The Harry Potter series of games has had a bit of a rough ride over the past 10 years, getting reviews ranging from just above average to downright rubbish - not that it's really all that surprising, considering many critic's outright hatred hatred for anything that ties in with what could be classed as a kid's film. Like a well-aimed bludger, 2010's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 recieved a Metacritic average of just 38% - and while it wasn't exactly a masterpiece, and suffered from a fair few flaws, it wasn't a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily for us, tying in with the release of the film, like a digital Madame Pomfrey, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2's come trotting along to make things better again, and is a good - if somewhat short - end to a much-loved series of games.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 begins just after the first game breaks off. With Voldemort having retrieved the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb in the previous game, Harry, Ron and Hermionie are back to hunting and destorying Vodemort's Horcruxes - items in which the dastardly He Who Shall Not Be Named's hidden a piece of his soul, in an attempt to make himself immortal. The game begins with Ron and Hermionie diguised as Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange (thanks to a Polyjuice Potion), with Harry in tow under his invisibility cloak in a mission to break into the Lestrange's Gringotts Bank Vault, where Helga Hufflepuff's cup, which acts as one of Voldemort's seven horcruxes, is stored.
The game is basically a 3rd person shooter, which puts you into the wizarding boots of Harry and chums, as you battle it out against the death eaters, and follow the plot of the film. Moving from cover spot to cover spot, keeping your head low, and only popping out to fire off a few blasts from your wand before ducking into cover is the rule here, although there's a fair amount of exploring to be done too, with lovingly recreated environments from the films forming a great, and atmospheric playground. With the addition of the interesting environment and characters of the Harry Potter universe, combined with a gentler difficulty level and simpler controls, it's actually a fair amount of fun - and at any rate, it's better than Gears of War. That's not to say it doesn't tend towards repetitive after the 5th consecutive hour, when you start to get fed up of the cover, kill everything, move on mechanic, and you begin to notice there are only 4 or 5 different Death Eater designs, or that most of the environments are the same ruined castle - but by this time, you're actually nearing the end of the game, so it doesn't matter too much.
This is also the point where the game starts to kick things up a notch, during the final showdown with Voldemort and his army, as you're chopping and changing between different characters with each level - from McGonnagall defeating giants on a bridge, to Ginny taking on hoards of Death Eaters in the courtyard to buy Harry some time, to Hermionie and Ron tracking down Voldemort's familiar, and 6th Horcrux, Nagini the snake. And that's not including the (multiple) battles between Harry and You Know Who.
There are a couple of different sections that help add some much needed variety to game, along with the normal move-from-A-to-B-killing-everything, and boss fights. Some sections see you legging it towards the screen as fast as you can, avoiding debris, holes in the floor and (generally) firing behind you at an enemy who's chasing you, whilst others see you defending someone while they open a locked door (for example), leaving you to fend off the swarms of Death Eaters before their health bar reaches zero. Strangely though, these short defending segments, and the boss fights, are the only time you'll see a health bar during the game - Harry (or whoever you're playing as) has nothing, instead relying on the annoying fading-to grey screen to tell you how immenent your death is. In a game that's incredibly brightly coloured, it may not be that much of an issue, but, in a game that's as dark as Harry Potter is already, it's more than a little bit tricky to notice, leading to one too many frustrating deaths, because you hadn't realised you were running out of health.
One of the issues with Part 1 was the general lack of explanation of what to do, which, thankfully, is something that's been seen to this time around, as the game seems to be streamlined a lot more, with the potions removed (never have I had so much trouble de-Deoxy-ing a kitchen), and spell-casting made much simpler. Before, you had to press RB to either bring up a spell wheel, or scroll through the entire list of spells, which was a bit of a faff. Now there's a selection of 6 spells mapped to the B, X and Y buttons - two to each button, that gradually get unlocked as you progress through the story. Pressing them once will select one of the spells, whilst pressing them twice in quick succession selects the other, which is often simply a more powerful version of the same spell. For example, X casts Stupefy, a standard stunning attack, while X x2 casts Petrificus Totalus, which paralyses people, making them fall over like dominoes (my personal favourite, seeing as it seems rather powerful, killing most Death Eaters in one or two hits); B casts Expulso, a rapid fire spell and B x2 casts Impedimenta, a multi-target lock-on attack capable of hitting loads of Death Eaters at once; and Y casts Expelliarmus, capable of disarming enemy Protego sheilds while Y x2 casts Confringo, an exploding spell. Speaking of Protego sheilds, you can cast your own version by holding down LB, which is useful when you're under a fair amount of fire, and RB lets you Apparate (teleport, to you Muggles out there) to a nearby spot, giving you a handy way of jumping into cover when you come under fire - although it seems a bit odd that only Harry is capable of apparition, despite some of the other characters having got their licenses a long time ago. For those unfamiliar, in the wizarding world, apparition is a bit like driving a car - you need to be 17, have lessons and pass a test before they let you loose in the real world, lest you end up five miles south of where you intended, perched on top of an old lady doing her shopping.
Some of the spells have to be left to recharge before you can cast them again - demonstrated by a blue circle around your targetting reticule, which disappears once you can cast the spell again. And it's worth remebering that casting the same spell in rapid succession makes your aim less accurate (I'm not sure why though), so you're best off shooting in small bursts or switching spells a lot. While it's not as much of a collectathon as Part 1, Part 2 does have a few hidden objects to pick up along the way - most levels will have 4 or 5 glowing blue orbs/trianges hidden in them for you to find. These then amass to unlock challenges, character models and music in the extras menu, which is certainly a nice touch. Challenges basically involve repeating the story levels as quickly as you can, giving you bronze, silver and gold medals, depending on your time - which you can then compare to your friends on the leaderboards.
You still have to press RT to fire your selected spell, and LT still locks on to the nearest target - and is vastly improved over Part 1's targetting, where Harry seemed to prefer shooting at the rock in front of the Death Eater rather than at him. Now, it pretty much always targets the person you want, providing you're looking in vaguely the right direction - although while it's supposed to snap to the nearest person, it does occasionally target one thats miles away. It also has a habit for getting a bit confused when you try to target a Death Eater who's standing directly in front of you, choosing to give you a rather zoomed in view of their knee, for reasons known only to itself.
With its accurate character models, settings that look they've been ripped straight from the film, and even, in many cases, the genuine voice actors, it's clear Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has been aimed at fans of the series - so much so, in fact, that anyone who hasn't read the books or seen the films will probably struggle to understand what's going on, as the game has a tendency to jump between different groups of people, especially in the final battle. One minute, you'll be playing as Seamus Finnegan, laying explosive charges on a bridge to prevent the Death Eaters from reaching Hogwarts, and the next you'll be Professor McGonnagall dueling with Professor Snape, before switching to Harry, Ron and Hermionie trying to descend the Marble Staircase swarming with Death Eaters. And while there are plenty of conversations and cutscenes, none of them do a very good a job of setting the scene or explaining what's going on - it's a game that assumes you know what's going to happen and why, and generally seems to follow the plot of the book - and I assume the film too. The only difference is that in the Room of Requirement battle with Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle when the trio are looking for the Diadem of Ravenclaw, Crabbe has been replaced by someone called Blaise. Apparently, this is because the actor who played Crabbe was doing 120 hours of community service for possession of cannabis - so was written out of the film, and replaced by that Blaise chap. Interesting factoid.
In all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a pretty solid game. It's fun, it's accurate in its portrayal of the films, and there's a decent amount of variety to keep you enthralled as you take Harry on his last adventure. In fact, one of the only real problems is that the game's rather short, at around about 5 hours long. While part of me does think I would rather have a shorter, more entertaining game than a lengthy trawl through a deathly dull game, and extra hour, or five, wouldn't have gone amiss. On the other hand, with my tendency to start a game, play it obsesively until something new and shiny comes along and distracts me, then never getting round to going back to it, I stand a better chance of seeing the credits with the shorter games. I just don't expect to pay £50 for the privilege.