game is pretty dark as is the music. It has the fast paced type for when it needs it and the slow paced 'happy’ music for when you are wondering around.
The voices in the game have improved as well. It isn’t narrated anymore by Jim Dale, instead this time each character talks. These cut scenes are what tell the story of the game. Since the game play is so diverse you really need the cut scenes to put it all together and to go from one scene to the next. The characters still say the spell name, and they have a few different tones and styles for each spell which is nice. The actors also do a fantastic job as showing emotions, which a lot of games fail to do. You can really tell Ron is scared in the train. My hat goes off to the actors for doing such a fine job on the voices; it wouldn’t be the same without them. The lip syncing in this game is actually quite good. Instead of moving their mouths at random intervals the game actually tries to make the character do each of the mouth movements. Of course it isn’t perfect, but it is very close and looks great.
The rest of the sound effects have been improved as well. The monsters in the game have voices and sound effects that fit their persona. Also the sound effects of spells hitting things sound really cool. Each spell has its own sound, and since there are so many spells to play with your ears are always happy.
The one thing I don’t like about the game is that they changed the story around a bit to make it into a more appealing game. When I have read the books so many times I expect to see a mirror copy of it in a game/movie. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Of course the story is still there, it has to be. It’s just that they changed things around to add more game play elements and such that it kind of ruins it. Other than that it is a fantastic game and I enjoyed every second of it. I beat the game in 1 sitting in about 6 hours, same time it took me to beat Chamber of Secrets. I guess I really am an addict of Harry Potter.
The game starts off on the train. We don’t get to see Aunt Marge in all of her glory, since there would be little to no game play elements there. So in the train we are boarded by dementors and find out that Harry doesn’t like them too much. After that encounter and a bit of game play we are dropped off at Hogwarts, where our adventure begins!
The first noticeable difference in game play is that you can play as all 3 characters this time. They follow you around and each has their own spell challenge to complete. At certain times you can only take Harry & Hermione or just Ron, etc. This is a great improvement on game play since it adds a new dimension we haven’t seen yet. Since you get to play as all 3 characters there are secrets to unlock that are only obtainable when all 3 are present. Also when you are together as a group your friends will pick up beans and prizes if they are near them. This isn’t perfect, but they do grab the odd one or two. Sometimes they just stand there and sometimes they pick up the goodies.
The challenges themselves are longer and can get pretty difficult. They are easy to complete but to get all of the golden shields, which are needed to complete the game, it can get rough at some times. You really need to think about where the shields can be hidden and it helps to look in all directions since it might be right in front of you. The spells in the challenges aren’t in the books; at least I certainly don’t remember them. I don’t know if they will appear in books 6 or 7, no one does except a select few. It is neat to see the new spells at work, and they definitely help with the game play.
The save game system is based on checkpoints. Don’t fret; there are a ton of them. Almost everything you do causes a checkpoint. There are a few in each challenge area as well. This works out very well and I was pretty impressed to see the game auto-save where I would manually do it. You can resume from your last save point so you can jump right back into the action, even if you are in the middle of a challenge.
One of the coolest features of the game is Hermione’s specialty. She can control animals. Well, she can transform statues into living creatures. The two you can choose from are a rabbit and a dragon, the reasoning is pretty obvious. These aren’t hidden and are right where you need them when you need them in your tasks. Since the dragon can fly it adds another level to the game play we haven’t seen before. These tasks can be pretty hard and it took me a few tries to perfect the dragons flying. The bunny rabbit is a cute little critter that likes to stick to the ground and go through small openings and dig up things to unlock doors. This feature was probably one of my favorites of the game.
Finally I must say that I was quite mad when I found out there is no Quidditch in the game. Regardless if there is a standalone Quidditch game it would have been fun to play it. Instead we are given a cut scene that shows Harry’s demise. This cut scene looks great and tells the story pretty well, but personally I would rather play it myself. Oh well, maybe they will put it back in the 5th installment, since there is no Quidditch in Goblet of Fire.
I was very, very impressed with this game. I have a few friends who tried it out and were pretty impressed as well. They found it just as fun as I did, which I liked. The game is great and it is great for all ages. Adults can get a kick out of playing this game as can the kids in the family. It is easy enough for a kid to master and offers enough depth for adults to enjoy.