FREELANCE WRITER. JOURNALIST, AND SCRIPT READER – FAN OF SCI-FI AND CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVES – YSTV'S BEST DRESSED MEMBER 2013

Thursday, 12 July 2012


With adventures across all of time and space, iconic heroes and villains, and the attention brought in by a major international brand, surely it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect the combination of Doctor Who and video gaming to be, you know, good.

Yet, given the output so far, it seems that such hope would be a bit optimistic. The Eleventh Doctor's era has seen a rise in tie-in products, though not an overwhelming amount of quality. A Wii title here, an iPhone distraction there; all generally received as mediocre.

The better end of this market so far was the Adventure Games, downloadable for free from the BBC's website. Marketed as interactive episodes of Doctor Who, the series lived up to that promise, with fun stories that utilised the aliens of the series well and made a good attempt at mimicking its structure within the format of a third-person puzzler. Sure, the gameplay wasn't perfect and the stories weren't quite up to the standard of the TV episodes, but Sumo Digital got the mix of all necessary elements about right, with the games improving as the series progressed. The fifth and final, The Gunpowder Plot, was by far the strongest, having a complex and compelling story (the last act of which was a bit too ridiculous, admittedly) with the Doctor Who mix of history, humour and adventure. It was even educational, dispensing snippets of history regarding Guy Fawkes and his lot, without seeming patronising or distracting to older players.

However, only coming in small instalments, the Adventure Games left us still waiting for that perfect Who game that would live up to the brand's full potential.

Late last year, a new Doctor Who game was announced: The Eternity Clock, from Supermassive Games. And this one would be on PS3, which is good, because I have one of those. I'll admit that the trailers made me a little bit giddy. A proper console-based time travelling adventure! Would this finally be the good Doctor Who game?

Well...

No.

The game begins with the Doctor finding his TARDIS caught in a time maelstrom - yep, one of those buggers - and being pulled to a vault in the Bank of England. Then, finding himself in a sewer with a locked door, his first instinct is to call River Song on one of those phones that sewers have and make her travel a few thousand years back in time to unlock the door for him. Everything goes downhill from there, as River and the Doc discover that the Cybermen, Daleks, Silence and Silurians are all invading London in different time periods and have each taken possession of a piece of the eponymous Eternity Clock, a "hard drive for time".

Yes, a "hard drive for time". And yes, the game involves four invasions of Earth centred around London. That sentence encapsulates the two most disappointing elements of the story. 

One: four invasions of Earth. In none of these cases do we learn anything about the villains' motivations, nor do they serve any narrative purpose other than box-ticking on the 'Classic Villains' list. If the series has recently been moving away from repetitive massive scale invasion stories, The Eternity Clock does a damn good job of making up for it, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in as a poor attempt to cover up any hint of interesting or cohesive storytelling. The aliens are led by the most pantomime of evil masterminds - "You will die" being the deepest and most meaningful line spoken by anyone - while the Doctor and River bounce between these set pieces through the use of absolutely no logic at all. At one point, they encounter a wall covered in tally marks (by whom they were scribbled is never revealed) and remark that the Silence must be present, before the Doctor disappears and reappears 300 years later, commenting that the Silence "separated them through time". If anyone understands this scene, have a biscuit from me. There are many more like it. The Adventure Games were scripted by writers who'd actually written for the show. This wasn't. And it shows.

Two: centred around London. Bloody London. Every other episode, and a few more, of the TV series in the Russell T. Davies years was set in London, and, let's be honest, it got samey. At least there was a budgetary reason for stories to be confined to recognisable British settings; making a video game that doesn't have to be filmed in actual real places is not the same. Isn't it obvious that there's a lot more fun to be drawn from adding variety to the settings? Exotic alien worlds, anywhere in history... even Derby would be more interesting than London again, and wouldn't cost a penny more for the developers. Pretty stupid not to use that major advantage over those producing the show. There was one level in Stormcage, which I liked.

The gameplay is also rubbish. Though the Adventure Games' third person style worked well, I didn't initially have a problem with The Eternity Clock being a side scroller. I am, after all, a LittleBigPlanet fan. The problem is that the side scrolling is, unlike in the entertaining adventures of Sackboy, painfully and awkwardly obvious. There are so many points where I found myself wanting to shake the Doctor by the tweedy shoulders and demand that he just walk round the fucking crate. This even applies to the enemies - who knew that you could make a Dalek stop shooting you by walking behind a wall that you'd think it would be able to go behind too? Plus, on the off chance that this tactic doesn't work, no big worries, as the most evil race in the universe have an attention span of less than five seconds, apparently. That's the iPod generation for you. 

If this is all sounding a bit negative, you may enjoy the series of mini-games based around the computers that the Doctor has to hack into every few minutes, or the boss battles, neither of which are repetitive, formulaic, or just plain shit. Oh alright, yes they are.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that The Eternity Clock is as buggy as a Tritovore's trousers. From dialogue popping up at the wrong point to lifts not doing any lifting to computer-controlled River failing at walking, there's a wide array of glitches to get your complaining teeth stuck into. And the save points... oh, the save points. The game gives no indication as to where you can start from again after quitting (usually out of frustration), meaning that, on three occasions, I had to redo large portions of levels. Once, the Doctor and River returned to the TARDIS after bashing up a Cyberfactory. This section in the TARDIS seemed like a logical point to finish for the night and   escape into sleep. Little was I to know that I'd have to redo the whole damn Cyberfactory. Which is just not on. Supermassive Games have said they're working on a patch to fix this, but really, it's such an obvious problem that I can't understand how the game was released as it is.

I also don't like the cutscenes, which are presented in such a dull and clunky manner which most video games grew out of after, I don't know, Playstation 2 came around? Stilted character animation, long pauses between lines... to be honest, there were Game Boy Color games that did cutscenes better.

Positive points? Well, the game does have its fun moments. I did enjoy sonic blasting the Silence in a fun rip-off of the Day of the Moon climax, for example. And the new Teletubby Daleks somehow don't look as offensively naff in video game form.

Overall, however, it's rubbish. But it's Doctor Who so I played it anyway.

So. Another failure to add to the roster of Doctor Who games that are failures. The Adventure Games remain the best attempt so far and I'd like to see how they'd develop with a second 'series', perhaps with lengthier episodes in the vein of The Gunpowder Plot, but, alas, they've been cancelled. And we're getting more of The Eternity Clock. Sigh. I don't doubt that Supermassive will be able to improve on their first game and iron out some of the technical issues, though the way they're going in terms of storytelling isn't filling me with any excitement at all.

I'll end this post wth my idea for a Doctor Who game I'd like to see - a Dragon Quest VIII/Rogue Galaxy style third person RPG in which you create and play as an original companion in an adventure spanning a variety of planets and historical locations. The Doctor and River Song join your party and are playable, but don't take precedence over the main character. An original main villain with an interesting story thread connected to the lead character. Appearances from well known enemies where appropriate, but without a single massive invasion of Earth centred around London. Someone make this please.

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