So it’s no surprise that the show has expanded into other media, not least the potentially lucrative video game market. There have been about as many Doctor Who games as there have been Doctors, but none of them have really captured fans’ imaginations. And so it’s against a backdrop of low expectations that Supermassive Games release The Eternity Clock, a co-operative side-scrolling platform-puzzler.
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston reprise their roles as the 11th Doctor and River Song respectively, and are joined by Nicholas Briggs, the iconic voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen. The actors deliver decent performances, although Alex Kingston sounds a little lacklustre compared with Matt Smith, who brings the same level of enthusiasm to this role as he does on the screen. Combine this with the show's iconic theme, and there are moments when you could close your eyes and believe you were watching an episode.
Sadly, in every other way, The Eternity Clock falls far short of what could have been.
There are a host of issues, but essentially they all boil down to the same thing: poor game design. The various delays that hit The Eternity Clock suggest that Supermassive Games and/or BBC Worldwide were aware there were problems and took some additional time to fix them, but if this is an improvement I shudder to imagine how the game played before.
Both the Doctor and River Song are controllable characters. The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver, which the player controls with the right analogue stick. Pointing it at various objects will provide the occasional hint, and you can use it to unlock doors via one of the many minigames.
The Eternity Clock is shameless in its rehashing of turgid, over-used minigame ideas: Matching waveforms, moving concentric discs to form a picture and rotating pipes in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Bioshock’s hacking (or Pipe Mania, for those of you old enough to remember). These are tedious, repetitive and lacking in any sense of reward as success is required for progression, unlike in many other games where they offer bonuses and the like.
Many of River Song's segments are hugely frustrating, due to a poorly implemented stealth mechanic. There's no escape once you're seen and whether you're seen is as much down to chance as skill. River is able to put guards to sleep or control their actions by kissing them using the hallucinogenic lipstick that's made a few appearences in the show. The general presentation of River is worth a mention. Rather than being portayed as a confident, independent woman capable of making the Doctor squirm as in the TV series, she's oddly oversexualised, especially in appearance.
It's during one of her sections that the game commits its worst offence: an almost game-breaking 'puzzle' of such stunningly atroicious design it deserves some kind of prize. I would usually avoid spoilers but in this case, it's worth mentioning what happens because it's so unintuitive, any reasonably logical person would probably give up. River is waiting in an office block for the Doctor when the Cybermen attack. It's impossible to get out and it's impossible to kill them with her gun. The solution is for River to wait on the top floor for the Cybermen to plod up the stairs and eventually smash some glass that allows River into a small office. Once you're in the office, there's one of those awful minigames, and it's entirely possible that the Cybermen will catch you while you're trying to complete it, although there is no way to know where they are while you're in the minigame. If that happens, you lose, and have to go back to the point that the Cybermen enter the building - meaning it's another three minute wait for them to get up the stairs again. It's utterly ridiculous.
Although that's the worst example, most of the puzzles in the game are equally uninspired. The Doctor spends most of his time climbing, moving blocks around or pushing buttons. The controls are extremely shonky. It'll often take more than one attempt to do something as simple as climb a ledge, because it is so difficult to position him where the game needs him to be.
Furthermore, if you're playing alone, you'll have to endure some truly woeful articifical intelligence. I was reminded a little of ICO, which I replayed recently. In that game, the computer controlled Yorda is often guilty of slightly odd behaviour, but in The Eternity Clock the AI is somehow worse, yet ICO is a game released more than a decade ago.
Co-operative play obviously removes that particular issue, but the local-only offering is generally just a parallel version of the single player game.
All of this could have been avoided if only someone at the BBC had called Telltale games. I defy anyone to play The Eternity Clock without the relentless sense that the real problem here is that the BBC licensed the wrong developer. If you've spent any time with the recent Back to the Future or The Walking Dead point-and-click adaptations of those franchises, you'll know what I mean. Simple, presumably inexpensive, but charming visuals that fizz with colour and character. High-quality dialogue, puzzles and story, and an episodic model that actually makes money.
It's baffling that anyone thought The Eternity Clock was good enough. It isn't. There's talk that this will be the first of a series of games but I hope that isn't the case. I don't believe there is enough quality in the engine, the assets or any other aspect of this game to form the foundation of a worthwhile sequel.
Please BBC, tear it up and start again. After all, reinvention is what the Doctor does best.
- Matt Smith's voicework is solid
- Basic gameplay, poorly executed
- Terrible AI
- Fiddly controls
- Tedious minigames
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock PS3 Review
There have been a number of Doctor Who games over the years, but none have been truly successful. Unfortunately, this side-scrolling platformer is another release best forgotten. Shockingly poor puzzles and dull minigames undermine Matt Smith’s solid voicework. One to miss.
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