Duelling will soon become second-nature to you, trust me

Half-Blood Prince is the latest instalment of the spellbinding Harry Potter franchise, and it’s an engrossing affair. Movie tie-in games are as much a poisoned chalice in gaming as winning a U.S. Presidential election in politics; still, with the sixth Potter film at the flicks, certainly Electronic Arts carry a seasoned advantage. For the Half-Blood Prince adventure, you are thrown pretty much into all the action of the upcoming movie – that said, vital information and spoilers (if you hadn’t already read the book) are used sparingly.

You, of course, take central control of Harry in all the beauty of the silver screen. Gone are the days when the video game takes a back seat to the big-budget flick; although this title might not quite carry the weight of the motion picture’s budget, it’s clear that EA were given hands-on access to all aspects of it. Action begins gradually as you are introduced to Harry’s companions, Hermione and Ron, and gradually play your way into your quest to stop the dangerous Lord Voldemort.

Those more than partial to the trappings of the green-eyed monster should certainly avoid the razzmatazz of the console versions – offering more fluent game motion, smoother graphics and effortless controls. Whilst the game is obviously specifically engineered to suit the expected slower PC ports (which is done very well via a slower game pace), the rigidity of the control system is a rather harsh spoiler. The game doesn’t accept anything other than direct USB controllers (no PlayStation to PC ports allowed here) and restricts you to a set of pre-defined controls. This makes it very difficult to play the game as fluently as on other platforms and somewhat holds it back.

As it is, the game plays rather smoothly (a lot more so than other EA PC titles) and you will soon find yourself engrossed in this magical world of spells, potions and Quidditch. The Hogwarts environment is created faithfully and there are many stunning visuals to be enjoyed as you pass through the dark halls and spiralling towers with only your magic wand for company. All characters are shockingly realistic to their silver screen cousins (check out Hermione’s individually layered hair strands) and all are voiced extensively, by sound-a-likes, supposedly.

It’s quite difficult to be original in a game so closely linked to the finished product of the movie, even though seeing as Potter collaborators Warner Brothers Interactive had worked on original tie-ins like Enter the Matrix, you might be forgiven for expecting a bit of creative flair. Sadly this only comes in the form of the ‘always-popular’ Final Fantasy-style random battles and collecting Hogwarts crests for bonuses – everything else is pretty much joined with the movie at the proverbial hip.

The game’s difficulty only really becomes apparent through constant playing – magic potions/mixtures mini-games will start to give you less time in which to make it; random battle enemies will have more life and fellow Quidditchers will improve. As these are the three main elements of the game, this is basically a guide for how far you are from the reported 5 hours’ worth of gameplay’s end. This certainly is a little short for a game, but then you probably shouldn’t be buying this just to be challenged.

Everything is used well to create the atmosphere of being at Hogwarts – from the lighting to the spot-on sounds of the busy wizardry school, and that’s where you’ll probably be spending most of your time. It’s a big place, and spying on Professor Snape (why do they keep letting him back in?) on the 7th Floor and then darting off to Quidditch practice will see you covering some serious ground, even with the talking portrait shortcuts dotted around the place.

In terms of a movie tie-in, this one thankfully falls into the ‘decent’ section, which makes it playable, but if you really have no interest in Harry Potter, then you could certainly get more for your money than 5 hours’ worth of adventures. What cannot be denied is that this is an enjoyable and engrossing title – but if you’re not planning to see a Potter flick anytime soon, it will become repetitive after your eighth ‘random battle’. Still, for fans, this is a faithfully recreated big-budget romp.

Wacky concoctions must be followed exactly in the potion-making mini-games