Seemingly based on a Reader's Digest version of a novelization of the film.
When I first rented this game, I was still fairly new to Hogwarts and the wizarding world. I'd just seen the second film and was working through what was still a series of four books. Like many adults, I found it all a nice little escape. All of the screenshots I'd checked out made this game look like a solid game and representation of the film that would offer more to explore, perhaps touching on things from the book that the film did not.
The graphics shouldn't be judged from the first area you enter, the Burrow. This is probably one of the least visually interesting places and things do improve. The designers took a more cartoonish approach with the characters and scenery, and it's actually a nice touch. It's a little disappointing that they don't resemble their film counterparts a little more, but that can probably be chalked up to not wanting to crank out extra money to use the likenesses of the actors. Not to worry, though, as they will still be easily recognized. As with the films, they seemed to have taken great care in their use of color. Hogwarts halls have a welcoming warmth to them, with rich carved wood paneling, not-so-hidden passages are appropriately dark but for the torch light, and dungeons "feel" cool and dank. The graphics won't win any awards, but they are appropriate and get the job done.
Control is a high point. Directional control is smooth and responsive. The nice bit is the customizable controls. A is always your general purpose action button, but you can assign any actively usable spell or item to the X, Y, and B buttons. And you will be doing a lot of customizing. Some things don't become accessible until you've gotten certain spells and you may only need a certain spell for a few rooms before changing it out. In all honesty, you may not have much use for the usable items. Jumping is handled by walking up to a ledge to jump up or running to the edge of a ledge to jump down or to jump across to another. I personally don't like that sort of control, but aside from a few choice moments, it works. You do have to learn to ease off of the stick when you accidentally walk Harry off of a platform. It allows him to grab the ledge, rather than falling down to take damage or die.
Everything until you complete flight lessons is a tutorial. You learn how to move and fight at the Burrow, where you'll also get your first taste of gnome tossing. From there, you'll go on to Diagon Alley. Lessons learned here are how to use switches, how to use spells on objects to obtain money (which is later replaced with Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans), and how to sneak, all skills that you'll need to get you through the game. When you reach Hogwarts, you'll have to navigate around the Whomping Willow to save Ron and get to the school, the entire level teaching you how to deal with climbing and enemies. By the time you begin classes, you'll have a good grasp of the controls and methods.
Exploration of the castle is simple. It's not so huge that it can't be memorized easily, and you should have no trouble finding the shortcuts and the best places to stock up on Beans. Certain doors, passages, and chests are inaccessible until you've gotten a certain spell, which adds a little something to the adventure. The appropriate spell can clear slime, burn webs, slash tapestries, or unlock locks.
Audio in the game is relatively good. Sound effects are not outstanding, but they do the trick. One notable sound is that of a ghost when it gets near, especially when crossing in front or behind you so that it pans from one speaker to the other. If it occurs in front of the camera, it can easily catch you off guard. Though they didn't try to seek out soundalikes when it came to voice actors, they do a good job. Nobody sounds too stiff
. The actor who portrayed Ron, though, does sound close to Rupert Grint. The music was taken from the original film score and works just as well in the game.
If ever there were an example of cashing in, this game is it. It has all of the makings of a good game, yet the short length, some design flaws, and broken story ultimately kill it.
With a lot of licensed titles, the developers will often expand the story and/or the universe to ensure that there is enough content to justify the game. Not so with Chamber of Secrets. Instead, essential characters and plot points are either left out or diluted to the point that they might as well have been. Off the top of my head:
-Professor Lockhart plays almost no role in the game outside of being present when you have your dueling lesson.
-Ron and Harry are simply late for the Hogwarts Express and take the car.
-Dobby is nowhere to be seen, despite his warning being the intro quote read as the demo video begins.
-Nearly Headless Nick, the third victim of the Basilisk, is the only one shown.
-Malfoy's just hanging out in the dungeons. Slytherin's dorm was in the dungeons, yet they're just hanging out in what's more like a storage room in the castle basement.
And these are just some of the more glaring errors that even those who only saw the movie could point out. Overall, the adaptation of the story is the weakest point of the game and what keeps it from being good.
While the graphics in general are good, I do have a few complaints. As with many multi-platform titles, Chamber of Secrets was built for the lowest specs with no upgrades in between. While the art is good, textures start look grainy as you get close. They simply stuck with the PS2 textures. It's most noticeable on the many ornate wooden panels that make up hall walls within Hogwarts. You won't see it from across the hall, but you don't have to be against it using the first-person view to notice. Light sourcing is alright, but I think it could have been better. Spells will cast the appropriate color of light on walls, but the look of the spells themselves aren't really up to snuff. Minor gripes, really, in the scheme of things.
Having mentioned the first-person view, I feel that I should also state that it's useless. You'll probably never need it, unless you're fighting against the camera or you just feel like staring at random Hogwarts student #135.
The camera can be a major detractor at times. For starters, it's slow and so is the manual control. The designers also saw fit to have it put in some of the worst camera angles since the first Resident Evil
. Unless you've memorized where the enemies are, you can walk through a door and get nailed by a firecrab, losing both life and Beans. Some sequences are made maddeningly difficult due to the poor camera or the removal of the option to change the view. One particular segment has you performing lots of jumps at a height that loses you large chunks of life when you fall. Right before one particular jump, the camera sticks in the corner, leaving you adjusting your stick right at the moment of the jump. When you actually manage to pass this jump and work you way to the last, you'll find that for some reason, Harry doesn't like to make the last jump very often. I lost track of how many attempts it took for me to pull this off. Another area where the camera is a pain is in a section where the camera will zoom out and look at a series of platforms at an angle. You can adjust the camera, but only slightly. The awkward angle combined with the choice of textures can make it difficult to determine depth at times, which can be a pain when you're trying to avoid enemies that have a specific timing.
This brings us to another issue. The sneaking sections, while obviously trying to provide the thrills of Metal Gear Solid
for kids, takes everything about what made that game functional and tosses it out of the window. The sneaking sections in general should be easy. The problem lies in the lack of any sort of radar and terrible camera views. A radar I can do without. But between having some of the worst angles available and having to fight with the camera stick while moving around, you begin to wonder how they possibly thought that their target audience would do anything besides throwing their controller at the screen. You'll take the trip through the library multiple times, but on one occasion, they decided that the camera should focus on Harry and at a useless angle that leaves you scrambling around, trying to figure out where you're going and where the Prefects are. It seems to come down to them feeling that they needed to up the difficulty to lengthen the game and dumb it down so that they weren't sued for copying Metal Gear
. It's a shame how it turned out, seeing as sneaking (though usually with an invisibility cloak) was integral to the books and films.
While the combat system is great for your standard enemies, the same cannot be said about the Wizard Duels, which will only happen a handful of times, usually against a large gargoyle. Wizard Duels can be summed up in three words - very bad tennis. Against a human opponent, there will literally be a "net" of green light between the characters. Both Harry and his opponent can toss out spells simultaneously, using Shield Charms to bounce them back. Spells can be volleyed until they hit or miss someone. Sometimes the computer will mess up and get hit, but the easiest way to win is to send a spell behind a rebounded spell or cast repeatedly. This as close as it gets in regards to strategy. It doesn't get any better against the gargoyle statues either, as they simply repel a spell and automatically take the next hit on its return. Boring and tedious, especially since it doesn't take much for the shield to miss a spell, the spell to hit the floor
and hurt you. If you're not spot-on, you're going to repeat the sequence until you get it down.
I found the "classes" to be stupid. The actual levels were fine. There were puzzles that had to be solved in order to get a spell book, play some more spell tennis with a gargoyle, and to exit. The premise to the Challenges is that the spell book must be recovered from within the level to learn the spell. As Harry is always the one picked to retrieve it and class is immediately dismissed when he finishes it, it appears that they want us to believe that Harry's grade accounts for the entire class and that the Standard Book of Spells has been purchased for no reason at all.
There are some other things in the game that simply feel unnecessary. Gnome tossing, which isn't much of a challenge or very fun, is used to win additional Famous Witch and Wizard cards that you can't find, purchase, or trade. Typically, you'll throw for distance, which is simple enough. You just have to remember that you get a maximum of six spins before Harry gets dizzy and falls over and you need to release the gnome where he'll fly straightest for maximum distance. Equipped with that bit of knowledge, there's no need for a power meter. But there is one variation that not only could have benefitted from a power meter, but it isn't even explained to you. At the top of a tower, you've got to stun a gnome and toss it at some colored hoops of light as they move around. Each is worth different amounts of points and your best bet is to get the gnome through multiple hoops at once. Unfortunately, this is made difficult due to the inability to judge the actual distance very well. Each spin Harry does before releasing the gnome increases the distance of the throw, so even if you time your release correctly, by the time you're ready, you may over throw by hundreds of feet. Unless you're trying to collect all 100 cards in order to get the secret 101st card(Yes, that's all.), it's really not worth messing with.
Another unnecessary bit was the broom. Sure, you need to have it for Quiddich, but there's no need to fly around Hogwarts much. It's a nice thing to have to take a tour, but it serves no purpose otherwise. Magic light rings like those found in flying class and Quiddich appear, but there's no reward or benefit from flying through them one after the other.
Quiddich itself, while not playing exactly like the movie, does alright. The snitch makes light rings in its wake so that you can find it and flying through them increases your speed and your boost meter, which can be used to drastically increase your speed when used. However, there are some major issues with it. There are some invisible barriers that you'll hit, which will slow you down. You can't get low to the ground, but the snitch can fly low enough that you end up hitting the barrier while trying to get through the ring. Also, it seems that the skill and speed of the opposing seeker is picked at random. I've had flawless flights where the other team's seeker managed to catch the snitch in about thirty seconds, and I'd yet to get a boost built up. Other times, it's easy to the point that you can be flying terribly and still win.
On top of other disappointments, the final battle is weak. Someone decided that the sword of Godrick Gryffindor would be used in a manner similar to the proton packs from Ghostbusters. Avoiding the attacks of the Basilisk, you simply wait for a light to appear in its mouth, make sure you're at the proper distance, and aim an arch of light that shoots from the sword at its mouth.
Aside from being a blatant cash-in, the game is also an example of coddling the likes of which I've never seen. It seems as though there was a desperate attempt to strip everything from the game that might frighten or offend, though all they managed to do was chop the story to pieces and use a few sanitized scraps of it to make it. Not only that, but there's no real consequences for failure. You may lose Beans, but those are easily recoverable, especially if you know where the real sweet spots are. Of course, this also makes buying every item in Fred and George's shop a breeze. You can carry two vials of Wiggenweld potion once you've bought or found them, each one giving full health when you run out. If there were any sort of game over, this would make sense. The only real benefit is avoiding load time on those few very frustrating portions of the game, as when you "faint", the entire level reloads. The real problem with the Wiggenweld potion is that you have to go out of your way to refill the vials. When it comes to duels, there's no need to worry about losing. Just keep trying until you win. Yes, that's it. And the house points competition? There's no way to lose. Gryffindor wins no matter what. If you lose points, the others simply lose more, stay where they're at, or gain just enough to be behind you. Slytherin was literally one point behind. Of course, that makes no sense, as points in the books and films were always given in increments of 5, 10, 20, and so on. So even this little bit has no actual bearing on the outcome and you can be caught by Prefects all night long. And speaking of Prefects catching you, they stop taking points once you've lost 30. After that, they merely tell you to return to your dormitory, at which point you get a reload and another attempt to get past them.
There are those moments where you can enjoy running around, at least until you get into the heavy backtracking, but good control, atmosphere, and a few bits of enjoyable adventuring don't make a good game. In the end, the only real challenge comes from the broken bits. The rest is a stripped and mangled story with almost no fun to be had.
The Bottom Line
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had everything it needed to become a great game for kids and older Harry Potter fans alike. The control was good, the graphical style complimented the world, and the concepts in place could have made for an adventure game that wore several hats and wore them well. Unfortunately, shoddy adaptation of the story (ignoring almost all but the most basic of details), short length, a sub-par camera, and some design issues kept the game from getting anywhere near its potential or being a satisfying experience.
After all is said and done, you'll be asking:
Where did everyone go?
What happened to the story?
Why did I just waste all of that time?