Games 7/12/11: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Dead Block

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Other versions available for: Wii, Windows PC, Nintendo DS
From: EA Bright Light/EA/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)
Price: $50

Do you love Harry Potter — like really, really love him? Because you’ll have to if you want to enjoy the opening levels of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which rocket from banal to passable if your undying love of the film compels you to experience it through the eyes of one seriously basic third-person cover shooter with some alarmingly flimsy weaponry.

Like the first “Deathly Hallows” game, the new “Hallows” takes on the characteristics of a third-person shooter — a reflection on the book and movie’s action-heavy focus, but a stark departure nonetheless from previous “Potter” games, which were non-linear and focused more on spells and discovery than blasting hundreds — no, seriously, literally hundreds — of Death Eaters into oblivion.

That, almost exclusively, is what you do in “Hallows'” brief campaign, which drops the preceding game’s sloppy stealth portions in favor of wall-to-wall carnage. The game softens its language to imply you’re not actually killing any of these wizards, but it’s hard not to be amused with (or, perhaps, turned off by) how wildly exaggerated the book’s violence is in this incarnation.

Though the stealth portions certainly aren’t missed, the straight line the new “Hallows” walks makes it harder to ignore how elementary it is as a shooter. A few diversions break up the action, and the game is good about dropping you into the shoes of a surprising array of characters. But regardless of whom you’re controlling, the overwhelming majority of the action — enter area, find cover, defeat scores of Death Eaters, repeat, repeat, repeat — is as basic as this genre gets.

Initially, it’s depressingly so. “Hallows” begins by putting you in Harry’s shoes with a single spell — Stupefy — that’s essentially the wizarding world’s equivalent to a basic pistol. Unfortunately, it’s so flimsy that comparing it to a pea shooter is an insult to pea shooters. Using it is boring, and considering the second and third spells you receive are designed solely to cast and destroy Protego shields, little about the combat is exciting early on.

But “Hallows” rallies from there by subsequently outfitting players with magic wand answers for a machine gun, grenade launcher, sniper rifle and even a heat-seeking rocket launcher. It’s hard not to smirk at how absurdly crazy the bloodbath gets when these spells are in play, but they’re so much more fun than the flimsy Stupefy spell that the complete abandonment of authenticity is completely welcome.

With that said, even high-powered wizard weaponry can’t elevate “Hallows” to anything beyond basic. It’s never bad beyond the early going, and that, along with the character diversity and chance to reenact the Battle for Hogwarts beyond anything the book conceived, is enough to make this recommendable to “Potter” fans. For everyone else, though, it’s a much harder sell. Third-person shooters are everywhere right now, and there is no shortage of better options if you’re more a fan of the genre than “Potter.”

“Hallows'” value proposition doesn’t help matters. You can put a bow on the campaign in a single dedicated afternoon of play, and the unlockable challenge missions — which are just story levels with par times and online leaderboards — aren’t a very enticing postgame reward. There’s no multiplayer content of any kind, and while the Kinect support in the Xbox 360 version of the first “Hallows” game wasn’t very good, this game shelves the novelty entirely rather than improve on it. (The PS3 version, to its credit, does add optional Playstation Move support.)

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Dead Block
For: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade) and Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Candygun Games/Digital Reality
ESRB Rating: Teen (violence, blood, crude humor)
Price: $10

If you’ve grown tired of the tower defense status quo, “Dead Block” might interest you. Because while this, too, is a tower defense game at heart, it’s also a third-person action game in which you directly control multiple survivors (either solo or via four-player splitscreen co-op) under attack from zombies. “Block’s” mechanics are simple: You have to destroy furniture to gather wood for boarding up windows, scour through other objects to find keys and parts with which to make traps, and manually attack zombies who break through your defenses. For whatever reason, music kills zombies dead, so the ultimate goal of each level is to assemble a guitar rig, play a very short rhythm game to rock out and wipe out all remaining undead. “Block’s” merging of third-person action and tower defense goes smoothly, and its overall style — cartoony characters straight out of a “Team Fortress 2” tribute game, 1950s iconography, levels presented as episodes of a campy television show — is terrific. But the downside of merging those two genres is that they compromise rather than thrive. The combat is clunky, your strategic options are little more limited than in a typical tower defense game (only so many windows and traps to configure), and while new characters, environments, items and traps show up on a regular basis, “Block’s” later levels aren’t drastically deeper than its early ones. But that’s why it costs $10 instead of $50. “Block” provides a good return on investment for that price, and what those later levels lack in surprises, they redeem in terms of challenge.