LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 to 4
|Xbox 360||PlayStation 3|
|Surround Support||Dolby Digital||Dolby Digital, 7.1LPCM, Dolby Digital|
Along with Transformers: War on Cybertron, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 to 4 is a surprisingly cool game that I had a lot more fun with than I thought I would. Just when you think that the ages-old LEGO formula might be starting to look a little tired and stale, Travellers' Tales has managed to offer up a game with a range of new mechanics that breathe new life into the series.
There's still the basics of slapstick visual humour, the core respect for the source material, plus excellent use of the orchestral movie soundtracks, but the Travellers' Tales team has worked wonders in bringing Hogwarts and the other famous locations to life: there's just so much to do, so much to explore and so many ways in which you can use utilise the magic you gain as the story progresses.
Best of all there's still the sense that Travellers' Tales understands that a game mostly played by kids doesn't need to be dumbed down, or limited in any way. Instead the team has gone for the same kind of universal family appeal that Pixar targets for its movies. In short, it's all good stuff, so what's the score with the 360 and PS3 versions?
Perhaps sticking to the axiom that if it ain't broke you shouldn't fix it, the bottom line is that what we're seeing here in terms of tech that hasn't really evolved so much over the years. The Xbox 360 version of the game is still operating at 720p with 2x multi-sampling anti-aliasing across the board, while the PS3 rendition has no AA at all, with an edge blur filter standing in during the cut-scenes only.
This is entirely consistent with what we've seen before in previous titles using the same engine, and pretty much the only new addition to the core technology is the implementation of motion blur, which you can turn on or off from within the options screen. While the technological advantage to 360 is clearly apparent from looking at the stills, in motion the difference isn't so much of an issue. However, performance definitely is, and once again, we see that little has changed in the world of LEGO.
Travellers Tales have mandated 60FPS as a core element of the LEGO experience. It's not so much about precision control here (there is actually a fair amount of input lag on the LEGO games), but the overall look is of a series of games that are bright and pristine, looking for all the world like interactive CG movies.
Impacting this somewhat is how dropped frames are handled. Despite it being the main issue with engine for years now, LEGO Harry Potter still tears badly in places and as the performance analysis demonstrates clearly, the PS3 game tears more often and drops more frames, despite the 360 version running with the additional computational load of the 2x MSAA.
Tearing can of course be completely eliminated, just as it can in previous LEGO titles, but it comes at a cost. An option exists to engage v-sync, but it effectively caps the game to 30FPS, losing the fluidity and "CG-ness" of the game. You lose far more than you gain by using it, that's for sure.
LEGO Harry Potter still retains its charm and playability regardless of course, on either platform, and while it's fair to say that most of the intended audience probably won't be put off by the technical foibles that exist on both games, it's just a bit of a shame that the desire simply isn't there to perfect an engine that is so close to being absolutely ideal.