Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Review by Old Rooster
March 2003

"How Old Would You Be If You Didn't Know How Old You Are?" —Wayne Dyer

Whenever I think of that inquiry from Dr. Dyer, I rarely respond with an age that would qualify me for Medicare. As one of three senior citizens of my acquaintance thoroughly involved with PC gaming as a hobby, I'm pleased to respond that my gaming age interest level can lead me to be as young as ten!

All this is to say that I find Chamber of Secrets an absolutely delightful experience for the full range of gamer within me—child to curmudgeon.

Chamber of Secrets, the second of the Harry Potter movie tie-in games, complements very well the cinematic experience. Harry, in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, rejoins Hermione and Ron in a quest to solve a mystery, increase points for the House of Gryffindor, and unlock a terrifying secret.

"The Whomping Willow's Got Me!" —Ron

Developed for the three major console platforms, as well as the PC, Chamber fortunately takes advantage of PC flexibility and power, with one major exception to be discussed later.

Following opening background cinematics, Harry and Ron are literally dumped at Hogwarts by a flying car. The initial plight and subsequent rescue of Ron provides an opportunity for a fine running tutorial on the whys and wherefores of control and interface.

You play as Harry, from a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective. The mouse/keyboard movement/action combination works smoothly and well. Mouse-aim is employed for spell casting and wizard dueling. A map of the overall environs can be activated, as can maps of more particular locations—within Hogwarts, for example. Controls can be remapped, a very nice option for a "console port." For the great majority of the game, one uses four controls: move, action (cast magic), jump, and skip cutscene (not available in the console versions, I believe). Indeed, even the "jump" action can be made automatic with a setup selection, thereby reducing needed controls to three.

Pass the Smelling Salts, or at Least a Chocolate Frog!

Harry can faint—how unmanly (unboyly?). It is better than dying, though. Whether being squashed by the Whomping Willow or defeated by slime and spiders, Harry can lose his health/stamina and be returned to the last save point. Fortunately, these "battles" are not terribly hard, and it rarely takes more than two trials to pass this sort of obstacle. Of course, in addition to agility and good aim, the correct spells typically are required. Harry starts his second year with Flipendo (knock back), Alohomora (unlocking) and Lumos (open hidden areas) having been previously "learned" and in his repertoire. A number of new spells will become available and be needed, including the critical Rictusempra for wizard dueling. Most of these are quite delightful, with one of my favorites being Skurge for cleaning up sticky and harmful ectoplasm. Something we all should have around house! Spells are learned through simple agility tasks that usually require only one or two attempts to complete, which also add points to your Gryffindor House.

There are over 100 secrets scattered throughout the game and a large number of wizard cards to collect. Cards can be traded for Bertie Bot's Every Flavor Beans, which also are randomly scattered. In turn, these beans can be used as currency to acquire Quidditch armor, create a Wiggenweld Potion for health, and secure other valuable assets for your Hogwarts experience.

Of course, playing the thrilling and beloved Quidditch is available, as are Wizard duels. These action minigames can be returned to if one is so inclined.

Harry's fainting brings me to my one major criticism—save points. Saves are recorded automatically once a "save book" is encountered. I can live with that, even though I prefer the "save anywhere" option. What is most annoying, unfortunately, is that there is, effectively, only one save game! In other words, your previous save is overwritten every time you enter a new save. The primary problem becomes that, although the game is quite linear (it pulls you along a prescribed path), there are possible opportunities to acquire needed items that may have been missed as you find yourself encountering a new save book. For the most part, you can't go back. This can lead to having to restart the game, find what you missed, and get to that save point all over again.

By the way, chocolate frogs, sometimes difficult to catch, are the most common way to increase Harry's stamina, avoid fainting, and are quite tasty as well!

"I Must Have Been Hearing Things" —Harry

Without taking away from the story of Chamber, one of the best of the Potter series, let me say that the game follows the book and film quite well. A sense of dread pervades the school, and it's clear that Harry and his pals have quite a mystery to unravel and monstrous situations to confront. As mentioned, the path is fairly linear and, hoping that you are properly equipped, the narrative will deliver you to a satisfying conclusion.

Although not at the level of Unreal II, by any means, the graphics of Chamber are colorful and impressive. Hogwarts particularly pleases, with the attention to detail and such features as the moving staircase done very nicely. Indeed, one can wander around Hogwarts, not always immediately following the leading of Ron or Hermione, and explore common and other areas—some locked until secrets are uncovered. This leads to some replayability of the game, particularly if you are into how many beans or cards you can possibly find. This isn't my cup of tea, but some, especially those console-inclined, do enjoy exploring every nook and cranny to see what they missed.

Accompanying the fine graphics is wonderful voice acting, sounding very much like the actors from the film—although it's not them. Musical themes are fitting and sound effects effective.

"Give Her the Password, and Let's Go to Bed" —Ron

I could chat a lot more about the real depth of Chamber of Secrets, but it is time to retire, and I am an old guy who has to get his rest. For a while, though, I mentally joined and teamed with those who are chronologically age ten, enjoying with them (you) this highly entertaining and satisfying suspension of disbelief.

Chamber of Secrets is the finest adaptation of a film I have ever played. The creators have expended obvious loving care with the game, not content to give the kind of superficial spin-off (rip-off) we so typically experience. Some have complained the game is short (10 hours). Well, it took me 20 (not counting replays), but I also took time to explore, take pictures, and marvel at this recreation of a second year at Hogwarts. For the child around you, or the child within you, and any fan of the Potter series, Chamber comes highly recommended.

What I Liked Most About Chamber of Secrets

  • A fine adaptation of and complement to the book and film.
  • Hogwarts seems like a large and alive campus to be explored.
  • Excellent graphics and superb voice acting.
  • Smooth and rather directed gameplay; great level design.
  • Harry doesn't die, he faints.
  • The game is potentially large and deep, if one chooses.

What I Liked Least About Chamber of Secrets

  • The very limiting save game feature.
  • The degree of linearity, which may be a plus for some.
  • Eye-hand coordination is sometimes really tested. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: EA Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 2002

Available for: Game Cube Windows Xbox PlayStation 2

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium II 350
64 MB RAM (128 MB for XP)
16 MB DirectX 8.0 compatible 3D accelerator
600 MB free hard drive space
4X CD-ROM drive
Keyboard, mouse

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