Right from the start, you should know that I’m a big fan of Doctor Who – a lifelong “Whovian,” in fact. It’s important to know this because it might provide some additional context for my thoughts on Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, the new game based on the long-running, popular BBC science-fiction series.
Released earlier this week as a downloadable title for the PlayStation Network, The Eternity Clock is essentially a linear, 2-D platform and puzzle game that offers a wonderfully scripted, original adventure within the Doctor Who universe. Players alternate between The Eleventh Doctor (as voiced by current series star Matt Smith) and his partner and occasional paramour River Song (Alex Kingston), as the pair investigate a mysterious energy storm that’s wreaking havoc with time and space. As one might expect, The Doctor eventually crosses paths with some of his regular foes – in this case, the Cybermen, Silurians, Daleks, and Silence – and must use his wits and his handy sonic screwdriver to save the universe once again.
Despite being around for almost five decades now, Doctor Who has had a spotty history in the gaming world, so there was no small amount of anticipation surrounding the release of The Eternity Clock, which was billed as the first “mature” video game set within the show’s quirky sci-fi universe. And while the game’s narrative certainly delivers on that promise, some frustrating flaws prevent it from being the truly immersive Doctor Who experience fans were hoping for, and could make it a difficult entrance point for anyone unfamiliar with the series.
It’s Not Vertigo
First and foremost among the game’s problems is the occasionally sketchy, two-dimensional environment The Doctor and River Song are forced to navigate. It’s often difficult to judge the spatial relationship between objects and characters (player-controlled or otherwise), and you’ll find yourself walking off ledges, falling short during leaps, and having a frustrating time aiming The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and River’s blaster. The time constraints for many levels only exacerbate this problem, as you’ll find yourself wasting precious seconds trying to lock onto a target or retracing your steps after accidentally wandering off a platform.
On that note, you should be prepared to restart certain chapters over and over (and over and over) again as you get a feel for the timing and strategy required to complete each stage of the adventure. This is especially true for the timed levels, which demand a nearly flawless run through the stage and few mistakes – if any – on the puzzles you must solve to get from one point to another, no matter which level of difficulty you’re playing.
The puzzles themselves are a mix of familiar styles of minigames with a Doctor Who spin and some fresh, original puzzles that test your dexterity and strategic thinking. As with any game that relies heavily on minigames and puzzles of this sort, if you have trouble with a certain type of puzzle – especially the dexterity-testing minigame that’s invoked whenever you use your sonic screwdriver – you could find some levels particularly annoying.
A Thousand Words
Still, fans of Doctor Who will likely find that the game’s impressive script makes up for many of the technical shortcomings. Matt Smith provides a running commentary on nearly every major and minor event that occurs during the game, and there’s surprisingly little repetition in the dialogue from The Doctor and River. In fact, discovering what they’ll say next plays a big role in encouraging exploration of the environment and completion of each chapter.
There’s also an impressive level of detail in the game environments and characters that adds to the fan-friendly appeal of The Eternity Clock. Whether you’re moseying around the cluttered interior of The Doctor’s time- and space-traveling TARDIS or hopping around a future-version of London, there’s a tremendous amount of detail put into each and every corner of the environment – something that makes the linear, two-dimensional gameplay even more frustrating, since you’re unable to fully explore these great environments.
What little exploring you can do, however, is often rewarded with the discovery of collectibles hidden throughout the paths less traveled in the game. These collectibles take the form of hats – everything from The Eleventh Doctor’s fez to headwear worn by earlier iterations of The Doctor – and pages from River Song’s journal, which offer up some additional story elements as you assemble her book of “spoilers” gathered during her past (and future) adventures. The collection of hats is actually a lot more entertaining than it might seem, as Smith provides a humorous comment for each and every piece of headwear you discover, as only The Eleventh Doctor can.
The Eternity Clock also features a nice multiplayer element that lets a second player control River Song instead of leaving her to the game’s A.I. This can actually be a real help in some situations, as the A.I.-controlled River is prone to taking her sweet time when the pressure’s on, and occasionally getting stuck on a ladder or elevator, forcing you to restart the chapter.
At its best, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a game for fans of the series that makes up for many of its flaws with a script that puts you inside a brand new adventure with The Eleventh Doctor and River Song. The game succeeds in capturing the tone of the series and so much of what’s appealing about Smith’s take on The Doctor, and is by far the most authentic, enjoyable game for fans of the modern series that’s been made so far.
However, if you strip away the fan-friendly elements of The Eternity Clock, what you’re left with is a game with far too many problems to recommend to anyone without serious affection for the BBC series. While it’s a huge improvement over previous Doctor Who games, it’s clear that the BBC still has some work to do before fans get a game that succeeds as both a video game and an adventure with The Doctor. Fortunately, The Eternity Clock presents a lot of evidence that we’re closer than ever to the perfect Doctor Who game, so here’s hoping the BBC continues to build on the best parts of its latest interactive adventure with The Doctor.
Score: 6 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 on a copy provided by BBC Worldwide Digital Entertainment)