Doctor Who: The adventure game: Episode one: City of the Daleks review

Posted on June 19, 2010 by

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There hasn’t been a Doctor Who game in a while. Thirteen years, in fact, since Destiny of the Doctors (That top trumps thing doesn’t count). This is because Doctor Who doesn’t really lend itself well to the modern video game formula- lots of shooting/stabbing/rolling things up into a really big ball. This isn’t Doctor Who’s fault, it’s the games industry, which has steadfastly been trying to kill the one genre that fits the story-telling of DW- Adventure games.

They started dying out in the mid-nineties, with a few slipping in under the radar, like Discworld 2: Missing, Presumed…? and The Secret of Monkey Island, but for the most part video games these days are dominated by games that allow players to do more than ‘point and click’, although this increase in interactivity has always struck me as coming at the significant loss of plot, to the point where many video game plots are now little more than B-Movie equivalents.

Doctor Who: The Adventure game: Episode one: City of the Daleks brings back the genre in blinding style.

Hailing a cab hasn't gotten any easier.

The first of several downloadable ‘episodes’, the first thing you notice is that the game is completely kosher in every way. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan lend both theirs voices and their likenesses to the game, and each of the episodes canonically takes place within the current series, which lends a real sense of something bigger to the plot, although no mention is made throughout the first episode that I can see of the cracks in time.

For a free game- yes, these episodes can be downloaded from the BBC website for free, but only in the UK so far (Slated for a commercial release outside the UK soon, presumable after all the episodes have been released) there is a surprising amount of depth. The plot of the episode- featuring the new ‘Hunchback’ Daleks trying to alter the path of history, goes on for much longer than I had expected, coming in at about twice the length of the average DW television episode.

The plot is this- The Doctor and Amy arrive in 1963, planning to go and meet the Beatles and just generally explore. When they step out of the TARDIS, they find London in ruins, ruled over by an army of Daleks. After some time finding out what happened in London, The Doctor and Amy head off to Skaro (Homeworld of the Daleks), landing in their capital city, Kaalann, which should be in ruins after the Time War, but has been rebuilt by the new Daleks. The nefarious Daleks are using a natural phenomenon (which used to be controlled by the Time Lords until everybody died) to alter time. Amy and The Doctor must reverse the alterations and return Earth to it’s original state before Amy fades away like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.

Swinging London.

The gameplay is somewhat basic- you control both the Doctor and Amy by running around and investigating objects, solving puzzles (which I’ll talk about in a moment) and just generally moving on to the next story-objective. You can bring up the sonic screwdriver to interact with objects, and occasionally you’ll have to collect multiple items and combine them into a new tool or device to get past an obstacle.

Graphically it’s brilliant, the highest graphics settings actually slowing down my top of line Mac, which has played Crisis at full whack without so much as a groan of protest. The characters really do look like ever-so-slightly cartoonish versions of themselves, although facially they aren’t very expressive. The visual effects are all good, setting up a nice atmosphere, although there was one tiny design that fazed me- The Doctors Sonic Screwdriver emitter is blue here, not green. I presume this is because production of the games started before the actual prop was fully ready, working on prop designs instead, which is probably why you don’t see much of the TARDIS interior during the game, either.

Bow ties are cool.

The music is taken directly from Murray Gold’s composition for the series, as well as some tracks from his previous scores, though it didn’t seem that there was any original music scored for the game itself.

Puzzles make up a big part of any adventure game, and Doctor Who is no different. It’s puzzles are pretty basic, though- move objects through a maze without touching the walls, line up symbols to match those coming up on a screen, and a few ‘connect these wires without crossing them’ puzzles. Now, I don’t know if it’s just the version I played (The Mac version, which came out about a week and a half after the PC version, isn’t it always the way?) but there wasn’t a huge amount of fine-mouse control, the sensitivity could be altered, but it was always just a little bit too much or not enough, and I do have to wonder why games today designed entirely to be used on a computer don’t match up their mouse sensitivity to your own settings. The point of the mouse-rant here is that it makes one of the puzzles- the drag objects through a maze without touching the walls puzzles, incredibly annoying. Especially after the third time you’ve gotten two of the objects into place, and the third one gets buzzed just before you reach its slot and you have to start the whole thing over (Professor Chonotis loved that bit).

The result of excessive puzzling.

Aside from occasionally frustrating puzzles, I really liked this game, and I suppose given that it’s free, and otherwise utterly excellent, I really shouldn’t complain. I assume that with the episodic nature of the games, improvements are going to show up across the board over time, and I sincerely hope to see more of these, the geek in me hoping for future games featuring past doctors as well. If you’re desperate for your DW fix while waiting for the series finale, you can do far worse than downloading Doctor Who: The Adventure game.

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Posted in: Games