Review: Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock (PS3)

Title: Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.45 GB) (US) / Blu-ray Disc (EU)
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Publisher: BBC Multimedia
Developer: Supermassive Games
Original MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is also available on PlayStation Vita and PC.
The PlayStation Network version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 273 of the podcast.
273

Most people In the US know Doctor Who as that quirky British sci-fi show on PBS in the 70’s and 80’s. With the blue Police Box, Tom Baker’s mop of hair and iconic hat and scarf, low budget special effects and alien makeup etched in people’s brains.

The show started in 1963 and has since become the longest running science fiction show in television history. The series was on hiatus for much of the 90’s until a revival in 2005 brought the Doctor back to bigger ratings than ever.

With this new wave of excitement, the BBC is putting The Doctor into games once again. Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock marks his first time on a PlayStation platform (in the US anyway) and for fans, the anticipation was high. So what the hell happened?

Gameplay:
The BBC put The Doctor in the hands of Supermassive Games, developers of the PlayStation Move games Start The Party and Tumble and opened up the vaults giving them access to the library of Doctor Who lore. It would appear that a big budget and time were not part of the equation however.

The game is a side scrolling puzzle platformer with deep backgrounds much like Shadow Complex on the Xbox 360. The limited movements of the characters quickly hamper the game along with dodgy collision detection and a poor AI companion. You’ll play as both the current incarnation of the Doctor and the mysterious River Song. As a single player game, you’ll be switching back and forth between the characters when necessary. When in co-op mode, each plays out their own part of the story.

Problems abound in the single player campaign as especially shoddy AI and controls can really hamper your progress. You’re dependent on River to keep up with you early on while trying to escape the Cybermen in the tunnels of the London Underground and quite often, she won’t.

The first issue arises with River simply wandering along at her own pace, sometimes not even following you. You need her to progress in the level by giving her a boost over high walls where she can then reach down and pull you up. When she finally gets to the wall, one button is used to kneel down and give a boost as well as reach up to get pulled over the wall. You’ll waste precious seconds watching The Doctor make the wrong move over and over as you try to get over the wall.

The frustration only grows from there. Poor checkpoints abound so you’ll be playing through long, frustrating stretches of the game over and over due to the bad controls and AI. Puzzles come into play in the form of circuits that need to be completed and frequencies hit with The Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver. Unfortunately, the puzzles are also quite buggy, not always registering when you do it right, leaving you to start again from the beginning. The entire game is an exercise in frustration.

While The Doctor has his Sonic Screwdriver, River has a laser pistol that’s pretty useless. It has little to no effect on enemies or the environment in general, often being used only to break a very specific spot open.

There are a number of collectibles to find, hats for The Doctor and diary pages for River. While the diary pages do eventually piece together a story, it’s almost not worth looking for them with all the control problems this game has.

Visuals:
Things look pretty good throughout the game and this is certainly one bright spot in an otherwise sub par effort. The character designs are also excellent. The Doctor, River Song are great representations of the actors while the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Silence and many other Doctor Who villains make an appearance looking spot on.

Environments are nicely detailed to immerse you in the situation. Being a 2D platformer set in a 3D world gives the backgrounds extra depth and life. Enemies will even be moving in the background and often taking shots at you from there. There are some neat camera tricks when you turn a corner and the entire world rotates to put you on a new path heading towards that background.

Audio:
Great and terrible at the same time. How is this possible? How is anything possible in this game. Supermassive was given access to Matt Smith and Alex Kingston who play The Doctor and River Song in the series. The downside is that it sound like they had them in the sound booth recording lines for about twenty minutes. There’s a lot of repetition in the game and it crops up in the first level, never a good sign.

All the sound effects and distinct voices of the Doctor Who universe and enemies are exactly what you’d expect to hear. This is one of the bonuses of working directly with the BBC. When the game started and I heard the Doctor Who theme song and big grin spread across my face… one that was quickly wiped out by the spotty controls minutes into the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
While there are no online modes, local co-op is available. If you have someone to play with, this goes a long way to making the game a better experience. With this, you’ll only be fighting the poor controls and not the crappy AI.

You’ll be playing the game split screen top and bottom and for a lot of it you’re playing different levels or even different parts of levels until the two stories intersect. It’s an interesting choice but it actually works pretty well unless one player is much better than the other and is left waiting for them to catch up. All in all though it’s not too bad.

Conclusion:
I had so much hope for a Doctor Who game, especially one that used most of his biggest and baddest enemies. Unfortunately, it feels like the game was underfunded and rushed to market which is a real shame. With a property as big as Doctor Who, you’d think they’d want to put a little more effort into the game. Instead, it comes across feeling like the cardboard sets and shoddy costumes of the Doctor Who series of the sixties and seventies without any of the charm.

Score:
4.5

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