A few years ago, when I was a young and inexperienced gamer, I rented out the Little Britain video game. Lou and Andy, the only gay in the village, and the computer that says ‘no’- why wouldn’t you want to spend eight dollars and a couple of days playing that? Because it’s total, unmitigated crap, that’s why. Since that Saturday afternoon it’s taken years of heavy drinking, intense therapy, and scalding hot showers, just to erase the memories and feel slightly human again.
You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson. But, no. When I heard that another favourite Brit programme had a game coming out, I was first in line. I should have known better. While Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is not the steaming puddle of fetid donkey vomit that was the Little Britain game, it’s still pretty crap.
Starting in the Tardis, the Matt Smith version Doctor lands on Earth amid an alien invasion and the probable end of everything. If you’ve seen the programme (of course you have), you’ll know the deal. The Doctor, along with River Song, who is playable in both single and two-player mode, skips around London, and history, fighting familiar enemies in the hope of saving England and the universe.
There is nothing wrong with the premise. It’s all as it should be - the theme music, the patois, the unlikely escapes when everything all looks hopeless. It’s another Doctor Who episode, with the Doctor as witty and likeable as ever. It all should/could have been so good. While it’s not broken, not totally unplayable (like Little Britain) it’s dated, frustrating, over-priced, and short on content.
Leaving the Tardis, you take control of the Doctor in the vaults beneath the Bank of England. It’s a two-dimensional platformer, which occasionally allows you to duck in and out of the background. Although a number of downloadable games have done the 2D side-scrolling thing recently, and done it really well, Doctor Who just feels bland and restrictive. For the first half-hour of the game all you do is climb ladders and push boxes around. More than thirty dollars and over a gig of memory to push boxes around and climb up ladders. If the developers Supermassive Games had got in their Tardis, gone back in time, and released it at the same time as the original Tomb Raider game, it still would have been bland, dated, and a disappointment.
To be fair it isn’t all climbing and pushing. There are a number of puzzles you have to solve when it’s time for the Doctor or River to unlock doors and hack computers. The puzzles are fairly straightforward. Like spinning disks to complete a circuit, or playing a faux-version of dominos. They are simple enough, at least until the game starts placing random time constraints on everything.
A few levels into the game River is trying to break into a computer while avoiding Cybermen. There are four floors in a area that’s about two screens high by two screens wide. To begin with you have to wait while the Cybermen stomp slowly up to the top floor, break into the computer room, and leave, so River can get in there to hack the system. There’s nothing you can do about this, every time you start the level you just have to wait. It seems like five minutes the first time around, and like five hours by the tenth.
The reason you have to play it so many times is, when you’re trying to crack the mini-game, or even when you’re reading the instructions about how to play the mini-game, the Cybermen catch you. Even if you get them to follow you downstairs, and then take the elevator up, they’ll get you. You might have thirty seconds, or a couple of minutes, there’s no way to tell. Once you’re in the mini-game you don’t know how long you’ve got. It’s frustrating being on the clock, but without any idea about how much time you have to complete a task.
Also, River’s gun can only freeze the Cybermen for a couple of seconds, even though they can shoot you from off screen and the background. And, there is no way to recover health so, if you get shot, you’re done, and it’s back to the beginning again.
It’s frustrating. More so because the easy bits are so repetitive and simple, while the tricky bits are random and insane. Add to this no online, hardly any collectables, no Amy Pond in her ‘I’m not a stripper, I’m a kissogram’ uniform, and a two-player mode that’s only value is avoiding the terrible AI, an AI that sees you constantly standing around waiting for River to catch up so you can unlock a door before an army of security guards catch you.
The best bit about the game is that I’ve finally learnt my lesson. While the Brits might make some good telly, they need to take a few tips from networks like Nickelodeon when it comes to video games. I still have warm fuzzy memories of Rugrats and Spongebob games. So never again will I voluntarily play a game based on a British television programme.
Unless they make a game of Sherlock. That would be awesome. Wouldn’t it?