Thursday, July 19, 2007

VG Review: Harry Potter and The Fantastic Four


“FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER”
2K Games, for Xbox 360, Play­Station 3, PlayStation 2 and Wii

rated T for Teen (fantasy vio­lence), $49.99 and $39.99 (PS2)

“HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”
Electronic Arts, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and Wii
rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (fantasy violence), $59.99 (360 and PS3), $49.99 (Wii) and $39.99 (PS2)

While video game publishers put their best foot forward for this year’s E3 conference, unveiling their finest games for the coming year, we’re still stuck with a plethora of less-than-mediocre titles, most of them tied to blockbuster films.

Both “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” feel like merchandising afterthoughts, rather than quality, interactive entertainment that stands separate from its source.

“Fantastic Four” plays like a severely dumbed-down version of other, better games, most notably last year’s “Marvel Ultimate Alliance.”

As in the film, you’re attempting to stop the destruction of the Earth that the Surfer’s arrival heralds. Unlike the film, that apparently involves running through nondescript, identical rooms, beating up endless hordes of unchallenging enemies and generally being bored stiff.

Ideally, you’re supposed to switch between the four team members while playing, but the Invisible Woman and Mister Fantastic are useless. You can spend most of the game as The Thing without a lick of trouble.

The Wii version of the game adds a little variety in that you can swing the controller to enact the characters’ special moves. Swinging downward, for example, unleashes The Thing’s devastating ground punch.

It’s a cute feature, but it does little to wash the bland flavor out of your mouth. “Fantastic Four” is a tepid, dull affair. Fans of the comic or film would do better replaying “Ultimate Alliance.”

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” fares a little better, especially the Wii version, where you can wield the Wii-mote like a magic wand.

Lifting the controller up, for example, allows objects to levitate. Rotating it in a circle can repair broken objects and so on. It’s a nice feature, and improves the game’s flaws, though it doesn’t make them vanish.

The game adheres to the plot of the film and book, though it skips through the main points so rapidly that if you aren’t familiar with the source material you will be hopelessly lost.

The bulk of the game is spent trying to round up the student members of the Order to meet and practice spells. Most of them have little chores they need to finish before they can go, which means you’ll often be helping out with such mundane tasks as sweeping floors, collecting plants or chasing after owls.

It’s this lack of imagination and wonder that sinks the game. Imagine, developers are given a magical universe and the best they can come up with is you need to turn the lights on. And don’t get me started on the combat system, a confusing mess where you’re never quite sure if your blasts are hitting their marks.

Wandering around Hogwarts casting spells is fun, but that fun is severely mitigated by the amount of repetition and drab quests “Phoenix” offers. By the time you’ve gone up that main staircase for the 20th time, you’ll be eager to put the game behind you.

Hopefully, as summer draws to a close, we’ll start to see more original games and less drab movie tie-ins.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play “Transformers: The Game.”


Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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