Doctor Who is without question one of the most influential television series in existence. The show’s nearly fifty years old now and has gone through some radical re-generations in that time. We currently get to watch Matt Smith play Doctor and tell us all about how cool bow-ties and fezzes while abhorring violence, nonchalantly flipping a sonic screwdriver around in his hand and saving the world in less than an hour.
The first spin-off game in 1983 and all subsequent releases since haven’t really let people experience Doctor Who in a truly immersive, interactive environment that does the expansiveness of the show’s as-life universe justice. Most episodes of the television show seem to encapsulate that feeling of infinite exploration even when confined to the smallest budget sets. It’s about time there was a videogame that similarly captures that same wonderment.
Shame that the episodic Adventure Games series released a year or two ago are as close as the BBC have got in reciprocating the show quality in videogame format. While they’re still a far cry from what fans truly want from a Doctor Who videogame tie-in, they’re still better in almost every aspect to the messy, broken puzzle-platformer that the BBC and Supermassive Games have coughed up for us this year.
One afternoon with The Eternity Clock was enough for me. Once the paltry campaign was behind me and thus the entire game’s content was exhausted the disc went straight back into its case. Even if interested in acquiring the few in-game collectibles and trophies left after story completion, there’s little to no incentive to put the disc back in your console and fight your way through the issues for a second time.
The Eternity Clock’s redemptive qualities are not just few and far between but enjoyable only the first time around. A second playthrough will only serve to make the technical issues all the more frustrating to deal with. The faithfulness to the show structure is apparent but Whovians can only appreciate this intermittently as they struggle to overlook the stack of cons that overwhelm, not least in the middling story and sub-par visuals.
At least the pre-chapter TARDIS scenes allow Matt Smith and Alex Kingston to offer up some great vocal work, and the motion capture technology at work can at least attempt to do the exuberant mannerisms of The Doctor some justice. Once you step outside of the ship though, you get to experience drab environments with very quickly tedious puzzles and dull action sequences that strike close to home with the argument that a non-violent protagonist doesn’t work in an action-adventure game.
Actions do speak louder than words with The Eternity Clock and in spite of the zippy, well-scripted dialogue exchanges between The Doctor and River Song the action is a tepid sequence of disenchanting, problem-rife 2.5D platforming schlock. The environmental puzzles are largely uninspiring, failing to strike the balance between accessibility for the young and challenge for the old: some puzzles are insultingly easy while others are infuriatingly punishing. At least the developers had the sense to give River a gun to play with: her ability to stun and the Doctor’s ability to wave a sonic device around to open doors and move platforms adds something to the co-op play at least.
It’s advisable if you do choose to play this through to completion that you rope in someone to play this alongside you since the friendly AI becomes increasingly incompetent and prone to ignorance. Several puzzles will put you up against the metaphorical clock to complete them before being killed by a Cyberman or a Dalek or whatever else is rattling off a short list of menacing one-liners while slowly working their way towards you. A bemusing design choice but one that was perhaps inevitable given that the ‘flight not fight’ ethos of the Doctor creates the need for you to use your mind to defeat enemies: acceptable perhaps, were it not for the lack of puzzle randomization.
There are a few puzzles that you have to solve via terminals and such but once you’ve learnt how to solve them it’s simply a case of remembering what pattern they each follow. Playing through on Hard won’t hide this oversight sadly, since the puzzles just become a little bit more arduous and longer, reducing the amount of margin for error you have. You do a fair bit of running away from enemies before being given the chance to destroy them; the lack of much wiggle room on the hardest difficulty at least keeps the tension felt from racing around going.
What does really take away from the tension and pacing of the game are the persistent glitches and technical problems which plague the experience start to finish. Several restarts were required on my individual playthrough: issues ranging from invisible enemies – not the Silence though, that invisible enemy type is subversively something the game makes surprisingly effective use of – to texture clipping and getting stuck in objects and walls. An almost non-existent checkpoint system meant that on several occasions – either due to forced restarts or poor game design coupled with these glitches – my progress was severely hampered as I’d be forced to redo large chunks of chapters again, compounding the boredom felt solving the puzzles and navigating through the mediocre platforming sections.
What makes things just that extra bit worse is that there’s barely a story to help try to hold this all together. The narrative sees an amalgamation of some of the Doctor’s numerous foes individually trying to take swipes at him while he scampers evasively around the place. Fanciful jargon a-plenty is used to add a little Who-style faux context to the events transpiring but it’s all a little confusing and convenient at times, a story about a device of some kind that records all history and could potentially unravel it if baddies get their grubby mitts on it a scapegoat for famous show foes to appear and say a couple of catchphrases. At least the enemies don’t succumb to the erratic visuals that mess with the faces of The Doctor and River and rough up the environments some; the Daleks in particular remain glossily intact.
Constructed like a one-off webisode and showing a disconcerting lack of care and attention, this is not the Doctor Who game counterpart the television show deserved. If the BBC are serious in wanting to bring this franchise to major consoles they need to try harder because The Eternity Clock is not up to scratch, not by a long shot. This may well be the first of three games in a series: if that’s the case, Supermassive Games and the BBC have a lot of work to do…