We’ll start this review of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock in the most clichéd way imaginable – because doing so when critically examining a videogame is such a mainstay nowadays that we may as well just cave in and accept it – and have a little moan about how games that are licensed and/or based on popular films and TV shows are generally, well, a bit crap.
Whether it’s down to rushed development cycles, developers who just didn’t care or know anything about the source material or a disastrous mixture of the two, if you love something, chances are that the game based on it will in no way do your favourite thing in the world any justice whatsoever.
And – surprise, surprise – The Eternity Clock is the latest title to make stool all over a popular property. In fact, so snugly does it fit in with the throngs of countless other poorly constructed, insulting, rushed out licensed games, you probably already read a surprisingly accurate review of it several years ago; just replace the title of the game you actually read a review of with Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock and Bob’s your uncle — instant verdict!
The game opens with the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, at which point things take a catastrophic turn for the worse and the iconic blue London police box crash lands in present day London. Subsequently, while attempting to ascertain what exactly went wrong, the Doctor once again finds the entire universe in peril, and only he can save the day by journeying to the Clock, a planet that is itself a record of everything that has or will ever happen in all of existence. What follows is a story that spans London in multiple time periods and features such Doctor Who stalwarts as Cybermen, The Silence, Silurians and, naturally, the Daleks.
Truth be told, The Eternity Clock actually makes an adequate first impression. Gameplay comes straight out of 2D Platformers 101 and sees the Doctor navigating simple levels by running around, climbing ladders, hacking locked doors with his Sonic Screwdriver and solving puzzles. It’s by no means spectacular – it’s certainly no Rayman Origins, that’s for sure – but it’s serviceable and both the Doctor and his assistant, River Song, control fluidly enough. The game also periodically swaps control between the Doctor and River in single player, with certain levels catering to their individual skills. This also allowed the developers to have a character in one time period affect the environment of the other. One such instance sees the Doctor travelling back to Victorian London to tinker with the plans for some gas mains so that a gas explosion in modern day London that previously caused the duo’s path to be blocked occurred somewhere else, allowing them to pass by unhindered.
It’s a cool concept, to be sure, but one that whose strengths are never taken full advantage of. The effects one character’s actions have on another don’t happen dynamically; rather, it’s a scripted series of events that is present to tie into the vibe of the show more than anything else.
The Eternity Clock can be played through by a lone player, with the AI – whenever the Doctor and River are in the same place – taking control over whichever character you’re not controlling, or two players can tackle the game cooperatively. You’d be well advised to seek another person to play with, as the AI can be questionable at times, often having a tendency to take its time performing tasks that usually call for a more hasty approach. Even worse, sometimes they’ll completely flip out and do something monumentally stupid like taking a running leap off a tall platform, at which point you’ll be forced to sit there and wait for them to slowly make their way back to you or, even worse, you’ll have to backtrack because their route is blocked by doors or lifts that require a second character to operate.
Puzzles will also do their utmost to strike a blow to the amount of enjoyment you can squeeze out of The Eternity Clock, not only because they’re woefully unoriginal in their design – pilfering from the likes of dominoes and the Pipe Dream-esque hacking mini-game from Bioshock, among other things – but the “action” continues to unfold while you’re solving them as well. This wouldn’t be a problem if the puzzles themselves didn’t take up the entire screen and completely obscure your view of what else is going on… but they do exactly that, so you could be mid-way through enduring yet another derivative puzzle when all of a sudden an army of Cybermen advances on your position and bumps you off. Not providing the player with enough information regarding how to play or control a specific puzzle or mini-game is another crime The Eternity Clock commits all too often, which further adds to the frustration.
This leads me neatly into what is perhaps The Eternity Clock’s biggest flaw: its frustrating and irritatingly crafted puzzles and humdrum platformer mechanics both become almost unbearably tedious far too quickly and remain so for the entirety of the game, also sustaining a steadfast level of frustration throughout, as not-so-welcome features like checkpoints that are spaced out in an outrageously unfair manner or combat that is just outright broken gatecrash a game that already had not a lot going for it. There are also numerous strange and nonsensical elements that, while by no means game-breaking, are nonetheless weird. For example, why must locked doors in sixteen century London be hacked before they can be opened? Why is every ladder spanning over four hundred years made of steel and painted red?
In stark contrast to everything else, when it comes to conveying the tone and vibe of the show, The Eternity Clock actually does more than an admirable job. Matt Smith delivers his lines without the usual undertones of phoned-in indifference that are usually so prevalent in tie-in games, exhibiting all the flair and enthusiasm you could hope for. The genuinely funny quips come thick and fast as well, so fans of Smith’s incarnation of the Doctor – or the show in general – will certainly get a kick out of the banter and witty back and forth between the Doctor and River Song; the latter – in keeping with the game’s desire to remain authentic – being played by Alex Kingston. And, of course, no Doctor Who game would be complete without that classic theme tune (which is probably the best thing about The Eternity Clock, in my opinion anyway).
Graphically, The Eternity Clock features drab, uninteresting, featureless environments that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear had been ripped from a number of other games. The mo-capped Doctor and River character models are decent enough, especially in the cut-scenes, although these sequences that book-end certain chapters do however exhibit the worst cases of screen tearing I’ve ever seen, which certain scenes becoming almost unwatchable as a result.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is the latest in a long list of games you really wish was good, but sadly is anything but. Some admittedly truly excellent voicework can only do so much to offset the tedious level design, frustrating and derivative puzzles or the myriad of other inconveniences and hair-pulling moments The Eternity Clock will subject players to. It’s a game that frequently fails to entertain, nor does it boast the production values or polish of a full-priced retail PlayStation 3 game.
I began this review with a cliché and I was almost tempted to end on another, planning to state that had it maybe been released as a downloadable budget PSN title, then maybe The Eternity Clock’s shortcomings might have been forgiveable. However, given how even digitally downloaded games have evolved over the past few years, that statement no longer holds any sway. Just avoid Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, whether you’re a fan of the TV show or not.
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