This ended up being a lot longer that I though it would. Bear with me.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a new video game released for the Playstation 3 system (and later this year, the Playstation Vita and PC), produced by Supermassive Games, the first in a planned trilogy. It features the Doctor and River Song (voiced by Matt Smith and Alex Kingston) trying to solve the mystery of the Eternity Clock, a device that seems to contain a record of all history (past and future). The Clock, for mysterious reasons, has broken up and scattered across time. And the fragments of the clock have fallen into the hands of some of the Doctor’s greatest enemies. It’s up to River and the Doctor to retrieve the fragments and restore the Clock… but should they?
Clock is a side scrolling game, with characters only going to the left and right, but sometimes swinging around a corner, giving the game a faux 3D feel. Single player mode has you switching between the Doctor and River, with two-player allowing both to function at once. Along the way, the Doctor can use his sonic screwdriver to scan objects and open doors, with River using her trusty laser pistol and hypnotic lipstick (sneak up on a guard and lay one on him to put him out of action for a few moments). The characters also run into a variety of consoles that start puzzles you must solve to make them work the way you need. Oh, and there are hats! Yes, hats for the Doctor to collect, 40 in all, spread throughout the game. The first possible hat is, naturally, a fez. Also collectible is a series of pages from River’s diary.
Doctor Who games have been notoriously difficult to pull off it seems. So, how does The Eternity Clock hold up? Weeeell…
The Good: Every aspect of the game that might be part of an actual episode were great. The story is a good one, with plenty of hopping between time zones in the same physical location, leading to our heroes slightly tweaking history to their advantage (like changing the past plans to London gas lines so that an inconvenient explosion blocking their progress will happen elsewhere). The script has plenty of wonderful, fully in-character dialogue for the Doctor and River, and the voice acting of Smith and Kingston does it justice. The game also looks pretty nice, albeit fairly static. And I’m not sure that River’s boobs are quite that big.
I also like the variety of enemies you get to fight/outwit. Cybermen, Silurians, the Silents, and the biggest damn Dalek you’ve ever seen! And the collectibles are fun (although why can’t the Doctor wear the hats he collects?). River’s diary has some interesting revelations, like her views on earlier incarnations of the Doctor (“Four: Good hair. Good hat. Has fourteen of those scarves. All the same. They take up a whole lot of room to themselves.” “Nine: Leather jacket. Funny accent. Big ears. And don’t mention the war!” “NOTE: Need to buy more mnemosine recall-wipe vapour. Can’t keep hopping into my sweetie’s life without it!”).
The Bad: The gameplay. Pretty much all of it.
The gameplay is, quite simply, painful to deal with. The puzzles, even on “easy” mode, can be terribly difficult and frustrating, especially when you’re dealing with a timed event. The game way too often doesn’t make it at all clear what you’re trying to accomplish (“Hold on, I’m shooting? What am I supposed to shooting at?!”), and you invariably die multiple times before you can figure it out. There’s also a lot of stealthing in the game and it is not well designed; it’s nigh impossible to make it through a sneak level without returning to checkpoints several times. I found myself raging quite a bit working through some of the more poorly designed levels.
In one level in particular, as River, you need to lead an army of slow-moving Cybermen to the top floor of a building so that they can smash open a room you need to access to open the security doors trapping you in said building. So… run up to the room aaaaand wait. And wait. And wait. An– oh, look, Cybermen! This way, boys, smash away! Oh, and you’re shooting at me, run! Go back down to the bottom floor! Aaaaand wait. And wait. And they’re here. Back up to the control room and go, go, go, solve the very frustrating puzzle quickly, while the Cyberdudes work their way towards you again! Yes! Done it! Just in time, here come the Cyberguys! Back down! Out the door! Thank God!
Except you die eight times trying to do the puzzle quickly enough and have to do it all over from the beginning. Ugh.
Multi-player doesn’t improve things much, with a horizontal split screen, with one character on each, sometimes in completely different environments, meaning a bit of a clash when dialog or music pop up from both at once. And all the initial problems are still there.
The Ugly: Holy mother of God, this is one of the buggiest games I have ever played. Dialog not playing when it’s supposed to (then running all at once when you hit a certain point), often bad AI and major glitches abound. I had to do the final boss fight no less than four times, not because I was having trouble with it, but because of bugs. Elevators on the Dalek spaceship didn’t show up, or worse, evaporated between floors, making the Doctor fall through the entire level, out into space and, eventually out of space and into nothing. Oh, and it crashed on me once, forcing me to redo one level over from the start.
Bottom line: I wanted to love this game. And I do love all the parts listed in “The Good”. But the rest of the game is largely unfun. Hopefully, Supermassive ups their game for the subsequent installments. I do wish Telltale Games (who gave us the excellent Back to the Future games last year) had the contract.
This is game is only a must if you’re a fairly hardcore DW fan, like myself. Otherwise, avoid.