Imagine for a moment you are 14 years old, you attend wizarding school, have magical powers, and now the man that killed your parents when you were one year old is back to finish what he started. To top things off, your name was mysteriously entered into and chosen out of a magical Goblet of Fire, meaning you have to compete in 3 deadly challenges at school. Nothing you can't handle right? At least it's not if you're Harry Potter and friends.
This is the setting for the fourth installment in the Harry Potter saga, which has recently jumped off the pages of J. K. Rowling's best selling novel and into the movie theatres. Not unlike its predecessors, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is being adapted for almost every type of media imaginable. The joint release of EA's game and Warner Brothers movie means HP: GOF is a videogame, based on a movie, which is based on a book. Fans of the book may have been upset when parts of the 700 page book were left out of the movie, but those omissions were forgivable. The game's storyline, on the other hand assumes you know exactly what's going on, so if you don't know the storyline well, you will be thoroughly confused. The cutscenes are lacking both visually, and contextually, leaving you wondering why they didn't use any footage from the movie.
However, this game offers quite a few redeeming factors. Each world is recreated perfectly, immersing you in the magical world of the movie and narrative. The Goblet of Fire takes you from the campgrounds of the Quidditch World Cup to the rooftops around Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, deep into the Forbidden Forest, into the pipes of the Prefects' ornate bathroom, and finally to a spine-chilling battle with young Potter's arch enemy, Voldemort in an eerie graveyard. You even get to participate in each of the three Triwizard Challenges, soaring through the air on your broom, exploring the underwater mermaid city, and navigating through a hedge maze. All the scenes are rich with lush colors and foreboding shadows, evoking the dark atmosphere of the story, while the spells use impressive particle-heavy effects. Indeed, the visual style has grown up along with the three young wizards. Even the likenesses of the characters are based on the movie's actors, unlike the previous games which have used a more generic Harry and company. The addition of a soaring, emotive soundtrack and accurate voice acting (even though Hermione's know-it-all remarks do get a bit annoying after a while) make for a wonderfully presented game.
You have the choice to navigate through these magical worlds as any of the three main characters, with your other two, computer controlled friends following behind, lending a helping hand along the way. All three young wizards work together to solve small puzzles and defeat the endless enemies. For example, you can cast a spell to move small rocks on your own, but large boulders blocking your path cannot be lifted unless all three characters cast spells simultaneously. Two characters can also cast spells together to kill enemies easier. One can lift up the enemy with a spell, and the other can jinx it, until it explodes. The computer is generally good about helping, but it can be slow at times, and if anything is in the way of the AI characters, they will not cast spells properly. If you have a few friends around though, this can be remedied easily.
Probably one of the best features of HP:GOF is the multiplayer option. Anyone can plug in a controller at any time and start controlling a character. The multiplayer option is very entertaining, allowing friends to work together to advance through the game. Since Harry Potter is enjoyed by all ages, this option is especially great for older players who want to help younger ones get through a particularly hard part. However, if you are playing with a friend, through to the end, it is frustrating when you get to a Triwizard Challenge, and only one player is able to play.
The actual gameplay, for the most part, is very simple, "kill the enemy and move on" button-mashing. Since the movie and book do not contain many enemies, the critters you battle are not accurate to the Goblet of Fire. They are, however, based on J. K. Rowling's creatures from other Harry Potter books. There are still a few puzzle solving problems, but the Zelda like feel of the previous games is gone. You can no longer explore the worlds on your own, but rather are led from one point to the next, until you reach a boss. After a puzzle is figured out, or a boss conquered, you receive a Triwizard Shield. These shields are collected to unlock each new level. Since each new level requires more shields before it is unlocked, you have to go back to each world over and over to find new shields. This can sometimes get repetitive, even if each task that yields a shield is different. There are, however, other hidden objects to collect, which make replay a bit more interesting.
Along the way you also collect Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans which, based on their color, boost your health, fill your Magicus Extremus Bar or can be used to buy upgrade cards for each character. These cards are fun to collect, since each is decorated with a still from the movie, and they increase the power of your characters. You can choose only 3 cards to use before each adventure, so the perfect balance must be found to have the strongest possible characters.
The game's biggest problem is, by far, the controls. In order for the gameplay to feel more cinematic, you have absolutely no control over the camera. This makes for some extremely frustrating battles as scenery gets in your way; you can't tell if you're right in front of your target, and enemies keep damaging you from offscreen. There doesn't seem to be any major reason for this, considering there are many unused buttons. Another frustrating control issue deals with casting your spells. You have no control over which spells are cast, making the game play seem unnecessarily simple. It would be a bit more challenging to be able to choose certain spells for each situation, as in the previous games.
As a whole, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an entertaining multiplayer adventure, but it is not a game for non-Potter fans. The visuals, music and voice acting are beautifully done, but the same can't be said for the storyline, and controls. This is definitely worth a rental for the weekend if you're a fan who can't get enough of the movies, but the simple gameplay, and repetitiveness become tiring quickly.