Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Impressions

We take our first look at Harry Potter's third-year adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.


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Earlier today, EA stopped by with a build of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third game based upon the megapopular Harry Potter series of books and films. Prisoner of Azkaban is based upon the upcoming third film in the series, which is in turn based upon the third of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. Like its predecessors, the home console and PC versions of Prisoner of Azkaban will be a third-person action game, though this time around you'll have the opportunity to play as Harry and his good chums Hermione and Ron.

The story of Prisoner of Azkaban has Harry and crew facing a darker threat than in previous stories. A convicted mass murderer by the name of Sirius Black has escaped from the infamous wizard prison of Azkaban, and he's believed to have marked Harry for death. Along the way, Harry will go up against a frightening group of creatures known as the Dementors, who also happen to serve as the guards for Azkaban prison and are on their own search for Sirius Black. During the demo, we were given a look at the opening mission of the game, which gave us this bit of introduction to the story. In the mission, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are riding aboard the Hogwarts Express--a classic-looking passenger train--along with Professor Lupin. This mission also gave us quite a bit of insight into how the overall game will play.

At the outset of the mission, we began to explore the train, along with an AI-controlled Ron. We then happened upon our first enemy inside one of the luggage cars, which took the form of a monster book that attacked Ron. Here we got our first taste of combat by fighting off this monstrous book. Harry's basic attack spells haven't changed immensely from previous games, though they definitely seem to have gotten a nice visual upgrade--complete with much nicer effects that have been provided to accentuate the magical blasts that emanate from his wand. As the game progresses, Harry will have a slew of new spells at his disposal, including a new grappling hook-like spell that lets Harry spring from platform to platform by hooking onto a specific object. Harry and the other characters will learn these spells by performing specific challenges in each mission.

As the mission progressed, we eventually found ourselves in an all-out magical donnybrook against Harry's archnemesis Draco Malfoy, who (along with his cohorts) challenges Ron to a fight. As the fight began, the AI-controlled Ron began hurling his own spells at Malfoy's crew. Although we couldn't do it here, in most any situation where AI-controlled versions of Harry's friends are around, you'll be able to switch between the characters on the fly. This will be especially useful, since each character has his or her own particular strengths and abilities when it comes to combat and puzzle-solving. Hermione, for example, is smaller than Harry and Ron, so she can fit through tight spaces and can walk upon thin layers of ice, whereas Ron possesses something of a sixth sense that gives him the ability to see otherwise hidden doors and panels. Also, each character has his or her own unique spells that will come into play during combat, such as Hermione's freeze spell.

As we fought our way past Malfoy's ragtag bunch, the train came to a sudden halt, and everything became eerily dark. It was quickly apparent that something was very wrong because the door to the train car slowly opened. Here we gained our first look at the horrific Dementors. These ghastly creatures are ghostlike--with obscured faces and long, pale arms and hands that hang out of their tattered black cloaks. Furthermore, they hover a foot or two above the ground. The Dementors look pretty impressive and are one example of an overall visual upgrade to the game that gives it a more mature look. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all older-looking now, and they animate differently than in previous games, which reflects this maturity. This new look definitely seems to be coming together well.

After the console demo was complete, we also got to take a quick look at demos of the PC and GBA versions of Prisoner of Azkaban. As with previous Harry Potter titles, the PC version of the game will follow the same story as the console versions, though the action and missions will be completely different. You'll still be able to control all three characters, but you won't be able to change them on the fly. Rather, the game will determine when to switch for you. You'll also be able to have the AI-controlled characters cast spells at the same time as you by pressing and holding the correct mouse button. This will be necessary to defeat certain enemies. The GBA version of Prisoner of Azkaban is actually completely different altogether, and is, in fact, a turn-based RPG. All of the combat in this game will be turn-based, though you'll also have the ability to cast a basic attack spell as you walk through environments. This will be needed to solve certain puzzles. You'll also be able to use connectivity between the GBA and GameCube versions of the game to trade collector's cards, as well as to take care of your very own owl with a special owl care kit.

From our first impressions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we like what we've seen so far. The game seems as though it will be a nice upgrade to the series and should give fans another pleasant dose of Harry Potter this May. We'll have more on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the coming weeks.

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