Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review: PS2
The terrible character design and graphics are the first things you'll notice about this game. I blamed the bad quality first on the aging Playstation 2, rather than the game, but I was terribly wrong. The characters vaguely look like themselves in the game, but the voice acting is downright terrible. Good luck trying to move Harry around either – Harry and co. don't move very fluidly, even in the cutscenes, and the EA team decided to add an unnecessary fast-motion blur whenever he sprints, which it seems to cause more motion sickness and headaches than anything else.
Hogwarts is, as always, insanely beautiful and detailed, but the characters in the game are something to be desired. I know the PS2 is getting old, but really – I've seen better games with just as much detail. What's worse is that EA had an 8-month delay from the original release date. They had more than enough time to fine-tune the character animations and perfect the graphics. It just makes you wonder how the game would've turned out had they released it in November 08 as originally planned.
The cutscenes are just as bad, if not more so, than the actual graphics themselves. It is said that brevity is the soul of wit (especially concerning video game cutscenes), but EA took this advice a little too far. Even fans familiar with the story will be stunned and somewhat confused at the choppy, awkward, and ill-timed cutscenes that barely bother to explain the story or the importance of the events taking place. EA apparently didn't think about newer Harry Potter fans – you'd better brush up on your Potter knowledge before taking on this game, if you're bored enough to play it at all.
The gameplay was probably the most frustrating part of the game. You spend the majority of your time doing only four things: making Potions, playing Quidditch, dueling other students, and collecting mini-crests, all of which gets repetitive quickly after the first time – you make a potion, duel Crabbe and Goyle, make another potion, go to Quidditch practice, duel Crabbe and Goyle again… you get the idea.
Although there's the potential for a great sandbox-style game here in the vein Bully, GTA, and even The Warriors, this game is far too linear and lacks the creativity expected for a story of its magnitude. There are so many other activities from the books that could also have been incorporated in the game to add some breadth and depth to it: learning nonverbal spells in Defense Against the Dark Arts (which would've meant more face time with Snape, always awesome), practicing the Half-Blood Prince's spells on unsuspecting students, taking Apparition lessons in the Great Hall, or tailing Malfoy as he disappears in and out of the Room of Requirement.
The only standout activity was the Potions sessions – although sometimes aggravating, the PS2 version really did a great job making it realistic, oddly fun, and sometimes, a complete pain. You are given a time limit to complete your potion, and as you stir, boil, shake, and add items to your potion, you are given extra time. If you add the wrong ingredient or stir one time too many, your concoction blows up in your face. The only downside is you don't get to use the potions you made – it would've been nice to have an "inventory" of potions, decoy detonators, dungbombs, and other paraphernalia to cause some Fred and George-worthy mischief at Hogwarts
I was, at first, excited about the addition of Quidditch, until I played it. First off, Harry is given a pre-set flight path – all you have to do is steer him back and forth. It doesn't make for a challenging game, which is disappointing since Potter fans understand just how complex Quidditch can be. It would've made more sense to add more obstacles, like whizzing bludgers, more competitive Seekers, etc. We also don't get an option of playing as either Ron, Harry, or even Ginny during a Quidditch match either – it would've been interesting to hear the Gryffindor rendition of "Weasley is Our King" as Ron saves the game. You get a chance to practice your Quidditch skills with Harry's crush, Ginny, but she seems more of a hindrance than a help -- she continually blocks your path and bumps you off course as you try to whiz through as many stars in the fastest time possible.
Dueling is moderately more enjoyable as Harry gets the opportunity to join and practice with the other houses' dueling clubs. He also learns some "new" defensive spells along the way, which didn't make sense to me as a HP fan -- after being the leader of Dumbledore's Army last year, you would think Petrificous Totalus or Levicorpus would be second nature to him, but EA apparently thought we needed a refresher. Harry will encounter some old and new foes along the way, and unfortunately, there's not much variety in their dueling style either. Bellatrix Lestrange was one of easiest baddies to defeat, which was a disappointment compared to her excellent dueling skills demonstrated in the last few HP books.
There are a few hilarious winks and nods to the book's canon that fans will love: you get to guide a lovesick Ron down to Slughorn's office, and escort Harry through a jazzy-tuned Hogwarts after swallowing a bottle of Felix Felicis. During a nighttime wandering near the Room of Requirement, a disguised Crabbe drops a set of scales to alert Malfoy of Harry's presence. Despite all these, it's not enough to save the tediousness of the game.
You can play through both the missions and side-quests in usually 5-10 hours tops. In most video games, that's a bad thing, but with all the negatives listed above, EA is doing us all a favor. There's little to no replay value with this title either -- if you do manage to finish the first time without pulling your hair out, I doubt you'll ever want to play this again.
After five Harry Potter games, EA still hasn't managed to make a game that pleases both Potter fans and video game purists. The game developers relied way too heavily on the Harry Potter movies rather than the novels for source material, leading to a lack of inventive gameplay, awfully bad graphics and cutscenes, and boring, repetitive missions in Half-Blood Prince. This is the worst game I've ever played and the worst in the series so far. Save your money, time, and sanity, and just read the book instead.