REVIEW: The lull between the sixth and seventh seasons of Doctor Who is beginning to wear on fans of the series, and Supermassive Games may have created a way to stem the separation anxiety.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is the first in a new series of BBC-endorsed console games featuring everyone's favourite Time Lord. Game adaptations of existing media have seen varying amounts of success, and while the Doctor has had no lack of exposure in games in the past, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock appears to be the first real crack at a proper Doctor Who game. In fact, the BBC shelved its Doctor Who: The Adventure Games series earlier this year in order to focus their attention to this.
This is a title that has been designed to tap into the cross section between the console market and the Doctor Who fan. It manages to capture the wit and charm of the source material, however it struggles in the execution.
One of the most important things to get right in games that borrow heavily from an established source is to make it seem canonical, seamless and an extension of the fictional world. This game manages to capture an authenticity of character by using the actors for the current Doctor and his on-again, off-again companion, River Song. They are played by actors Matt Smith and Alex Kingston respectively. Even the Daleks and Cybermen have the television actor portraying them. This makes sure that the voice acting is realistic, the motion capture smooth, and the faces looking like their television series counterparts.
The game's writing, contributed by show writers from the BBC Wales team, has the required quirkiness, and the delivery, especially by Matt Smith, is positively giggle inducing. The levels are peppered with enough humorous quips that it's almost possible to forget about the frustrating mechanics.
Charm only gets even Doctor Who so far, and where it falls down is not wit, but gameplay. The game is set on an entirely 2D plane, and this becomes jarring when there is so much that could be explored, but is not available. Instead of feeling like the brilliant Doctor, the experience becomes more like being a guinea pig running through a maze, facing a series of tests including, 'Don't get shot by the Cybermen' and 'Let's see you use your Psychic Paper, and maybe waggle around that Sonic Screwdriver for a bit'.
Eternity Clock's responsiveness is also an issue. During stealthy segments, the NPCs will glitch and cause them to falsely stand alert, or not revert back to their initial movement cycles, effectively leaving no way through and requiring the player to restart the level. The game has the option of cooperative multiplayer which might be useful in preventing some programming mishaps, however when the AI is controlling River Song it is sometimes a gamble as to whether she will help or inadvertently kill the Doctor.
Most of the platforming elements become tiring after a while, repeatedly climbing ladders, pushing crates, and shimmying along pipes with only a little lever operated elevation to break it up. The puzzle portions are fun, but provide little challenge, however the option to set the difficulty to a higher or lower level exists. The time travel aspect is also well implemented, and the multiple time periods in which London is experienced all seem different enough to not feel like a rehash.
The game has been developed for the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita, with a PC version to be announced sometime in the future. Of these consoles, the game would feel most at home on the Vita, as the lack of free movement makes it feel wrong on a larger screen. The impression is of a blown-up iOS game rather than a game developed and designed for the PlayStation 3 console.
As this is a Doctor Who game, it is to be expected that it feels like his world, and while the actors do their best with sharp dialogue and energetic delivery, Doctor Who: The Eternal Clock falls short of providing an interesting gaming mechanic that could multiple playthroughs, or even the incentive to finish the first. This is definitely one for the fans, but anyone only sitting through it for Matt Smith may be better off cuddled up on the couch, with Season 6, and some fish sticks and custard in hand.
Ups: Characters and writing stay true to the original material. Puzzles provide a fun deviation from otherwise boring platforming mechanics.
Downs: Limited by its linear levels. Levels feel repetitive and buggy. Not suited towards a larger console audience. Does not hold much appeal to a wider audience.