The next Harry Potter game is a darker third-person magic-shooter with a cover system. No chainsaws in this game. But it sounds like even the people making Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 sense an overstep here.
As Brian Crecente reported in his positive June impressions of Deathly Hallows, the video game based on J.K. Rowling's final Potter book and fall movie covering the first half of that novel is not the cheerful kid-friendly stuff of the first Potter adventures. The developers at EA are going for a T rating, with grit.
This game is more of a magic-based shooter set, at least in the level I played yesterday in New York, in the dreary real world rather than the fantastic setting of Hogwarts. (I haven't read the final book, but I understand that the setting is true to what Rowling wrote.) In the game, Potter is positioned a bit screen-left and a wheel of aggressive spells available as an arsenal of destruction. The game is not Gears of War-violent, not even close. But watching Potter snap to cover and fire at enemies recalls the popular play style of Epic's M-rated hit franchise.
The most curious and controversial element of this action may be Crucio, a work of dark purple magic that Potter can use as one of his attacks. The player can pick the spell and fire it rapidly at enemies. It's not a gentle cast. It looks like machine-gun magic. In its firing it made the game seem most un-Harry Potter.
The EA marketing man showing me the game said the game's development team has not settled on how Crucio will be restricted in the game. It is clearly a key part of Potter's arsenal, one that I got no indication will be stripped. From what I've played, a shooter needs some sort of rapid-fire weapon and Crucio appears to be it. But, the marketing man told me, the game's developers are considering including an Achievement in the game that rewards you for not using it. Such an Achievement would support the ethics of the Potter fiction, which relegates the painful Crucio spell primarily to the evil Lord Voldemort and the frightful
Dementors Death Eaters. Potter uses the spell in the books sparingly.
Other spells from Potter lore appear in Deathly Hallows Part 1 and all serve purposes that befit a cover-based shooter's gameplay. Confringo fires a concussive blast. Confundo confuses enemies. In a Rowling-approved deviation from the magic in the books Expelliarmus charges and zaps a fierce red shot that disables — rather than disarms — the wands of the enemy wizards against whom Potter fights. Wingardium Levioso lets Potter levitate and then drop objects such as barrels to create is own cover.
Potter doesn't kill. Even his close-up spells just knock his foes down. When defeated, they "dis-apparate."
Video games, especially shooters, can have odd effects on our heroes from less interactive fictions. Video game shooters make James Bond more of a gun-mad commando than a slick spy. They turn Darth Vader into a foot soldier. From my brief time with the Deathly Hallows Part 1, it seems to me that they may also turn Harry Potter into a wizard of great violence. Do they turn Harry Potter into someone who isn't Harry Potter?
We will see more of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in the coming months. It ships in the fall on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS and PC.