Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets continues the adventures of the bespectacled boy wizard as he returns to Hogwarts to begin a second year of studies. Things do not go smoothly, however, as the game closely follows the events found in J.K. Rowling's second book in the international best-selling fantasy series. Harry Potter and friends Hermione and Ron must investigate a terrible danger: students are mysteriously turning to stone.
Assuming the role of the Boy Who Lived, players explore a 3D Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest from a third-person perspective. To assist them in their quest, players must attend classes so they can learn a variety of spells. These spells are then used on enemies, but if they are not cast correctly, a comical or hazardous misfire may result. In addition to the main adventure, players can participate in a number of mini-games, such as removing the gnomes from Mrs. Weasley's garden or battling other wizards in Dueling Club.
As in the book and subsequent movie upon which it is rather loosely based, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the game, finds Mr. Potter in his sophomore year at Hogwarts, where he is once again drawn into a string of dangerous events, Quidditch matches, and spell casting lessons.
Although the underlying narrative is essentially a condensed version of the movie, the developers have taken considerable poetic license in order to make the game, well, a game. For example, fans of J.K. Rowling's original work are unlikely to recall Harry's frequent use of Flipendo spells on deadly fire-farting turtles or fast-slithering toxic snails, but there's plenty of that sort of thing going on here. In addition, there's a great deal of free-roaming nook-and-cranny searching, puzzle solving, and even wizard card collecting.
The game starts with a string of introductory cutscenes sporadically disrupted by what ultimately becomes an all-too-familiar load screen: a still image of Harry waving his wand. These initial sequences quickly sum up everything from Harry's first cautionary meeting with Dobby, the house elf, to his notorious flight to school in the Weasleys' Ford Anglia. The graphics, voice acting, and soundtrack are terrific throughout the game, and the scenes selected are sufficient to keep the story moving along without ever getting bogged down by minutiae.
Once the car lands in the rather violent Whomping Willow near Hogwarts, the action begins. Harry must save Ron Weasley from the massive tree's violent grasp. While some gamers may be put off by the notion of facing a boss straight away, the area surrounding the Whomping Willow actually serves as a quick training ground, and the gargantuan tree is not quite as daunting an opponent as it might initially seem.
After this brief distraction, Harry and Ron head for Hogwarts. Those familiar with EA's PC version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone will find that Chamber of Secrets unfolds in a similar fashion. The majority of challenges in the game involve running, jumping, climbing, and activating spells with the press of a button. Over the course of the game, you'll learn new spells, the use of which is context sensitive. Wave your wand at a locked treasure chest or the entrance to a secret passageway, and Harry incants the unlocking spell: "Alohomora!" Wave your wand at a magical bouncy carpet, and Harry will unlock its power to propel you skyward with a hearty, "Spongify!"
On the one hand, there are narrative elements that piece everything together and steer you towards certain classrooms and challenges in a particular order. On the other hand, the aforementioned free-roaming aspect allows for some breathing room, and it is possible to wander the grounds or retrace your steps as you wish. For example, once you've played your first Quidditch match, you can always opt to ditch herbology class to take another crack at catching the Golden Snitch. Similarly, once you've completed a specific challenge, it is possible to return to that challenge in search of any items you might have inadvertently neglected. The PC version is a bit simplified compared to its console brethren, but remains an impressive outing nonetheless.
The developers have done a terrific job re-creating the look and feel of Hogwarts, although fans of the series will likely feel let down by the fact that the portraits are inanimate, a nitpicky point of contention. The architecture itself looks terrific, and there's no shortage of hidden areas to locate over the course of the game. Some areas are only accessible upon completion of the Folio Magi, the booklet in which you'll store all the wizard cards scattered throughout the game. Collecting wizard cards will also increase your stamina level, and will generally make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Some wizard cards may be purchased using Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, but it's best to initially save up your beans for other uses, such as purchasing power-up potion ingredients, Quidditch equipment, or entry into a wizard duel. The wizard duels involve firing and dodging beams of magic to and from a CPU opponent in order to defeat a classmate and win more beans.
The Quidditch matches are good at conveying the fun yet stressful role of Seeker (not to mention winning more beans). As you zoom around on your Nimbus 2000 broomstick, an opposing Seeker will knock into you whenever possible in his own race for the prize. The controls involve flying up, down, left, and right, and tapping a button to hit your opponent or grab the Golden Snitch. It would be interesting to see a multiplayer version of the Quidditch matches that does not solely focus on the Seekers, but considering the younger audience this franchise is generally geared towards, it's unlikely to happen any time soon.
Seasoned players will likely breeze through the majority of this game in a few sessions, although the challenge of locating every hidden item will extend the shelf life of this title for some. Although there are a number of puzzle challenges, none of them are particularly complex or frustrating, and most take moments to complete. Most of the enemies are also easy to get by, and quick-save points prevent the challenges from becoming too redundant. At times, the controls are a bit clunky, but generally speaking, this is a rather breezy and entertaining title that will most strongly appeal to fans of the Harry Potter franchise and casual gamers seeking a well-produced diversion. A greater challenge wouldn't have hurt, but this is a fun game worth checking out.
People who downloaded Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have also downloaded:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Grand Theft Auto 3
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