REVIEWS: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Format: PlayStation CD-ROM. Price: £29.99

IT WILL come as no surprise to any one that a video game starring boy wizard Harry Potter will be out in time for Christmas.

The franchise was considered so good - even before a line of code had been written - a bidding war broke out for the rights to produce a game.

In the electronic entertainment industry, as with so many others, the company with the deepest pockets wins. And no one has deeper pockets than Electronic Arts, the world's biggest software publisher.

Book and film franchises have a hit and miss reputation as interactive entertainment (anyone remember Dune, based on the Frank Herbert books, or the Sherlock Holmes games produced as a showcase for Mega-CD technology?). The Potter books are a 21st Century phenomenon appealing to a broad-based readership but particularly children who are, as we all know, the harshest critics of all.

So what kind of game should Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone be?

With an installed user base far exceeding any other, it had to be a PlayStation game, that's for sure. And, as it was a film tie-in, what could be more natural than a platform game. Quidditch would have made an interesting racing title but the idea would be too thin as a stand-alone title, so EA took the decision to make the broomstick cup a game-within-the-game.

For anyone who has been living in a cave just recently, Harry Potter has been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible fantasy world is opening up before him.

The game starts in the entrance hall where Albert Dumbledore, the wise headmaster, meets Harry. Your character has to explore every inch of the castle collecting famous witches and wizards cards which can help unlock new areas. So can house points (Harry is a member of Gryffindor house) but seasoned gamers may find the puzzles a bit too easy and the inclusion of an automatic jump action makes the platforming element fairly straightforward. Tomb Raider veterans will have no trouble at all.

The graphics are big and bold and about as good as it gets on the PlayStation these days. You'll need a memory card too, if you aren't to lose all those hard-earned points every time you switch off.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone isn't a ground-breaking gaming title but then, with so much riding on its success and with Warner Bros keeping such a close eye on its JK Rowling gold mine, it was never going to be. Fans of the books - particularly younger ones - will find plenty to enjoy here.

Project: Eden. Format: PS-2 DVD ROM. Publisher: Eidos Interactive. Price: £39.99

GAMERS looking for a more serious challenge would be well advised to pick up a copy of Project: Eden, Core design's hugely ambitious action-strategy title fresh out on the PS2.

Set on a future earth where all the inhabitants live in massive tower blocks, Project: Eden comprises objective-based missions which seamlessly blend flat-out blasting with puzzling and strategic thinking.

The well-off inhabit the upper levels of the tower blocks and thus enjoy the relatively fresh air and plenty of natural daylight. The hard-up have to take their chances in the crime-infested bowels where death lurks around every corner. Guess where you're going?

There's far more to this than sneaking around shooting people and collecting items. For a start, you're not alone; Project: Eden gives you a team of experts to deploy and worry about.

The team can be controlled as a group by issuing the simple "Follow me" command, or as individuals, and all their expertise will be required if you are to succeed.

The standard of artificial intelligence each member displays is surprisingly high. If they are attacked, they fire back, so you can leave 'em alone and not return five minutes later to find them smeared all over the scenery. The job of switching between all four members of a team is just a key press away.

Core has made things simple, but it hasn't made them easy. Project: Eden is an adult game and one written with more than just a bit of casual post-pub entertainment in mind. This title demands commitment but the scenarios are excellent, like the mission where one member of your team is trying to fix a piece of equipment but the bad guys are on the way. It's up to the other three to find ways of slowing them down.

You can switch between first and third person perspectives by pressing the "X" button. In first person perspective you can still see the character's body, a god-send for gamers like me who tend to suffer motion sickness after a bout of Quake or Unreal Tournament.

Eidos has a strong record on the PS2 so far. Project: Eden is another killer title that deserves to do well. Unfortunately, it lacks a flashy licence at a time when the shelves are groaning with FIFA, ISS, and Harry Potter games. One hopes it won't go the way of G-Police, a PSOne game that deserved better but got lost under a slew of lesser titles.

If you're planning to take a chance on one title this Christmas then this is the one.


Find Star Wars: Starfighter a bit of a handful on the PS2? Then select the Options screen and type in MiniMe for full invincibility.

Published: Friday, November 23rd, 2001