Version tested: Xbox 360
The end credits of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 are really quite lovely. It's a montage of scenes from all the Harry Potter games stretching all the way back to the quaintly cartoony Philosopher's Stone in 2001 - reminding us that while it may have been the books and films that got all the headlines, gaming has kept pace with the boy wizard as well. It's just a pity that the game leading up to this nostalgic indulgence doesn't feel more substantial.
As with last year's Deathly Hallows Part 1, this is purely an action game, albeit one without wretched Kinect control this time. Gears of Wands would be a good pithy soundbite, so let's use that. Harry (or one of many other characters) trots down a corridor level strewn with convenient cover items. Death Eaters, Voldemort's scruffy, gothic henchfolk, pour in from the other side and you pew-pew-pew with your wand until they're all dead. Or not so much dead as magically evaporated.
This is, as the genre demands, a very violent game. It's also a game for young 'uns, and EA's Brightlight Studio has been forced to tread a tricky tightrope in order to convey the apocalyptic danger finally facing Potter and his friends while also remaining suitable for older kids. The result is a game where Harry will quite happily blast a retreating enemy in the back with an explosive Confringo spell, only for the evidence of his brutality to literally vanish in a puff of smoke.
There are compromises in the control as well. The game lacks the weight or precision that adult third-person shooters demand, leaving the player struggling with a flaky cover system and loose aiming. The Apparate command, which is unlocked further into the game, is particularly lumpy in execution. A teleport spell supposedly designed to get you out of danger in an emergency, in reality it tends to leave you stuck to cover on the wrong side, with your back to the enemy.
Sometimes it won't activate at all, a real problem when the game relies so heavily on Call of Duty-style spawn triggers, suddenly dropping a bunch of enemies directly in front of you but only when you've wandered far enough from safety for there to be no survivable way of fighting back. Health is short and depletes rapidly, and while the checkpointing is fairly lenient, it often feels as though progress comes about more through luck than judgement.
Also peculiar are some of the creative choices that have been made. You don't just play as Harry but as other characters as and when the plot demands it. Ron and Hermione, obviously, but also less obvious warriors such as Seamus Finnigan (he's Irish, amazingly) as he places magical bombs to bring down the iconic Hogwarts covered bridge to stop the Death Eaters' approach. Can't wizards teleport and fly on broomsticks? Yes. Yes they can. Never let it be said that Potter's world was afraid of a little illogical contrivance.
What's weird about the multiple characters is that each one shares exactly the same skills and spells depending on which level of the game they're in. So when you play as Professor McGonagall early on, she knows fewer spells than Hermione in the next chapter, while Neville Longbottom knows even more spells a few levels later. It's a strange, limiting way of using the enormous cast and leaves the game feeling very flat. All these wondrous characters, all reduced to exactly the same faux-soldier avatar. It's a waste, and ensures that a game crying out for variety provides very little.