For the first time since the 1970s, there has arisen a marketing force terrifying enough in its inertia to rock the house of LucasArts to its core. Yes indeed, Harry Potter has arrived, and backed by the omnipotent J.K.Rowling has burst on to the gaming market with the force of... well, a million eager children's piggy banks. And that's not even beginning to mention the countless hordes of adults who either pretend to read it to be with their kids, or just admit that they're damn good books.
The game versions of the best-selling novels certainly have a lot to live up to, not least since they're game adaptations of film adaptations of books - not a genre that has the best pedigree. This hasn't stopped them rocketing into the number one slot in the all-format charts in the UK, and in fact, it's not even a matter of concern, because the PC version at least is really very good indeed.
The title loosely follows the plot of the film; and when we say loosely, we really mean it, as the best you get is a brief plot reminder to keep you rolling along. Those who haven't either read the books or seen the film are going to be mightily confused. Our best advice is to settle down and read the lot - we promise you won't regret it. You start with your lessons at Hogwarts school for witches and wizards before rocketing straight to the end of the story with a quick stop-off for dragon rescuing in the middle.
The roller-coaster nature of the game's plot development is a bit of a pity, since it's really excellent entertainment, but essentially leads to a rather short game. You begin with your first lessons during which you learn a number of useful spells by tracing your mouse over a shape onscreen - the more accurate you are, the more points go to your schoolhouse, Gryffindor. The house-points are totalled up on your options screen; nice teachers give them for success, and according to tradition, nasty professor Snape takes them away in a desultory fashion.
Once the spell is learnt, you can use it in the game. Each class contains a challenge that you as Harry are sent on. You're only able to succeed if you use your spells correctly, which is simpler than it might sound. Taking up the spellcasting stance with the press of a button, you can direct your wand to the objects around you. If it's 'spellable', then the spell icon shows up and you can cast upon it. This will either open the pathway, gain you some Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, a collectable Wizard Card, one of the challenge stars needed to complete the task or give you a chocolate frog to restore your health. If you manage to find 24 of the cards, and 250 of the beans through unlocking secret areas, you unlock a special secret wizard card. We'd give you more info but we missed the secret area in the Quidditch lesson - bah!
This brings us neatly to the flying broomstick game. Starting with a quick lesson with Zoe Wannamaker (or rather, her digital equivalent), you're quickly spotted as a star Quidditch player, and promoted to the house team! Through this convenient plot device, you're propelled into an all-star match against the other houses. As the seeker, your task is to zoom around the pitch and pick up the snitch, a tiny golden ball with wings, to clinch the match. In fact, it's probably the trickiest part of the game, and certainly the most fun, which is why the title includes a separate Quidditch league where the enlightened player can zoom and swoop to their heart's content to build their way up the league. You can even have private tuition with the Quidditch teacher to improve your lacking broomstick skills.
Control has been simplified to appeal to all ages, but this leaves you feeling a little bit clumsy. You can move back and forwards, turn left and right, jump, and use a spell, with the mouse being indicated as the sensible way to look around. However mouse control is incredibly awkward, so we ended up moving around with the arrow keys - the lack of a strafe only causing occasional annoyance. Much of the game is platform-style, not dissimilar to a certain Ms Croft's escapades. The way Harry grabs the edge of blocks and bookcases and hauls himself up with a grunt is a dead ringer for the anatomically impossible heroine. What's a bit silly is that the game includes the ability to enable an 'autojump' function. Yes, that's just what it sounds like - we heartily recommend people leave it off since it not only takes away any difficulty from the platform sections, but also reduces the fun quota to near zero.
The game has its fair share of puzzles, although they're not overly taxing, being aimed at an age group with a large span of years. They're made with style, however, as is much of the game itself. Graphically, it's a feast for the eyes, with convincing representations of the film's heroes, heroines, villains and bit-parts all reproduced. Hogwarts itself looks wonderful, just the sort of place to make kids and adults alike wish that they'd been the ones who'd been picked for wizard school. Likewise, the voices are excellently done. Mimicking the film's cast to perfection, the game is truly immersive - sadly this just heightens the disappointment when you reach the game's ending so quickly.
For a film conversion, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone manages, thankfully, to live up to the hype. It's an excellent title for kids of all ages (yes, even the grown up ones), with a fantastic mixture of gaming genres contained within. Alas, a slightly ropy control system, and disappointing length let us down on what is otherwise a truly enjoyable experience.
- NoCD | zip - Will most likely give false positive on anti-virus software
- Manual | PDF
- Serial Key | TXT