Despite having material that writes itself as far as a video game is concerned, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock suffers from a host of game design flaws that prevent the game from being as enjoyable as being a Time Lord from Gallifrey ought to be. Doctor Who fans will likely enjoy the amazing voice acting from Matt Smith and the serviceable story, but the actual gameplay experience that’s offered is far too frustrating and ultimately fails to capture the immediate charm of the series. Who fans may be tempted to play the game out of their mere fandom, but just be prepared for a game that is so disappointing in its missed potential that it would likely drive the Master insane.
+ Matt Smith’s voice acting is out of this world as he still has the same energy and timing as he does in the show.
+ It may not be on a truly high-end level, but the visuals do a good job at depicting the characters and the landscapes that are featured.
+ Not entirely as clunky as a Russel T. Davies plot, the narrative provides some good moments and doesn’t feel like a complete throw away.
- Difficulty is way too high which makes for more frustrating moments then there are enjoyable ones.
- Tons of glitches and bugs are apparent ranging from the game crashing to events not being triggered.
- A.I. companion isn’t totally brain dead but sometimes has lead feet.
- Gameplay variety quickly falls into familiar patterns that aren’t that much fun to play.
Looking at a video game and figuring out where things went wrong can sometimes be fun but at the same time it can be equally depressing. We all want the video games we play to be fun, but sometimes things don’t fall into place as they should and a game is simply executed the wrong way. The concept of travelling to the far reaches of the galaxy and going either forward or backward in time was something that should’ve made a game based on the legendary BBC TV series Doctor Who be utterly amazing.
Honestly, with the amount of source material that’s around, both from the current season and the classic Who series, a good Doctor Who game should’ve been easy to make. But alas, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a game that will test the fandom of Who fans as it’s a painfully difficult and sometimes technically inept game that doesn’t do the good Doctor any justice.
Keeping in tune with the series, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock features a wibbly wobbly timey wimey plot that has the Doctor trying to save the world in a variety of different eras. Of course there’s a key element in the Doctor’s adventure which accounts for why some of his more memorable adversaries have returned outside of the convenience being that everyone wants to see the Daleks as opposed to the Slitheen. Without delving into the finer points of the narrative, The Eternity Clock does a nice job at juggling various plot strings even though there are time vortexes abound the direction of the game doesn’t lend itself towards a more “traditional” style of story exposition.
Even the inclusion of River Song in the game doesn’t make the story insufferable which is saying a lot since River has become quite annoying amongst the Who fanbase. Featuring the same witty and occasionally dense dialog that’s in the TV series, the story of The Eternity Clock is essentially the saving grace of the game. Ideally it would’ve been nicer if the narrative was focused in a few areas, perhaps focusing on one or two enemies and presenting a multi-arc narrative similar to a mini-series or two-parter, but with a heavy amount of fan service and the insurmountable charm of Matt Smith the game succeeds in building character and feeling like an actual extension of the series as opposed to feeling like a complete one-off that was written by someone who does Doctor Who fan fiction in their free time.
It also helps the story quite a bit that Matt Smith (The Doctor) and Alex Kingston (River Song) actually gave a damn about their performances. In an era where voice acting in games is at its peak, it’s still common to have a few games that feature ho-hum acting from film/TV actors who are good in their regular setting but just couldn’t turn in a good v.o performance for one reason or another. I don’t know if it’s because Matt Smith simply digs Doctor Who that much or perhaps is a bit of a gamer himself, but his performance, which is entirely based on his voice since the game doesn’t feature fancy performance capture ala L.A. Noire or Beyond, is amazing and easily ranks up there with his work on the actual TV show. Alex Kingston turns in a similarly good performance that thankfully doesn’t have the now annoying cheeky side of River which is simply played out. Besides that there isn’t much in the way of supporting roles but Matt Smith is able to carry the game on his talents alone.
When I say that the saving grace of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is the story I really mean that since the gameplay is a mixed bag that shifts from mediocre, bad, and so terrible that becoming a Cyberman may be a more enjoyable experience. It’s not the side-scrolling adventure game basis of The Eternity Clock that ruins the game but how it at times either fails to capture the spirit of what makes Doctor Who fun.
I think most people would associate Doctor Who with pure sci-fi adventure, not of the bang bang shoot em-up variety, but by exploring things, solving long unresolved puzzles, and getting out of sticky situations just in the nick of time. There are adventurous moments in The Eternity Clock, most of which have major issues I’ll get to later, but one thing that the Doctor becomes is an adept master of pushing blocks and manipulating walkways. We’ve all seen the Doctor use his intelligence to save the world in quite a few ways but in The Eternity Clock he uses some of his muscle to push lots and lots of boxes and other such pushable objects. It’s not that I have a problem with a game using some very basic game design, in this case pushing object a to reach point b, but in the case of the game it quickly becomes tiresome since so many of the core action aren’t terribly exciting.
In some ways the side-scrolling nature of the game does restrict what gameplay scenarios and actions can be played out, but developer Supermassive Games did try to mix things up but the end result isn’t that good. Aside from the infinite amount of box pushing, The Eternity Clock is essentially one part platformer/one part adventure game at its core but the sad thing is that neither of those elements are up to snuff. Platforming in the game feels inconsistent in how touchy it is and how the controls for certain actions require very precise things to be made such as waiting for an animation to stop before pressing a button to climb a ledge. Even more, seeing the Doctor do a series of back and forth wall jumps akin to the Prince of Persia did push my suspension of disbelief a bit too far.
As a game with co-op support the game is decent even if the much sought after co-op play is restricted to local play only. I don’t know why online co-op wasn’t supported as The Eternity Clock does lend itself more towards being played with a buddy, not just to enjoy a group sadomasochism session but because playing with an actual human being is better than the sometimes questionable A.I. companion. The A.I. for River is intelligent enough to do base co-op actions such as moving big structures or hitting switches, but sometimes I witnessed River suddenly begin to casaully walk during a Cybermen chase or aimlessly jump while riding an elevator. I didn’t find the A.I. to be too horrendous as it’s far from being a glitch ridden mess like other aspects of the game are, but it could still be better during certain sequences in the game.
It’s not as if Supermassive didn’t try to do some different things in The Eternity Clock to deliver an experience that has the brief moments of solitude and suddenly ramped up tension that an actual Doctor Who episode has. The problem with the game is that many of the elements are simply buggy or require a very precise pattern to be done that wasn’t even obvious when I first played a stage.
As the Doctor the chief gameplay mechanic is to run like hell from enemies and use the Sonic Screwdriver to open doors or complete puzzles. Door opening is a rather easy affair as it consists of matching up a series of wavelength looking things by moving the analog sticks.
Opening doors may be simple, but the game does have a few tricky sections in the form of various puzzles which never really repeat one another. Each featuring a unique visual appearance and theme, the puzzles don’t seem too random but at times they do immediately drag the game to a screeching halt since they all required me to pause the game and literally read a short tutorial so I would know what the hell to do. The puzzles themselves provide some nice brain busting moments even if a few of them simply consist of creating a path so energy can reach a source.
The puzzles in the game ultimately can’t save what is really a derivative mess that doesn’t feature enough in the way of exploration to warrant it a true Doctor Who adventure experience and has elements that feel forced in it i.e. the infamous box pushing sections. Aside from the rather basic puzzles there really weren’t any other ways to flex the muscle of my brain in a way similar to the Doctor. Even simple things like figuring out the weakness of an enemy in an inventive way or using the data obtained by the Sonic Screwdriver, which can be used at any time via the right analog stick, would’ve helped broke up the monotony of dealing with poor platforming sections.
The problem I quickly came across in The Eternity Clock is that the game really can’t sustain itself during the more “high-risk” sections that occur. It’s understandable that the Doctor can’t go mano a mano against a Cyberman or a Dalek, but constantly having to run away from enemies in faux chase sequences that are “enhanced” by the inclusion of puzzles or small platforming sections gets tiresome since those aren’t too good to begin with. Even worse, the game is actually riddled with glitches that in some cases prevented me from accessing a puzzle. So just imagine being near the end of a stage only to not enter a puzzle mini-game despite constantly pressing the square button. Hell, even upon killing myself in the hopes that the game would correct such a glitch the puzzle still wouldn’t activate, thus I had to redo a fifteen minute segment that consisted of running from Cybermen and hoping that two attacks from a Cybermat wouldn’t kill me.
The other thing about the game is that it can be painstakingly difficult at times. It’s always nice to play a game that requires a bit of challenge compared to other games which try too hard to appeal to the masses, but The Eternity Clock is like old-school difficult taken to the max, in a way that makes the game unbearable at times. Having to try out multiple ways to accomplish a mission is fine, but in The Eternity Clock is seemed as if every solution was almost hidden in such a way that the developers almost tried to be too smart and tailor the game in such a way that if you didn’t have the inside track on what to do then the only thing you’ll feel is resentment and pure anger. I personally wasn’t a fan of having to try multiple Cybermen and Silence encounters multiple times to get them right, but even those who do enjoy such things may grow wary of the game design logic that’s employed as it can be idiotic at times.
Above the shoddy gameplay and design flaws which will have enemies stuck in walls sometimes, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a rather visually pleasing digitally distributed title. Not too many areas of the game utilize the 2D perspective to highlight a stunning silhouette or vista, but graphically the game does an adequate job at giving a decent scope to some of the more fantastical areas which does lend it that special Doctor Who vibe that we all cherish. There are a few areas that fall flat thanks to modeling that isn’t of the highest quality, but The Eternity Clock certainly isn’t held back by visuals that can’t match the world of Doctor Who as it instead surpasses the show in what it accomplishes.
As much as I wanted to enjoy Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, I was ultimately let down by the game as it’s buggy, difficult as hell, and ultimately grows to be repetitive. My disappointment in the game doesn’t lie in how it doesn’t include a cameo by the always entertaining Captain Jack Harkness, but rather in how the game has the foundations for something special but never really capitalizes or excels in one category to provide a fun but flawed experience. It’s nice that we finally have a Doctor Who game on the PS3 and PlayStation Vita, but I hope the BBC and Supermassive Games learn from this experience to possibly give us the Doctor Who game we as gamers DESERVE to receive as opposed to one that will be quickly forgotten about.