Video Game Reviews

AGENCIES

Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 14

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

EA

PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, like the movie of the same name, is clearly targeting fans of the book, also of the same name, which is ironic, because you'll need to read the book to understand the J.K. Rowling mythos scratched at in the film while the game doesn't really convey much of the literary or the theatrical at all, except for the setting.

That said, the venue is mostly an expansive rendition of Hogwarts, school for the magically inclined, and you'll spend most of your time wandering its halls and nooks and crannies like a giddy schoolboy might if he were to visit such an iconic fake place. You might not even mind that you'll explore those said same halls repeatedly, backtracking and revisiting crannies and nooks because you need this bauble to open that door, or these items to help that guy who won't help you until you do, which opens up the next wave of outstanding tedium.

Admittedly, the spell-casting bits are rather cool, with specific swipe, circles and swoop gestures actuated with a thumbstick in the PlayStation 2, and Xbox 360 versions of the game, some tacked-on tilt-and-twist physiotherapy on the SixAxis controller in the PlayStation 3 version, and similarly specific swoop-and-swipe gestures on the rather wand-like Wii-mote in the Wii version.

Still, as casting magic goes, you've got to be a serious Potter fan to really enjoy opening up an enchanted can of fix-dishes, because at least it's, you know, magic ... too bad it's mostly a game of doing chores like that to break up the monotony of simply wandering around campus like an errand boy. Sure, there are a few instances of actual magical combat, but they're not done well enough to feel any more invigorating than a chore. Carry on.

TRANSFORMERS: THE GAME

Activision

PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360

As the summer continues, so too does the string of big-budget, popcorn-fluff flicks and the mostly mangled video games based on them. Case in point: Transformers: The Game for PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, a roughly adequate game of giant, sentient, double-duty robots bashing around town, bashing each other and bashing the town they're bashing around in.

It's two games, actually, or playable twice from each side, as an Autobot and again as a Decepticon, which gives modest depth to it all, but only thinly disguises the fact that Transformers doesn't particularly excel as an action nor a driving game.

For those dwelling beneath a slab of granite, these "robots in disguise" can "transform" from a vaguely conventional vehicle to a three-story, heavily armed, walking automaton. In neither form, however, do these Transformers convey a sense of weight; as cars (and a couple of flying craft) they ping and pong around like matchbox toys, and as robots, their wonky, seemingly arbitrary auto-target lock makes them about as threatening and sure-sighted as an attention-deficit waif carrying a laser cannon - a cannon meant to be bolted to something sturdy, such as a giant robot.

Besides which, anything of consequence worth shooting at invariably has a shield, so it's best played as a two-button game of fisticuffs, er, fistiU-joints, robo a robo, where you just walk (stomp) up to a guy and throw down a mechanized beatdown. On the upside, all those other things, the things of little consequence (aka "everything else"), blow up spectacularly, which feels good (but does little) or even great when playing as a Decepticon, because that's, like, your job.

And it should be noted that the Wii version of Transformers does afford a much better auto-lock-on-target than that found on the PS3 and 360 versions. As opposed to "push a button and hope," the Wii's targeting is guided manually using the Wii-mote. It is "semi auto-lock," but still with a sense of randomness as it picks the innocent taxi cab near the kneecap of the intended target rather than the intended target. Besides which, the Wii-mote, along with some "Wii-wag" fight and swipe gestures, is also used to manually adjust the game-camera view with edge-of-screen finessing. On its own, it is totally unwieldy and nearly useless when trying to both aim and manipulate your view of the action simultaneously. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions at least have the decency to allow for independent camera-view control with the right thumbstick. Too bad the game doesn't have the decency to provide one single usable camera angle to begin with.

Regardless, you'll soon realize that it's just a cookie-cutter game with great looking robotic goliaths that basically drive (or fly) around, stand up, beat up, (lather, rinse) repeat. It's the same old, maddening movie-based same-old; another action-hero game of wander and bash and "didn't we just leave this party?"

Invariably, hard-core Transformers fans are going to forgive "The Game" its flaws, because there is a huge wealth of Transformers kitsch in it too - "more than meets the eye," as it were. Unfortunately, what does meet the eye is pretty bad.

FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER

Activision

PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox

As a game Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer might sell better by its box-art association with a blockbuster summer movie of the same name. Critics and fans might like it better as "The Thing: Button Mash and Break Stuff" because that is basically the only fun to be found; tying it in with the movie is just pretentious. Sure, you can also play as the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic, swapping out control of each character on the fly as they travel together, but with the four of them wandering around, fighting everything and everyone that comes along, solving rudimentary, hold-your-hand, grade-school puzzles and searching for tokens and baubles that might "upgrade" their powers, it is only The Thing that offers any sense of clobbering catharsis. And since when do super heroes need upgrades?