Here is EA's attempt at developing a promotional videogame for a gaming audience who's not particularly keen on promotional video games. It's part of the natural progression of the series. Potter's book and film franchises have grown in maturity alongside their audience, becoming incrementally darker with each instalment as the reader base aged. Harry's suburban angst in the first novel evolved over the next few titles. And yet the games weren't initially designed to follow the same kind of progression.
You had the same Potter plot, the characters, dialogue plucked directly from the film and put straight into cutscenes. You had a bit of Quidditch thrown in there. But while the novels and films tried to advance at each step along the way, the games had were stagnating. Like any basic promotional title, the Harry Potter games were simple, harmless, fairly mindless action-adventure titles that existed to harness the storyline of the films; a perpetual and ongoing family experience that was eager to please a crowd of nine-year-olds.
Deathly Hallows is the first game in the series to try and mature alongside the play level of young gamers. It only makes sense that after a clutch of games developed over a period of a decade they would try to expand the player demographic they began with.
Hallows is being aimed at 10 to 15 year-old boys. It's a game that tries to cater to the those kids who have just begun playing shooters and big-name action titles for the first time, the ones who have nicked games off of their older siblings. For the first time you'll be controlling Harry in a classic third-person action style. Take cover behind a pillar or that bit of crate, then pop out to cast spells toward meandering enemies - or so it was in the brief Xbox 360 demo.
The setting itself feels bleak. Harry is in the centre of a particularly grey and worn-down building site with a full view of Snatchers, one of the primary enemy classes of the series. Despite the Potterisms it's a relatively familiar game setting - sheet metal, overgrown weeds, moss stuck on cement. And it's fitting that this is the setting they chose to feature: not a camp wizard hideaway, but a familiarly standard shooting ground. Call up your weapon wheel to cycle through your available spells and you get further overlap.
Stupefy? That's your basic pistol, the weapon you'll begin with and continue using throughout the rest of the game. Petrificus Totalus? That's the Potter-variety shotgun. Peruvian Darkness Potion? Essentially the game's smoke bomb. Crucio is the game's machine gun, and this features another genre-wide convention: overheating from overuse.
But the reliance on these conventions only puts the game in the same genre as the grown-up titles it fixates on, not remotely in the same league. It's combat at its utmost basic, dressed as a more mature Gears of War-like take on a pre-teen franchise. Take the controller, aim at a group of enemies and fire; your projectile will either hit them directly or not hit them at all. Anything more precise, like hitting a crate near an enemy, for example, isn't possible. In fact most of the spells at your disposal aren't even entirely necessary, we're told, as you can finish the entire game only using the most basic spell you have in your back pocket, Stupefy.
This is Baby's First 3rd-Person Action Game; an ambitious effort to take the game beyond its roots as a film tie-in. With a basic mixture of darker tones and action-oriented gameplay Deathly Hallows is undoubtedly one of the most exciting takes on a franchise of this kind, but what it has in ambition it lacks in innovation and variety. They've upped the demographic but, unless there's considerable depth hidden away, it's as simple a take on its genre as its predecessors were to theirs.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 will be available this autumn on Kinect for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS and PC.