Doctor Who is a beloved television series, most popular in the UK. Because it is such a well loved sci fi series with strong characters and great stories it has also had some amazing games over the years too. Titles such as…. well….. HEY! WAIT A MINUTE! ALL THESE DOCTOR WHO GAMES ARE TERRIBLE!
Why are Doctor Who games so bad? Its hard to say, but if I had to guess it would be that the humour and sheer British-ness of The Doctor are hard to translate to games where the primary activity is still combat. In his television incarnation The Doctor has never been about fighting, but rather thinking and problem solving. With The Eterntiy Clock though, Supermassive Games have tried to emphasize the cerebral aspects of The Doctors character with a game where he mainly runs from trouble and solves puzzles. Sadly, the resulting game is so bad they should have just made a cover based shooter.
In many ways the whole thing is reminiscent of the heyday of the SNES and Mega Drive when every film or TV adaptation would be a side scrolling platformer. With his sonic screwdriver in tow, The Doctor travels from one level to the next, thwarting the plans of enemies as evil as The Cybremen and The Daleks by running, jumping and solving puzzles. Lets start with the first major gameplay element: the platforming. Is it any good?
The answer is an unreserved no. Sticky and unresponsive, the developers haven’t got the fundamentals of running and jumping right and as a result it all feels a bit stiff and awkward. In many ways it harks back to something like Flashback or Prince of Persia, with the same realistic character moving through the game world a bit clumsily. It wouldn’t make sense for The Doctor to move like Ezio, but then its not fun to have him jump and climb like… well, a Doctor.
The puzzles are a bit stale too. Many are of the “rotate pipes to redirect stuff” type and as such are merely minigames you have played a thousand times before. Others involve sliding blocks to make stuff line up (I’m sure there are more technical names for puzzles) and are as much fun as they sound. I’m not much of a puzzle lover, but even I can see the difference between the innovative entries in the Layton games and the lacklustre efforts in The Eternity Clock.
For me the game progressed sedately but smoothly enough until the character of River Song appeared. As you play as this poor-mans-Catwoman, some truly awful 2D stealth sections follow. The problem here is that although you can only move in two dimensions your enemies can move (and see you) in all three. This means enemies that look like background decoration can see you and set off the alarm. Meanwhile, all sorts of routes and hiding placed that look completely valid exist as paths you can never get to. It is frustrating beyond words to see an enemy walk back and forth on a dimensional plane that you can’t, especially when a perfectly safe route exists that would allow you to sneak past but you can’t go there.
With the arrival of River Song the game quickly becomes a kind of co-operative experience with one character lowering a bridge or ladder or pulling a lever for the other to progress. It perhaps aspires to play like Trine, but the solutions are always so basic and the puzzles always have only one solution. When playing singleplayer they aren’t even puzzles at all because the AI is constantly telling you what top do as it takes on the role of whichever of the two main protagonists you aren’t controlling. The difficulty level is all over the place too, with one bizarrely difficult section early on involving electrified rails and marching Cybermen being ridiculously tough for no reason and requiring multiple tries through gritted teeth.
You might think that the games actual co-op mode would improve things but it doesn’t. You can’t just drop in to a game, you need to start a whole new one. Once you start playing together there are bugs and issues in abundance, and the game is played out in split screen. For a game that seems so clearly designed for co-op, its amazing how poorly integrated the multiplayer is. There’s no online co-op either.
There are a few high points. The original voice actors are present and do amazingly well with some truly awful lines. The quality of the writing is low, but the sheer talent of the cast makes it almost bearable, while the soundtrack cribs the best bits from the TV show. Its incongruous to hear such a bombastic score accompany such pedestrian gameplay, but at least you can let the game idle at the pause menu and enjoy.
Of course the whole game could have gained 3 points on the score if it had contained the Doctor’s ridiculously wonderful sidekick Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). It lacks a proper sidekick of any sort though, and River Song is a poor replacement.
When I started this game I had hoped that I would feel like The Doctor and go on amazing adventures filled with wit, charm and gorgeous female sidekicks. Instead my most engaging companion was a crate I pushed around. This is another pedestrian entry in the series of disappointing Doctor Who games. The only puzzle worth solving here is how it all went so very wrong.
3 (absent) amazing sidekicks out of 10