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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Score: 65%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

From the looks of it, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone makes use of the Unreal engine, and it looks quite sharp because of it. The character models are quite well-detailed, with a mix of 'big-headed anime' and standard design. The environments are also quite well-done, even if they tend to be rather repetitive; the inside of Hogwarts is quite self-similar, as are many of the areas that you go to outside of the school. It looks nice enough, though.

The storybook cutscenes, on the other hand, leave a lot to be desired; I would have preferred in-game movies to these.

As for sound, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone sports both solid voice-acting and music. The character voices range from very near their movie counterparts (Hagrid, especially) to far from the mark (Malfoy and Dumbledore come to mind), but they all sound fairly professional. It's not the best voice work you've heard, but it's certainly passable. Yes, Harry's constant 'Flipendo!' and 'Alohamora!' get a wee bit old, but that's something of a necessary consequence of the game, and you almost don't hear it after playing for a while. The music is solid, picking up when it needs to and properly setting the tone of the adventure.


Gameplay:

It's a shame, then, that the game itself plays so uninspiredly. The low level of difficulty is understandable; this game is geared towards children, after all. The uninspired level design and repetitive gameplay are not so forgivable, however, and the painful flight control scheme makes what could have been an exciting part of the game more frustrating than it should be. Add to that a few more questionable design decisions, and you have a game that misses the mark that it aims for.

The storyline of the game diverges rather widely from that presented in the book and the movie, but it's close enough to be recognizable. You'll spend the first significant part of the game learning new spells and trying them out in different challenges; why none of your classmates go on these challenges with you is left completely unexplained. You'll recognize many characters from the Harry Potter mythos, such as Ron and Hermione, and the various teachers.

The game plays like a simplified action/platformer. Think a child's version of Tomb Raider, and you'll have an idea of how it works. Harry can move around, jump, and cast spells--if jumping is too difficult, the game features an 'autojump' to make it playable for younger kids. The spell is always context-sensitive; point the sparkly magic bits at what you want to affect and the game will choose the proper spell.

Although the story is far from the books, that's understandable, as you need to add enough content to make the game workable. However, the execution of it all leaves much to be desired. For example, you learn spells by tracing their patterns on the screen with your mouse. This is frustrating, even for someone with good mouse control, and many kids will find it difficult to do it both rapidly and accurately. The game awards house points for successfully completing goals, which is a nice touch, but there are some serious logical flaws in it--when Hermione says that Professor Sprout would 'surely give Gryffindor ten points for that,' how does the House actually get the points? Was Sprout watching? This is probably something that wouldn't phase kids playing the game, but as someone who is steeped in the lore of the Harry Potter world, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone makes some glaring jumps like this.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this game, though, is the way that it limits you. Instead of being able to wander about and do your own thing, you're always on the run to a class, to a challenge, to something else. It never felt like I was actually in the gameworld; it felt like this was some sort of funhouse Hogwarts, which existed merely to torment my Harry avatar by throwing challenge after challenge at him.

And what could have been the coolest part of the game--flying, and the requisite Quidditch--ends up being confused and unexciting. The flying controls provide none of the grace and speed which were presented in either the movie or the books, and Quidditch ends up being just another challenge to complete.

In all fairness, there are some nice touches spread here and there throughout the game--I like that you collect Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, although I don't like that they hide inside of trees and armour and the like, and the use of spells from the books (although I don't recall Flipendo, and a quick look in the Lexicon makes it seem it was created for the game) is quite cool. And the Invisibility Cloak's turn in the game is thoroughly enjoyable. It's just that the game could have been much more than the run-of-the-mill platformer that it turned out to be.


Difficulty:

For us adult gamers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is nothing short of a cakewalk. That's understandable, as we're not the age group that the game is geared towards. If the youngest players are still having problems with the game, there is an 'autojump' feature that can be turned on to take even that challenge away. Indeed, most children will have the most trouble with the flight controls, but even those are usable, if not masterable.

Game Mechanics:

The game makes use of a simple control scheme: forward, backwards, turn either direction. One mouse button for spells, the other for jump. Flying makes use of the keyboard only, despite the instructions and the back of the jewel case's evidence to the contrary; this is most unfortunate, as it makes what could have been an enjoyable segment of the game much more frustrating. Indeed, a patch to reenable mouse flight would knock the game up a few notches in my book, at least when it comes to the controls. The menus are easy to navigate, such as they are, and the load times are fairly short. Unfortunately, you cannot skip the storybook cinemas in the game, which can make replaying the title a painful experience; why this simple feature wasn't included (especially since it, too, is referenced inside of the game) is a mystery. There are a few glitches here and there in the game, mainly with spell icons appearing on objects but not being cast, but those issues are minor.

In the end, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone makes for a decent kids' title but nothing that adults would want to play for any length of time. That's unfortunate, since the license and the engine could have been turned to make something truly exciting for all ages--a virtual Hogwarts with even some of the trimming would have been amazingly cool. As it is, it will entertain the 'tweens; the puzzles may be a little too tough for younger kids, and the gameplay too simple for the older ones. It's a fair effort, but Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is yet another example of a licensed game coming nowhere close to matching its source.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/Me/2K/XP, AMD K6-2/P2 266, 64MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 500MB HD space, video card w/ 8MB VRAM, sound card, keyboard, mouse
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Gothic Windows Heroes Chronicles: Clash of the Dragons

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated