We recently had an opportunity to get another hands-on look at the upcoming Harry Potter game for consoles and PC, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The last time we had a chance to play the game, we learned about the some of the game's basic game mechanics and conventions. We also got a look at some of the game's early levels, as well as the Triwizard Challenges, the wizarding contest that forms the basis of the plot in The Goblet of Fire. This time around, we got a chance to look at a few other levels, including a Defense Against the Dark Arts mission that takes place high up on the rooftops of Hogwarts; the Prefects' Bathroom, which has you exploring the sewers underneath the school; and the Forbidden Forest, where you'll get some outdoor action.
As in past Potter games, you'll get a chance to control the titular hero, who's joined by his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. If you've got two friends, they'll be able to plug in controllers and join the game to play through the campaign cooperatively with you. Your two basic spellcasts are charm and jinx. The type of charm or jinx you do is context-sensitive, depending on the situation and what you're aiming at. For example, the first level we looked at was high on the rooftops of Hogwarts. Blocked by a series of walls, we were able to use the wingardium leviosa charm to pick up conveniently placed cauldrons and smash our way through the walls. Eventually we ran into some fire salamanders. That same charm button unleashed a stream of water from Harry's wand to help weaken and dispatch the dangerous creatures.
In cases where you need the spellcasting power of Ron or Hermione to help you out, the artificial intelligence is smart enough to assist you with the proper charm or jinx for a combined spellcast. Unfortunately, if your little brother isn't smart enough to do the same thing as you play cooperatively, you'll just have to poke him in the ribs to get with the program. You'll often use combined casts to do things like lift extraheavy boulders or restrain monsters while the other characters attack it with jinxes. After combating a number of fire salamanders and dousing their fiery portholes with watery charms, we ended the opening Defense of the Dark Arts level by smashing down some support columns using cauldrons. This allowed us to access one of that level's Triwizard seals, all of which you'll need to collect to unlock the fight against Voldemort.
As you make your way through levels, unlocking pathways, smashing walls, or dispatching monsters, you'll be rewarded with an array of beans, which can be collected as currency. Blue-colored beans also contribute to your spell power, or magicus extremus meter at the bottom, which when filled, lets you unleash very powerful spells. Other beans can restore health. At the end of each level, you'll also probably unlock a few different cards out of the 150 available in the game. The cards are basically special power modifiers you can use to buff your characters before you head into the next level. The cards range from increasing the number of hit points you get, to being able to fire off multiple jinx shots, to creature cards that increase your power relative to a specific creature. You can assign up to three cards to each character--Harry, Hermione, and Ron--before you enter a level. Since the game requires you to play through each level a few times to access and unlock all areas, you'll probably have a good idea of what cards you'll need before loading up an area.
The second level we looked at was the Forbidden Forest, a spooky-looking outdoor area with winding paths through dense brush. Bubotubers sprouted up in certain areas of the level, hindering our path as they periodically spat out acidic pus. We had to use a pulling charm on them in order to catapult them into walls of poisonous mushrooms that also blocked walkways. The Forbidden Forest level had at least two different pathways. One led us to a high ledge with a Triwizard seal. Unfortunately, the only way up would be to use a herbivicus charm to open up some plant platforms for us to jump up. The characters we were using hadn't been through herbology class yet, so that path would have to wait for another time, exemplifying the way in which the game will ask you to repeat certain levels as you gain more powers and skills. Going the other way, we ran into the dragon from the first Triwizard challenge, who harassed us from the air, blocking our path with walls of flame. These needed to be doused with the watery charm before we could pass through.
The final level we got a chance to sample in our demo was called The Prefects' Bathroom. But instead of exploring tiled toilet stalls and urinals, we found ourselves in a vast sewer system separated by grated bridges and numerous stone platforms to climb up. This was more of a puzzle level, with the challenge being how to find our way from one side to the other. We also found ourselves using charms to manipulate water pumps and other objects.
With less than a month to go before the game's (and film's) planned release, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seems to be coming together pretty well. Potter fanatics who are tired of reading the book for the 12th time and seeing the film for the fifth time can look forward to experiencing The Goblet of Fire for themselves on November 8th, when the game ships for the PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube.