What a decent Harry Potter video game would look like

The Harry Potter video games have been, for the most part, distinctly average. Far too preoccupied with mimicking key moments from the films, or trying to force game mechanics that have been successful in other franchises. It’s all been a bit of a mess, accumulating in a final instalment which many consider to the be the worst of the lot.

Although it’s easy to blame short development cycles or inexperienced teams, Electronic Arts should really know better. They’ve been in the business a long time and were entrusted with a brand that has millions of fans around the world. Surely they could have done a little more with the Harry Potter video games?

The concept for this piece was inspired by a recent post on Kotaku. They ask a simple question: If you could create a perfect Harry Potter video game, what would it be like? Both Jen and Sam bring up some interesting (and hilarious) ideas for their own prospective works, but what I really took away from the article was the need to go beyond the original source material.

From a business point of view, each Harry Potter game was designed to coincide with the films. That’s fine. Once a child leaves the cinema, they’re likely to spot the game in a shop and then want to do a little magic conjuring of their own. The difference is that these games don’t have to be a scene by scene representation of the films. They could be about an entirely different part of the Harry Potter franchise. Simply call them ‘Harry Potter 7’ and slap Daniel Radcliffe’s absurd face on the front cover. It’ll have the exact same effect on sales, regardless of the content inside.

Sam mentioned a prequel game, similar to what The Force Unleashed did with the Star Wars license. I think this is a fantastic idea, introducing characters who were mentioned in the books/ films, but never given the chance to be explored fully. I would consider taking this one step further – how about a game documenting each stage of a particular character’s life, such as in Assassin’s Creed? Let’s take James Potter for example.

James Potter started out as a pupil in Hogwarts. This chapter could be presented in a similar fashion to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with an open world school and classes to attend at your leisure. Small cut scenes could tie it into the original literature, such as meeting Lily Potter and making friends with Sirius, Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Otherwise it could deviate into new territory, using platforming and dialogue trees to show how the school once operated.

Upon graduation, James then fought in The First Wizarding War as a member of the Order of the Pheonix. Marking the original reign of Lord Voldemort, this section could show Potter senior in a new, older light. Upgraded powers could be used to take on missions from either the Ministry of Magic, distressed muggles or the Order directly. This would provide the opportunity to explore previously unseen locations from the books and films, allowing level designers to create worlds that actively benefit the gameplay.

Each console offers a wealth of opportunity for controls and input. Motion controls are an obvious place to start, but should be handled delicately and intelligently. No waggle Wii mote flailing, please. Using the Wii U as the Marauder’s Map is a great idea offered by Sam, allowing players to design their own routes or track important enemies. Taken one step further, the map could be used in game to offer online player hints and tips in a similar fashion to Demon’s Souls.

Most importantly, put the franchise in the hands of a capable developer. Bioware is already doing a fantastic job with Star Wars: The Old Republic Republic and shows the quality that can be produced with a little creative freedom. Perhaps it’s too late for a decent movie tie-in, but it’s certainly not too late for a decent Harry Potter video game.


Portal 2 soundtrack (Vol. 2) ready for free download

Valve recently uploaded the second part of the Portal 2 soundtrack here, throwing in a bunch of new ringtones and message notifications along the way. The best part is that all of these downloads (including the previous volume) are absolutely free.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re a serious fan of the physics based masterpiece, there’s no better way of showing your appreciation than letting your phone blare Science is Fun whilst you walk down the street. Oh, was that a little too far? Then why not pop this soundtrack onto your iPod/ iPhone/ MP3 player and listen to it from the safety of your headphones? Either way, it’s certainly worth checking out for a few reminiscent giggles.

Just to remind you why this game was such a musical treat, here’s one of my favourite tunes from the game:

Bargain gaming at ‘The Steam Summer Camp Sale’

Summer is a notoriously bad season for video games. Although this year has a few exceptions (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Last Story and Bodycount) the next couple of months are inevitably going to drag. Luckily Steam has got your back, discounting dozens of titles in a rather special summer event.

The Steam Summer Camp Sale started yesterday and will run until July 10th. In the meantime you can purchase a selection games at startlingly low prices, emphasised by daily deals that aim to be knock off even more dosh.

Steam users can also participate in camp ‘activities’, a special set of achievements that can be traded in for in-game items. It all sounds rather exciting and encourages players (especially school kids that will soon be on holiday) to purchase and play a variety of games.

Some of my highlights include:
* Borderlands (Game of the Year Edition): £7.50 (-75%)
* Medal of Honor: £6.79 (-66%)
* BIT. TRIP RUNNER: £1.75 (-75%)
* Recettear, An Item Shop’s Tale: £3.25 (-75%)

So what are you waiting for? Check out the sale here.

Unboxing inFamous 2: Hero Edition

Remember that preview of inFamous 2: Hero Edition that I was drooling over a couple of weeks back? Well, Sucker Punch has been kind enough to shoot some photographs that show all of those goodies in meticulous detail. You can find a full set of images here, but below I’ll show some of the most interesting ones:

This is a group shot showing all of the items together. There’s a whole lot of content on offer here, designed to please every comic book geek and inFamous addict.

First up is the replica sling pack. This is the exact same bag that Cole wears in the game, built to size and offering a considerable amount of room for all of your daily essentials. I absolutely love the attention to detail, especially the Sly Cooper patch knitted onto the main strap. I’m still a little dubious about the quality of this item, but it’s unquestionably a great way of showing off your love for the game.

Figurines rarely excite me. Still, at least this one does a good job of standing guard on your desk. The roof stand makes Cole look particularly bad ass, standing tall at an impressive 8.5 inches. It’s unlikely to persuade gamers to purchase the Hero Edition, but it’s a nice bonus all the same.

InFamous 2 is a story about superheroes. So why not create a comic out of it? DC has jumped on board and bundled in the first issue of the InFamous comic, offering a brief insight into the events that followed the previous game. The artwork looks simply stunning, so I think this is a worthy possession for any fan of the game.

The Hero Edition also includes a download code for the InFamous 2 Red Soundtrack and in game items such as character skins, power ups and amp variants. Sold yet? I’m drooling at the mouth.

(Aside: All images are owned by Sucker Punch and Sony Computer Entertainment)

Opening cinematic released for InFamous 2

The release of inFamous 2 is now less than a measly month away. Sucker Punch has decided to unveil the intro sequence, which brings new players up to date with the story and shows off some impressive comic book animations. I think it looks absolutely gorgeous, it fits the gritty superhero theme of the games and reminds me of DMZ by Brian Wood.

I’m not completely sold on the voice actor for Cole, but who knows – it might grow on me. It also throws up some interesting questions on who or what the ‘beast’ is. Perhaps a future/ alternate version of Cole? Or a new character altogether? It’s probably too early to speculate.

The Hero Edition of inFamous 2 will get any fan drooling at the mouth. Clothing, soundtracks and graphic novels are all my favourite types of video game memorabilia – so this special version really appeals to me. The sling pack in particular looks like a great way to carry around some gear with a hint of gaming style (although I’m sceptical about what the build quality will be like). The figurine and in-game items are also nice extras, but I doubt they’ll be a deal clincher for most people.

Of course, whether or not gamers will order this depends on the price. In the UK it’s currently going for around £99. Ouch.

Review for The Force Unleashed II

Stepping into the persona of a dual lightsaber wielding Sith should feel utterly compelling. After a distinctly average original, this sequel was a good chance for LucasArts to fix many of the franchise’s problems and capitalise on an immensely popular license. Although the Force Unleashed II looks and sounds as good as the classic trilogy, an incredibly short campaign and monotonous gameplay drags it down into the realm of uninspired cash-in.

I worshipped Star Wars as a child… and by that I mean really, really worshipped it. So upon entering this game I was prepared to forgive many of its shortcomings, provided it dealt a healthy dose of nostalgia and challenge. Players follow the life of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and all round hyper-powerful Jedi. After an ambiguous death in the first outing, Darth Vader claims that this new Starkiller is a clone, albeit a more powerful one with the destiny of crushing the last of the rebel alliance. Questioning Vader’s interpretation of his origins, Starkiller escapes from the planet Kamino and tries to become reunited with his lost love, Juno Eclipse.

The CG cutscenes and voicework are very impressive. Sam Witwer does a good job of portraying the confusion and anger of Starkiller, whilst cameo appearances from Bobba Fett and Yoda help reel the plot into some sense of context. The soundtrack often reworks many of the Star Wars’ most iconic scores, emphasising the sense of a modernised re-conception.

The core of the game is a typical hack and slash, with all of the films’ force powers dramatised to their full advantage. Each face button can deliver either a devastating web of lightning from your finger tips, crush tie fighters to a cube like pulp or mind trick swarms of stormtroopers into battling one another. All of these can be upgraded and strung together into elaborate combos. The visual spectacle of destruction is initially awe inspiring, but quickly becomes replaced with a sense of complacency.

Unfortunately, dismembering your opponents is just far too easy. Starkiller is overpowered to the point that you can simply hold forward, press any combination of buttons and then sit back with your eyes closed, comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll reach the next stage in about five minutes. A few enemies can only be defeated by certain types of force powers and admittedly this does help to provide a sense of strategy and challenge – but players will quickly store these variations in their muscle memory. Each wave of enemies feels like a chore and can easily be sprinted past – a viable option if you’re not interested in picking up the force points needed to upgrade your abilities.

After the opening sequence, the plot almost immediately runs out of steam. Rather than unravel the mystery of his ‘cloning’ origins, Starkiller spends most of his time taking orders from Kota, an annoying Jedi pilot who repeatedly stops you from finding the second most interesting character in the game; Juno. The Force Unleashed II is like a poor piece of fan fiction, never once adding anything relevant or interesting to the Star Wars narrative. Both endings provide a glimpse of an interesting plot development, but they’re so far removed from the Star Wars canon that they feel completely irrelevant.

The worlds that you explore are interesting enough, with some fantastic weather effects (the rain in Kamino is stunning) and an above average sense of architectural grandeur. The little touches, such as paintings of familiar Neimodians and holograms of speeders are both fitting and convincing. However, behind this visual veil is the disappointing realisation that each level is merely a corridor. There are few deviating paths available and very little exploration involved. As long as you run towards the sound of blaster fire, you can be almost certain that you’re slogging in the right direction.

The adventure also feels remarkably short. Less than six hours on the normal difficulty setting simply isn’t good value money. Perhaps it could have been justified with an increasingly remarkable and inventive experience, but The Force Unleashed II simply isn’t it either of these. Apart from the desire to unlock the alternate ending (which can be found fairly easily on YouTube) or play on a higher difficulty setting, there is little incentive for a second playthrough. Those who paid full price for this title will likely be left feeling cheated or disappointed.

It’s hard to recommend this game unless you’re obsessed with Star Wars like I once was. An unremarkable tale and dreary combat surmounts to a single player title that is average at best. Hopefully Star Wars: The Old Republic will provide fans with the game that they’ve deserved for almost half a decade.

(Note: The Xbox 360 version of this title was used for review)

Beyond Good & Evil: HD and sequels

A remake of the action-adventure title Beyond Good & Evil will be hitting the Xbox Live Arcade in late February. Despite having never played the original, I’ve somehow found myself hooked on this HD update and the future of the franchise. The original, which was released in late 2003, has gained somewhat of a cult following on the internet. So what’s the big deal with Jade and Pay’j?

The first time I saw footage surrounding the HD remake, I was left with an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’. Achievements and trophies? A leaderboard system? These were perhaps the most mundane, boring and unimpressive features that a PR official could possibly choose to show off at an interview. The visuals appeared reasonable, but it was difficult to tell whether or not they were much of an improvement over the original.

Back on the last generation of consoles, Beyond Good & Evil had adequate, but by no means inspiring sales figures. The futuristic title follows Jade, a young reporter who uncovers an alien conspiracy on her home planet. Human trafficking, abductions and social revolution blend with basic combat, platforming and puzzles. Presumably it didn’t entice many gamers at the time.

Therefore, my initial assumption was that the HD remake was a simple cash in for Ubisoft. However, that was before I stumbled upon a few scarce details on a rumoured Beyond Good & Evil 2. Suddenly it seemed like Ubisoft was carving out a future for the forgotten franchise. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Kotaku that:

“We were, as we are, working on the game. What is very import with this next product is that it will be perfect.”

Developer Michel Ancel’s “intention is to come [out] with something really exciting. But everybody needs a little bit of patience.”

A brilliant CG teaser trailer was circulating the internet at the same time, showing off Pay’j in a delightfully humorous scene. In my eyes, decent action-adventure games (and to some extent, even 3D platformers) were starting to become thin on the ground – so this instantly caught my interest.

More speculation was thrown into the fray when a second piece of footage hit the headlines. The black mop of hair, combat staff and outlandish clothing certainly made it look like Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, but was it legitimate?

Ubisoft, as far as I am aware, has never claimed ownership of the footage or quoted it as being authentic. The apparent ‘gameplay’ looks highly scripted and set in a locale that I wouldn’t expect from the franchise. Fans continue to speculate its origins.

Despite all of my cravings for a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil, I have still never played the original. Ridiculous, I know. Thankfully, Ubisoft is ready to cater to newcomers and outsiders such as myself with the release of the aforementioned HD remake.

I’m still not entirely convinced on its high definition credentials. It still looks like a last generation title and without playing the original, it’ll be hard for me to tell what textures have been changed. Still, I’m happy that the game is getting another outing and hope that it will pick up more followers as a result. With enough support, Beyond Good & Evil 2 might finally come to fruition.