On this "Extended Play," we venture off to Hogwarts Academy with "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" for the PlayStation 2. Released along with this winter's blockbuster film, the game gives us Muggles a chance to step into the magical shoes of the bespectacled youngster and guide him through one of his adventures.
| Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets|
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB rating: Everyone
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Back to school
The game begins as Harry Potter prepares to enter his second year at the Hogwarts Academy. Staying with Ron Weasley's family, the gameplay starts with a brief tutorial level to familiarize you with the game's controls. Then, the action takes you through the streets of Diagon Alley, and later, onto the grounds of Hogwarts. Over the course of the game, the plot follows Harry's attempts to uncover the mystery surrounding the Chamber of Secrets (a secret lair at Hogwarts built hundreds of years ago by one of the school's founders, the evil Salazar Slytherin). Along the way, you also get to partake in Potter pastimes like wizard duels and the sport of Quidditch.
The main gameplay controls for most of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'" are rather easy to adapt to. The left analog stick controls Harry's basic movements, and the right controls the in-game camera. This control scheme works fairly well, although the areas where stealth movement is required can be challenging. Tapping the left analog stick even a tad too hard will call attention to you.
Spells can be assigned to any of the face buttons on the PS2, but the X button is reserved for in-game actions, which appear in the upper corner of the screen at appropriate times. The game features a nice auto-targeting system using the R2 shoulder button. Holding down the corresponding button will charge each spell for greater power attack.
If you've read any of the books, or seen the recently released movie, the game's story line is fairly simple to follow. If not, the in-game cutscenes do a decent job of explaining what is going on. But amid the English accents and on-screen subtitles, it's easy to get a tad confused on occasion. Using the in-game Remembrall, you can take a quick look at the quests you've uncovered throughout the game and the basic objectives of at hand.
As you progress, Harry acquires various spells and potions to increase his abilities, which get more powerful as he hones his second-year magic skills. If you're curious to know where your powers stand at any time, there are recurrent strongman-style meters that let you test the strength of Harry's magic. Bonuses are also scattered throughout the game, such as health-restoring Chocolate Frogs, tradable Every Flavor Beans, and Wizards' cards, which increase the stamina bar for every ten you collect.
At times, the game is reminiscent of a classic Sierra graphic adventure, as you explore an area and talk to characters. However, many of the objectives follow a fairly linear path that involves clear direction and little guesswork. At the beginning of most quests, the tasks are spelled out for you, and Harry will even talk to you at times to give you an idea of what you should be doing. Many of the missions rely on problem solving, and some can be rather puzzling. Most proficient gamers will find the style familiar enough to figure out a solution if they ponder it long enough. The greater challenges lie in mastering the Nimbus 2000 and the Quidditch levels. (It's like 3D soccer on a flying broomstick.)
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" feels faithful to the artwork seen on the cover of J.K. Rowling's books, but it also adds its own unique 3D take on the source material. While there are similarities to the cinematic adaptation, Eurocom, the UK development house behind the game, has put its own colorful spin on the world's look and feel (at times warm, and other times, dark). This look is further complimented by the game's sound, which features solid voice acting (though it doesn't feature the cast of the film), and the game's musical score, which really helps flesh out the magical world.
Aside from the repetitive nature of some of the later tasks, there are not many flaws within the game. Minor camera issues are annoying, but they rarely get more severe than requiring you to re-center your perspective to figure out where you need to go within a level. The animation runs at a smooth frame rate, and while the load times are a bit much in the earlier levels, the game develops a consistent pace once you make it to Hogwart's Academy.
A spell well-cast
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a huge improvement over last year's lackluster "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which was released on the PSOne. Here, Harry comes to life in an above-average adventure title. The game is oftentimes simple and straightforward and manages to remain faithful to the series' mythology. The gameplay is basic enough for younger fans to pick up the controls with ease and complete the various quests. Many aspects of the gameplay should equally hold the interest of older gamers as well (providing they are enthusiastic about the series). For Potter fans of all ages, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a must-have.