Saturday, January 24, 2004

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great graphics, good music, simple controls, what more do you want?
Cons: Suited for a young audience, this game is really short and really easy

I'll have to admit, I would never have bought a Harry Potter game myself. That did not stop me from playing it when my little brother got it for his birthday though. I love all kinds of games, and will always be willing to try something new or different.

Electronic Arts' Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is about what I expected. The game was most certainly made for the younger generation of gamers, between about 5 and 15 years old. My younger brothers (ages 9 and 11) seemed to enjoy it, though they have so many other games to play that it's hard for them to hold interest in a single one for any lengthy period of time.

The Chamber of Secrets has some pretty impressive graphics, I must admit. That is what surprised me most about the game. I was half expecting some Myst-like panoramic camera visuals, but instead, I got some pretty good 3D models. The graphics were smooth and refined, and the game looked good all around. I was using a 1024x768 desktop resolution, 32 bit color depth, and high texture detail.

The movie scenes were also rendered really well. There were quite a few of them in this game, which helped propel the story along. Without them, half of the game would have had a hard time progressing. The voice-overs for the sequences were really well done also, and all the characters sound identical to the way they sounded in the movie.

The musical score for Chamber of Secrets was great too. Geoff Foster and the rest of the music team did a good job with it, helping to add an atmosphere to the game, and fill a void left by the horrible sound effects. I swear, if I here Harry say "Flipendo" one more time, I am going to unplug my speakers.

In the options menu, you can change all the basic things like screen resolution, color depth, texture or object detail, and music or sound volume. You can also set the game to automatically drink a potion when you get low on stamina, or even to automatically jump when you come to a gap. Once again, the younger users will most certainly appreciate such small conveniences.

The gameplay was extremely simple, yet effective. I opted to use my keyboard and mouse, but you can also use a plug-and-play joystick if you prefer. The learning curve was pretty much non-existant, which is a good thing when you have a game that is tailored to a younger audience.

There are different types of play during different parts of the game. When you start out, you have free roam over the majority of Hogwarts. Talking to other characters will get you pointed in the direction you are supposed to go next. Usually you wind up going to class, where you get to learn a new spell.

Learning the spell is really easy, you just follow the wand around which ever pattern is displayed on the screen, and whenever wand passes an arrow, you hit that direction on your keyboard or game pad. You can't fail, because it just keeps continuing over and over again until you finally get it right. You must complete three passes around the pattern, and each pass adds a couple extra arrows.

Every time you finish learning a new spell, you must complete a "challenge", and that spell will be useful (and often essential) in completing it. There are six different spells Harry can learn, and thus six different challenges to take. The first one, Flipendo, is the easiest to complete. Later, you can finish Alohomora, Lumos, Skurge, Diffindo, and Spongify.

The goal of the challenge is to touch the challenge star at the end, and depending on how fast you get there and how many secrets you find along the way, you are awarded house points. There are also some smaller stars along the way, which increase your points, as well as increasing your time limit. Oh, and don't worry about the time limit, it's mostly there just as another way of figuring out how many house points you will earn.. you certainly won't run out of time.

In each challenge, you will encounter different creatures you have to defeat. Even though some of them spit fire at your, or leave trails of acidic slime, they are really easy to defeat. Basically, you just aim your wand at them with the mouse, and the correct spell to hit them is automatically selected. Just shoot. Often, you wind up pushing them around with Flipendo to knock them into holes to trigger switches. Not that difficult to figure out, because all the holes are marked with a sketch of the creature haha.

House points are pretty worthless, in my opinion. The only thing they are good for, is to let you into the bonus bean room. One of the main secrets to discover in this game, are Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. The other secrets are silver or bronze wizard cards. The beans are used as a sort of currency, to trade with other students for items. The beans can be found all over, from shooting statues with your wand, to knocking over pots, or winning wizard duels.

The wizard cards serve two purposes. The bronze ones increase your stamina. Every time you collect 10 of them, you get one extra stamina bar. The silver ones unlock the door to the gold wizard card challenge room, which is a pretty worthless prize if you ask me. The gold room is nothing more than one really short challenge, with a really low time limit, but it is really easy.

One of my favorite parts of The Chamber of Secrets is the Quidditch League. It compromises of six matches throughout the school year. The first match is really easy, and they get progressively harder until the last match. In the Quidditch games, you get to control Harry as the seeker, and thus fly around on the broom chasing that elusive little winged ball. You also must deal with the opposing seeker, who will push and kick you at every opportunity. Push back!

The controls for the Quidditch games are terribly easy as well, as Harry automatically follows the "Snitch" (the little winged ball) along it's trail. When the little meter at the bottom of your screen fills up, just hit the [CTRL] key to reach out and grab it. I would suggest you go to the options and turn on Invert Broom Control though, so that it handles correctly.

Minimum system requirements are rather low:
 Pentium II 350 MHz
64 MB RAM (128 for Windows 2000/XP)
4x CD-ROM drive, Keyboard, and Mouse
DirectX graphics card with 4 MB VRAM (16 MB for 3D Acceleration)
600 MB free Hard Drive space
DirectX 8.0a or higher
DirectX compatible sound card

Overall, this game was about what I expected, but it did surprise me in a couple areas. Replay value lacks, however, due to the target audience. In order for the younger gamers to be able to complete this game, it is really easy to finish, taking just over five hours to play through (and discover 90% of the secrets).

I would recommend this game to any Harry Potter fan, especially younger ones. If you like this game, I suggest you also check out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Finding Nemo: Nemo's Underwater World of Fun or Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island.

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