Doctor Who: The Adventure Game: Episode 4: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada Review

Posted on January 10, 2011 by


That’s right folks, it’s that time again- Poorly made Doctor Who Adventure game time!

Adventure games lately have been frankly… disappointing (I’ll get onto Telltale Games’ Back to The Future game another time). The last Doctor Who episode- TARDIS, was slow, stupid, pointless and a massive letdown. I know when I started reviewing these free downloadable games I said I would try not to be harsh on them because, hey, they were free!


(and it’s a big but, I cannot lie)

-These games have gotten progressively worse over time, which I’m fairly certain is not something that’s supposed to happen with video games. Well, not all the time, anyway, (I’m looking at you, Iron Man 2. You broke my heart). When reviewing the first episode, I found much to praise, and I wasn’t too critical because it was a first offering. Sure, there was room for improvement, but they had plenty of time before the next episode came out to deal with that. They didn’t. The second episode filled me with a creeping dread that things were not improving in any way. The acting (and let me be clear here, I am in no way blaming Matt Smith or Karen Gillan for this, they are both phenomenal, expressive, energetic actors) was more wooden than Wayne Rooney’s brains, the dialogue so stilted and poorly written that it left me craving the crayon-written drivel of Russel T. Davies, and the ‘adventure’ so lacking in tension, excitement or intrigue that I, among others, began to realise things were not going to get better. This suspicion was confirmed by TARDIS, which at least ended with a glimmer of hope, that at least the next Episode would actually have a story again. Because, as much as it is now obvious that the people behind these games cannot make  game to save their lives, they can at least make something resembling a Doctor Who story. Even if it is one from the Colin Baker era. Shudder.

Picking up immediately where the last episode left off, the TARDIS has landed in a big underwater city, which as locations go is at least marginally more imaginative than a gravel quarry in Wales, but not much, because if it were a real episode of the show (it technically is) they’d probably just use a gasworks instead. There are two things you should know off the bat- First, this game is a Christmas episode, yes- we get two this series. Secondly, this game has, as one of it’s antagonists, a giant shark. I’d like to think it’s just a coincidence, but really, how could it possibly be? It’s a genuine example of the old addage- Good writers borrow, Great writers steal, and Doctor Who writers get it wholesale off the back of a lorry. They have gone so far as to plagiarise themselves now. I wonder if that makes this a meta example…

The Doctor and Amy explore a little and an immediate disaster leaves them stranded from the TARDIS, just like in roughly two thirds of Doctor Who episodes ever. With no way back, they wander off along the underwater corridors, which are all lined extensively with windows. Health and Safety would have a field day. The Giant Shark decides they look nummy, and proceeds to bash the crap out of the tunnels with his mighty shark nose. The Doc and Pond make it to the command center of the base, and find out that there’s a mysterious illness ravaging the crew, and that the Vashta Nerada, tiny invisible air piranhas who live in shadows (remember that episode? and how awesome it was? This game pretty much ruins these guys) are trying to chow down on the workers.

Let me explain the Vashta Nerada. In the episodes they appeared (precisely 2, written by the dark god of children’s nightmares Steven Moffatt) they were unstoppable fleshreapers who turned you into a skeleton on contact. They could suck the power from light sources to make more shadows for them to play in, and could slip into peoples space suits, munch on their sweet fleshy bits and then animate the skeleton in the suit like a grisly puppet. They were the closest thing Doctor Who has had to Zombies since the Gasmask guys in The Empty Child (also written by Moffatt). In this game, the Vashta Nerada can (and are) be defeated by shining a light on them. That’s right, folks, this terrifying creature from your kids deepest nightmares can now be thoroughly vanquished with a friggin’ night light.

First things first, the Doc goes on a fetch quest to grab some ingredients that happen to be lying around to concoct a cure for the sickness, which is caused by Vortron Energy (From a time Vortex) which is where the shark and the Vashta Nerada came from. In order to save the day, (and save the stupid humans from themsevles) the Doctor goes to find the source of the Vortron radiation.

Warning, boring sciency bit coming up.

Now this next bit is clever. I will happily admit that I was impressed by this bit. The reason being that the cause of the radiation, and all of this bother, is the wreck of a sunken ship. But not just any ship, oh no. It’s the USS Eldridge. One or two of you might have heard of it. For those of you who haven’t, the Eldridge was heavily involved in World War 2, and afterwards the US Government decided to perform experiments on it. Specifically, one of the most notorious and hotly debated time/space conspiracy theories in recent history. The Philadelphia Experiment. And no, that doesn’t mean they tried to put spreadable cheese on it. I linked you to wikipedia article there in case you’re interested, but the long and short of it is this- On October 28th, 1943, Project Rainbow utilised the USS Eldridge in a ‘cloaking’ experiment. Yes, cloaking as in ‘star trek’. They tried to make it invisible. The experiment was based around Einsteins Unified Field Theory in a rather complicated sciency way, but went wrong, and it was claimed that the Eldridge traveled through time, as well as briefly appearing 200 miles away in Virginia. When it returned to it’s proper place, some crew members had vanished, others had gone insane, and many were physically fused to the bulkhead.

So anyway, the Doctor fixes it and everything goes back to normal, and everyone’s really ever so happy with him and would he like to stick around for Christmas Dinner, (No, because its Sea-Cabbage or something equally stupid) and so ends another riotous adventure. Well, not really. Well, it ends, but it was hardly riotous. In fact, I hesitate to even say ‘hardly’…

Gameplay, graphics, sounds (yes, it still plays that same ten second clip of ‘I am the Doctor’ every. single. time. something moderately interesting happens) and acting are allllll the same as ever. ie, a little bit crap. In some instances, a lot crap. The puzzles are more forgiving than normal, though bland and repetitive, and the only redeeming features re the USS Eldridge bit and the fact that it’s got Matt Smith in it, although a small child with a toy screwdriver could almost certainly have more interesting and exciting adventures. All in all, I felt serious gameplay fatigue this time around. These games have officially worn out their welcome, and if any ‘sequel’ series are made, I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that serious improvements are made. Play it if you must, but you life will not be diminished in any way by completely ignoring it, as I wish I had.

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