Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock Review
Game: Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: BBC Worldwide Digital Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3, Windows PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
I may fit into the demographic of people who grew up watching it during the Eighties, but I have never been a massive fan of Doctor Who. McGann-starring 1996 interlude aside, the show was off of our screens for the entire duration of my adolescence and ascent toward manhood. I have moved on since those childhood evenings watching Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy battling crap looking aliens whilst wearing fruity clobber, so when the show was dramatically relaunched in a blaze of Noughties glory, I was nonplussed, despite the presence of the always excellent Christopher Ecclestone. I have more or less been able to avoid the entire nu-Doctor Who phenomenon in its entirety, even though my kids are all huge fans. For the record though, considering I used to live in a bungalow, the Daleks did used to scare me a little when I was a nipper, I will give them that.
Despite being a long standing science-fiction stalwart, the Doctor has been extremely poorly represented in gaming terms. O.G Doctor Who had a couple of rotten outings on early home computers, including the woeful Mines of Terror, which was partially responsible for the death of legendary Acorn and BBC Micro developer Micro Power. Later on there was a universally panned Wii outing, whose only saving grace for nerdy fans of the series was a Sonic Screwdriver-themed Wii remote accessory. Further poorly implemented games ensued for DS and iOS, with the license seemingly shoehorned into often insultingly bad puzzle games.
The Eternity Clock, to begin with, appears to buck the trend of inferior Doctor Who games. There is your usual preposterous story, with the good guys on the lookout for pieces of the Eternity Clock, which has opened a hole in time and space that threatens to destroy the entire universe if it is not permanently sealed. With the Tardis currently conveniently plugging this rip in the space/time continuum, and a bunch of evil-doers also entering the mix to get their hands on the clock pieces, the Doctor finds himself facing off against a rogues gallery of classic Who baddies; including the Daleks, Cybermen and The Silence.
The action opens up promisingly in a superbly rendered Tardis interior. Matt Smith is on sparkling form with his voice work, and he really brings the Doctor character to life. Of course, you do need to be a fan of the show to understand some of the stuff he witters on about, but even I was impressed with his quirky performance. Later on, the River Song character is introduced, and she is similarly portrayed by her actress counterpart from the show, Alex Kingston. There are also some authentic enemy sounds. Gameplay is based around The Doctor’s rigid template of battling enemies against the odds, using only his intellect, his foppish charms and his Sonic Screwdriver. So far, so fan friendly. Die-hards would be appalled to see Smith suddenly pull out a shooter, or decide to carve open a Silurian like a tin of beans using a rusty penknife. The trouble is, the puzzle platforming format, which also incorporates some co-op and stealth elements, is just so boring, unimaginative and just plain outdated to strike a chord with anyone other than uber-fans of Steven Moffat’s TV series. The visuals also become very dull, very quickly, with unimaginative platforming locations and judder-filled animation.
Things really are basic – crate pushing, ladder climbing, platform jumping, lift operating – with things broken up by some stealth sections where you have to sneak past guards and sentries or avoid motion detecting lights that all move in the same patterns. Gameplay switches at intervals between The Doctor and River. The Doctor may have his Sonic Screwdriver to disable certain enemies, unlock doors and what have you, but he is pretty vulnerable and reliant on his brain rather than his brawn. River is an altogether feistier proposition, having the use of a stun gun and a curious lipstick that sends folk to sleep with a well-placed smacker.
The puzzles you need to complete to progress, or in some cases to disable your foes, are simple, such as linking a circuit together or completing a jigsaw, and sometimes the exact same puzzle is repeated several times throughout a level. Things could have been made more interesting if the co-operative gameplay had been given more thought. Some puzzles require both players to be present – such as one solving a puzzle while the other repels enemies – yet most of the co-op gameplay is played out in split screen fashion with each player having their own objectives to complete.
Completing the game, and unlocking all that it has to offer, is really dependent on how much of a Doctor Who fan you are. There are a ton of hidden hats for you to unlock; however, rather oddly, you are unable to change the headgear of your in game avatar. There are hidden diary pages that reveal some secrets and revelations courtesy of River Song. That is pretty much it. The game contains just enough show-based dialogue (including, I am led to believe, some spoilers) to be pretty much an essential purchase in that respect; it is just a shame that the platforming game itself is such a disappointment. The main bulk of the game will be pretty much impenetrable to anyone not already very familiar with the show.
VERDICT: My problem with how developer Supermassive Games have approached this license is that Doctor Who is not inherently a kick-ass hero. He is a cerebral chap, who would be more suited to something like a point and click adventure, or even a scaled down role playing game. Unless a platform puzzler is going to innovate and provide addictive, compulsive and, above all, original gameplay, then it is pointless, particularly in one so thin on action set pieces as the Eternity Clock. This is the first game in a proposed trilogy and while I admire some of what has been accomplished here, the developers need to do the TV hero justice in any sequel or sequels they may develop, and provide a quality vehicle for Matt Smith and his popular character.