Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

Just a couple of months ago, Universal Studios announced that a theme park based on JK Rowling's books was due to open in Orlando in 2009, provisionally named The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Let us hope then it's a damn site more entertaining than this game. For if the PSP version of Order of the Phoenix was a rollercoaster, it would be The Meandering Boreator. It's really that bland.

It's not just bland because it's slightly dull (more on that soon) but bland because of its thick-headed structure and dummkopf design. You'd think it would be pretty hard to mess up such a potent licence, so full of familiar characters, dramatic events and rich texture, but it seems nothing is impossible when you're Harry Potter.

No Rimbutt 2000 for guessing the plot follows the book pretty closely: as the eponymous hero, you have to clear your name after an out-of-term scandal, gain back the respect of your fellow Hogwart peers, and establish a secret sect called Dumbledore's Army in order to fight back the forces of Lord Voldemort.

Most of the game takes place inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but while much of it has been visualised well, the chore-based nature of the game design seriously lets things down.

Indeed, if we're to expand our theme park metaphor further, structurally this is less like a castle and more like one of those interminable garden labyrinths, only full of surly school children getting in the way and dispensing duff directions.

Three quarters of the game is made up of wandering around Hogwarts to find pages of the Daily Prophet (which is printing negative stories about Harry) and recruiting new faces for Dumbledore's Army. But this recruitment drive is beset with problems, mainly because Harry must perform a number of tedious tasks in order to win over potential members.

It's here where the game takes a turn for the worse. The signposting, for instance, is diabolical, with many of the mini-quests requiring knowledge of the book for you to complete them. One apt example requires you to sneak into the potion room using a cloak of invisibility and steal a mission specific elixir. But you're not told where the cloak of invisibility is. (Of course – stupid us – it's inside Harry's trunk back at the Gryffindor dormitory.)

Other tasks are hard to understand because characters dispense vague and unhelpful information like, "Those people need some help". Which leaves you feeling like screaming, "Be more specific! What am I actually supposed to be doing?" And, if you're wondering, this isn't just due to our general Muggle-headedness – too many of the tasks are difficult to complete because of incredibly woolly goal setting.

Then there are issues with the in-game engine, the physics model, and the camera. Some tasks require the casting of spells to levitate and move objects but often you have no idea where to drop them or, alternatively, have to place them in a very specific position. It's this kind of imprecision that leads you to false conclusions and endless wandering around looking for solutions that are usually right under your nose.

In particular, we must mention the map, which gamers might almost fancy a court case against based on the misleading nature of its name. It consists of a parchment-style document with some vague yellowish squiggles supposedly representing the environs of Hogwarts. In actuality, it looks more like a Jackson Pollock effort interpreted by ten winos using nothing but urine and snow.

Fortunately, there are some positives to discuss. Spell casting has been extremely well implemented. All the Potter favourites such as Wingardium Leviosa (levitate), Reparo (repair), Incendio (blaze) and Petrificus Totalus (paralyse) are all present and do a great job of making you feel magical. There are also lots of hidden rooms, surprises and secrets to be found around Hogwarts for those willing to explore and experiment. So the distinctive Potter atmosphere is well achieved – even casting a spell to animate a broom is pretty good fun.

But these highlights fail to make up for some poor game design that makes you feel more like a dogsbody than a wizard. Once Dumbledore's Army has been assembled, the momentum picks up a little and there are some reasonably good spell battles towards the close but at its core this is an unremarkable fetch-and-carry game with broken bits.

The bottom line is this: if you're a Harry Potter devotee looking for Hogwarts-inspired atmosphere and wizardry, you might extract some pleasure out of it; but if you're a muggle, you simply wont have the energy or goodwill to struggle against the thick-headed design.

Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

Dogsbody fetch-and-carry wizardry that will only appeal to forgiving Potter fans. Hogwash for the rest of us