Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Lego Harry Potter PS3 review

If you're into Lego or Harry Potter you've probably already bought this, if you're into Lego and Harry Potter you've probably had this on pre-order and have been camped out on your doorstep waiting to pounce on the postman as soon as they appear with package in hand.

For those waverers the question is - is it any good? The short answer is - it's better than its predecessors. So if you liked them, you'll like this.

The trouble is that the Lego titles have been very similar. Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman the main premise is that you start in a hub area that leads to various levels that in turn contain sections. Progress through the sections to finish a level and you'll return to the hub to tackle the next as well as allowing you to replay any unlocked sections individually either via the "Story Mode" with constrained character choice or "Free Play" where you can choose which characters you wish to use.

Characters themselves come with different skill sets and you roam around a level destroying everything you can to release "studs" which act as currency, or to release Lego building blocks that can be used to create items that advance the story or simply allow you to reach an out of the way area.

Graphically they're all side-scrollers, although there is occasionally a more free-movement section, and the HUD is laid out identically with character 1's portrait top left and 2's top right each next to their own stud total and array of little hearts indicating health between the two is a "True" counter wherein if you collect enough studs in a section you're declared a "True" Jedi, Adventurer, Hero, Wizard. There are other things to collect that allow 'cheats' or access to bonus rooms.

And that's how Lego Harry Potter works but there are some major changes. First off the hub section (Diagon Alley) has been demoted. The only reason to visit outside the story is to engage "Free Play" buy characters, cheats or play bonus levels, most of the activity takes place at Hogwarts and in this the game finds both its best and worst moments.

Progress through the story is progress through Howarts friendly Nearly Headless Nick will lead the way through the school but there's nothing stopping you from simply wandering around and seeing what's about. Some areas can't be accessed, but rather than the game-breaking 'because we say so' it's a case of not having the ability to progress. So you can't get through that door until you learn to brew Polyjuice Potion or how to destroy locks.

A benefit though is that Hogwarts is a persistent environment. Even if you don't know how to brew that potion you can often still free the ingredients and they'll still be there ready once you return, which encourages wandering. This is where the trouble lies though because once you unlock an ability the question is where can it be applied? The story will take you merrily along but step off the beaten track and both the lack of a map and linear nature of the connecting rooms can mean a long slog from one room to another, just to find you've gone the wrong way. This is one of the few games since the old MegaDrive days where I've created my own map just to keep track of where things are.

The ability to learn new things is the next major change in the franchise. Previously a character simply had an innate ability to do something this character can jump high, this character can dig, etc. Here characters increase in skill level. The first story section of Year 1 has you learn the levitation spell, later you learn a light spell as well as picking up potion making skills and mandrake potting abilities and this progresses through the Years.

It works and it works well, you'll switch from a light spell to dispel a plant then to a levitation spell to pick up the items it dropped without having to mess around with changing characters and the intelligent targeting system means that holding down square and manoeuvring the reticule over an object will automatically use the appropriate spell regardless of whether it's been pre-selected without changing it afterwards.

Onto the mechanics and the Lego games on the PS3 have always been plagued by screen-tear and sadly this is still the case. By default the game runs at 1080p and with an unlocked frame rate the amount of tearing is painful almost at the same level as TimeShift; fortunately there's an option to lock the frame rate in the menu and although it does introduce the odd stutter given the type of gameplay this is no major hassle.

The controls are simple and the actions responsive although I have to criticise the action of taking out and putting away a wand. Head for a jump, push in the direction and hit X and it is this point the character will decide to pause to put away their wand and then walk off the edge because you're still pushing the stick in that direction. The number of times that happened had me grinding my teeth and one of the first tasks I set myself was unlocking "Fall Recovery" from the cheats.

Other than all that it's a good game and will keep young'uns entertained, for those of an older age it's more a rent option.