Game Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock
For anyone but casual gamers, it should be common knowledge that movie and television spin-off video games are notorious for translating into buggy and uninspired gameplay experiences. For every success (The Walking Dead), there are countless tie-ins that not only underwhelm as video game experiences (Battleship), they can outright undercut established enthusiasm for fan-favorite franchises (Star Wars Kinect).
For this reason, when Supermassive Games announced they’d be heading-up development on a full-fledged Doctor Who side-scroller/puzzle game, expectations weren’t exactly high. However, with the addition of motion capture performances and voice work from The Doctor himself, Matt Smith, as well as River Song, Alex Kingston, fans of the show began to hope that the title, dubbed Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, would (at the very least) deliver entertaining fan service.
While versions of the game are still en route for the PC and PS Vita, The Eternity Clock (and the TARDIS) has officially landed on PSN – and the result is, as expected, a mishmash of buggy and downright frustrating set pieces coupled with a number of fun puzzle mechanics and extremely enjoyable depictions of the series’ iconic characters. As a result, it’d be impossible to recommend the title to non-Whovians but, for players who love the series, frustrating (and repetitive) mini-games are mostly balanced with entertaining puzzles and enjoyable nods to the show.
Despite a stable of talented Doctor Who writers floating around the BBC, The Eternity Clock storyline is mostly an excuse for The Doctor to have run-ins with a number of iconic villains (such as The Silence, Daleks, and Cybermen, among others). While there is a competent narrative running through the game, fans who skip the title aren’t going to be missing out on an especially clever addition to the series canon. However, even though the storyline is pretty standard, a number of the puzzles and environments are punctuated with entertaining one-liners from The Doctor and River (plus loads of callbacks to events in the television series). As a result, unlike a lot of movie and TV tie-ins The Eternity Clock doesn’t come across as an ancillary experience – as it could easily fit-in as an interactive episode of the show (albeit one of the less memorable ones).
Additionally, thanks to Matt Smith’s motion-capture work for the game, running around as The Doctor is pretty satisfying – especially when using the right analog stick to whip the sonic screwdriver out (in order to scan the environment for clues). Playtime is split between The Doctor and River – with an option for split-screen co-op (no online). Unfortunately, River’s sequences (which trade-out the sonic screwdriver for hallucinogenic lipstick and a sonic blaster) are significantly less enjoyable. There’s a noticeable lag between button inputs in River’s sections that is less apparent, but probably still present, in The Doctor’s sections – due to the “combat” focus in much of River’s gameplay. Unfortunately, the River sequences are mandatory – so players who aren’t tackling the game in co-op will, from time to time, be forced to switch between the characters.
While there are sequences where players will have to avoid enemies in the side-scrolling environments, the majority of the challenge is in completing puzzles and minigames in a timely (to the point of frustration) manner. Plenty of the untimed puzzles are enjoyable enough – and require The Doctor (sometimes River) to manipulate items in the environment (as well as time) in order to reach an exit or destroy an obstacle. However, a number of the repetitive and downright frustrating minigames are couched in “action” events – meaning that, on top of the internal minigame time limit, players are often forced to maneuver around external threats as well.
As an early example, players must finish a “complete the circuit” style minigame – by rotating a number of signal conduits and connecting point A to B – all while an army of Cybermen march around the environment. In order to succeed players much lead the Cybermen away – then rush up to the minigame console – where they have to successfully complete two circuits before the enemies return to the area. In addition, there are two consoles – meaning that players actually have to finish a total of four circuits without dying (since the checkpoint resets to the beginning of the encounter). The worst part? Players have to wait for the Cybermen to shoot-open the console room, meaning that if River dies (which she will a number of times), gamers will have to wait about a minute for the Cybermen to blow-open the room again.
The frustrating encounters are compounded by game-breaking bugs that crop up all too often. In addition to a number of console-freezing events during my playthrough, when regaining control of The Doctor (after the aforementioned Cybermen encounter), River stopped following and stood frozen in a doorway. Meanwhile attempts to access the next section of the environment were met with the prompt “waiting for companion” – requiring a full exit of the level. Due to the lack of sensible checkpoints in the game, the glitch resulted in a reload back to the beginning of the aforementioned Cybermen section (which was even less fun the second time around).
Sadly, while the game provides the option for easy, medium, and hard puzzle difficulties, the setting only alters minigame complexity and does not affect the external challenges (i.e. they don’t appear to slowdown enemies or action-oriented time limits). As a result, there’s no “tourist” mode available for Doctor Who fans that don’t want a steep challenge and are mostly interested in the story (i.e. they want to blow through the gameplay sections with the least possible resistance) and it’s easy to imagine that casual gamers and younger players will hit roadblocks that trump their love of Doctor Who (and, subsequently, any interest in continuing the adventure).
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is an especially disappointing release because the elements that work will, no doubt, be enticing for fans of the show and could have drawn in plenty of non-fans as well. However, due to the number of overly frustrating gameplay scenarios, coupled with gamebreaking bugs at launch, it’s hard to recommend the title to anyone but the most dedicated Whovians – or anyone willing to invest their money upfront in the hopes that Supermassive Games will dedicate further development time to produce a multi-faceted patch.
If you’re still on the fence, or are just interested in seeing the game in action, you can check out the Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock launch trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews as well as other movie, TV, and gaming news.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is out now for PS3 (with PS Vita and PC versions planned for the future). Game Rant played the PS3 version for this review.