Hands-on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
May 9, 2007 - At its Summer Preview event in San Francisco on Wednesday, EA showcased an updated build of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for Nintendo's next-generation console. We've seen the title before so this latest impressions will be brief, but even so, the project has progressed since we last tried it out and we walked away from the presentation more optimistic about the affair than we've ever been.
In Order of the Phoenix, which follows the storyline in the book and movie of the same name, Harry is growing up and becoming a more skilled wizard. He takes it upon himself to secretly teach his fellow students some valuable magical lessons, effectively establishing Dumbledore's Army. Meanwhile, his love life is beginning to take shape as he carries on his shy crush on Cho. All of these story details are reflected in the game through dynamic cut-scenes triggered in-engine as you progress.
Hogwarts in The Order of the Phoenix is a bigger and more interactive locale than it's been in any preceding Potter endeavor. The school is huge and you can go everywhere, from the Gryffindor Common Room to Hagrid's grounds -- all without any load times. The locales are constantly streaming into view on the fly and as a result the long load times of previous games have been abandoned altogether. When Harry pushes through a castle door and into nature beyond, it just happens.
Harry is able to use a variety of spells as he makes his way through Hogwarts. You can lock onto objects simply by looking in their general direction or cycling between them with the trigger. From there, you can perform magic with a gesture of hand, the way it ought to be. To cast the famous Wingardium Leviosa, you merely target an item and then gesture upward with the Wii remote, at which time the object will hurl upward and levitate mid-air. In quasi-one-to-one precision, you can flip the object around the item simply by twirling your Wii remote. Meanwhile, you can cast other spells, like Accio, by pulling the Wii remote inward. The mechanics feel good and from what we can tell, there's a lot more to come. In one area, EA demoed a sequence where Potter had to levitate a broomstick and make motions with the Wii remote to sweep up the floor.
EA told us that Potter will not be the only playable character in the title. Later in the adventure, you'll be able to control the Weasley brothers during a frantic escape, Sirius Black, and even Dumbledore himself.
The game still needs some polishing where animation transitions and framerate are concerned -- occasionally, characters look stiff and the fluidity can drop -- but we're all impressed by the sheer size of the world and the detail that has gone into the models and Hogwarts. It's an epic-sized environment, but that doesn't mean the little details have gone to the wayside in favor of scale. Take, for example, the fact that so many of the paintings that inhabit the halls are fully animated -- they've been static images in many of the previous games.
We'll have much more on the Wii version of Potter soon.