Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock PlayStation 3 Review
Doctor Who is of course the long running sci-fi adventure television series on the BBC. The Doctor is a timelord and travels throughout space and history in his blue police call box shaped time machine called the TARDIS. The Doctor usually travels with at least one companion, and this game is no exception since fugitive scientist River Song accompanies him throughout the game. I'm a pretty big Doctor Who fan so I was really looking forward to this game, but I unfortunately found it at times to be a real chore to play through. The fundamental problem with the game is that it's designed to be played in co-op. Countless aspects of the game are made infinitely more difficult and frustrating due to problems with your AI partner in the single player so you might want to think twice if you intend to only play it by yourself.
I can't say much about the game's story, since there's honestly not much that actually happens. Most plot points occur by accident, and scene changes only really happen in order to start a new level, or introduce a new enemy. As a warning enemy appearance and basic plot spoilers are ahead. The Doctor's TARDIS mysteriously crash lands in present day London, and since wherever the TARDIS lands trouble always seems to follow, The Doctor decides to investigate. Meanwhile future love interest River Song notices that according to her journal she must escape from prison and meet up with the Doctor in the present, since he'll need her help. The pair soon stumble upon a Cybermen invasion and the Doctor sets out to stop it. It turns out that various enemies of the Doctor including the Daleks have each acquired pieces of a powerful time device known as the Eternity Clock and are of course using it to advance their own nefarious agenda. Throughout the game the Doctor and River have some pretty clever banter with one another. The Doctor also says some very humorous comments during the adventure about the current situation or surrounding, that often made me actually laugh out loud. My main problem with the story is that they never really reveal exactly what the Eternity Clock is or what it can be used for. Plus there's the games Halo 2 style abrupt non-ending. I'm not sure if they're trying to set up a sequel or DLC, but either way the ending left a sour taste in my mouth, figuratively of course. As an aside none of the fallowing character's appear in the game; the Master, the Weeping Angels, Ood, Judoon, Sontarans, Slitheen, Amy Pond, Rory, K9, or any other companions. Basically if you're a big Doctor Who fan like me then you'll probably really enjoy the Doctor's funny quips, and the story's whimsical tone, but non-fans will be completely lost.
The gameplay of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock in an unusual mix of platforming and puzzle minigames. Although the game features 3D graphics and character models the camera is placed to the side of the action, making the game essentially 2D, much like Shadow Complex, Bionic Commando Re-Armed, or Yoshi's Story for the Nintendo 64. This particular camera style is sometimes referred to as 2.5D. Prince of Persia must've been a big influence to the developers since both the Doctor and River run, jump, and even pull themselves up from platforms they're dangling from the same way as the Prince does in the classic 1989 game. You can also scale two symmetrical vertical walls by jumping back and forth between them Ninja Gaiden style, just as long as there are small ledges to grab onto. The jumping mechanic is quite forgiving in the game, you can jump pretty high, and it doesn't feel floaty at all. You can also jump pretty large gaps with a running start. even if you don't quite make a jump the Doctor will probably still grab onto the side of the ledge, so he can himself up and continue on.
There are a few environmental puzzles in the game that require you to move blocks, crouch down and crawl through narrow tunnels, or shimmy across a pipes in order to advance in the level. The block puzzles can sometimes be a bit unfair since the block that you need to reach the next area is often really far away, blends into the background, requires both players to move it, or what's most annoying requiring you to use a series of elevators just to get the block to its destination. The only positive thing I can say about the block puzzles is that at least when you know what to do, they aren't that hard and can be easily completed.
The vast majority of the puzzles in the game are a series of minigames that you must complete in order to accomplish certain objectives. Now I must point out that I played the game on hard mode so some of the puzzles could be a lot easier and much more enjoyable on the other difficulties, however the majority of them seemed to be so obtusely designed that there was no way to make them simpler to finish.
The most common minigame is triggered every time you use the Doctor's signature tool the Sonic Screwdriver which is pretty much a catchall device for repairing, hacking, scanning, sabotaging or even levitating anything in the game that's the least bit mechanical in any way. Every time you use the Sonic Screwdriver a circle will appear in the center of the screen with a pattern of wavy lines in the middle. You must rotate the right analog stick until the pattern that your controlling matches the one displayed on the screen. Later on this will get trickier, and you'll have to match two sets of lines, be timed and shot at while you do it, or even sometimes also keep the left analog stick centered within the circle as well. I like scanning objects with the Sonic Screwdriver since it displays a little comment from the Doctor that is usually humorous or hints at a solution to a puzzle. As I referred to earlier you'll often have to take control of elevators using the Sonic Screwdriver in order to transport a block, River or even yourself from one part level to another. The tricky part is that sometimes you might move a platform too early and have to restart the whole area again since it annoyingly gets locked into place and can't be moved back.
Another common puzzle has you controlling the flow of gas or water through a series of pipes. There are seven gray light bulbs, the objective is to make each pressure sensitive light bulb turn green at the same time by controlling the flow that each one gets by opening and closing valves along the pipe. When a light bulb turns red it means that it has overheated, and you must shut off the pressure to it in order for it to cool off and return green. As the game progresses you'll often have to make all seven light bulbs green multiple times to complete a single puzzle. What I like about this minigame, is that it's not very random, and it feels fair, unlike some of the other minigames which too often have no-win scenarios. So I don't mind that the pipe minigame shows up as often as it does during the game.
Another puzzle that pops up a lot is when you must decipher a perception filter, which makes a door or object disappearfrom a room, and makes it seem like it's empty. Perception filter segments are pretty much just sliding image puzzles, but I hate sliding image puzzles so I of course dreaded the minigame. In the minigame a picture of something is cut into six circular segments and you must rotate each piece until they all match up correctly in order to disable the perception filter move on. The problem is that rotating one segment will also move another which will probably just mix up the picture even more. What also makes it really difficult is that the image you're trying to complete is rarely recognizable, and is usually just a series of pipes, or door to a random building. In fact only twice in the game is the picture actually of someone's face, which is much more reasonable and easier to finish. The controls in this minigame are very weird. Moving left or right will rotate the currently selected piece of the puzzle, and moving up or down will switch between pieces. Because of the strange design choice I recommend using the directional pad instead of analog stick, otherwise you'll keep switching pieces instead of rotating them. I've tried using strategy in this minigame, like for instance lining up all but one segment so they match and then rotating the final one in the hope of completing the puzzle, but it always seems to get even more mixed up. I find the best strategy is to just randomly rotate them willy-nilly and after only a minute or two they'll match up, it's crazy.
The most straightforward puzzle in game has you matching up shapes from one end of a grid to another, using between 10 to 20 tiles, each of which containing three shapes a piece. You can rotate tiles so that they are more easily matched just like Tetris with the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons. There are a handful of shapes; stars, squares, dotted circles, crescent moons, and wavy lines. As with most puzzle games, tiles can only connect if their shapes match up. The basic strategy is to get to the other side of the grid using the quickest route possible, so as to conserve tiles, so you won't get stuck. Most the time this puzzle isn't that difficult, however one instance of this puzzle occurs during the second boss fight in the game, and it's incredibly difficult since there only seems to be one correct solution. What makes matters worse here is that if you die at any point during the section, including the difficult at first cover based shooting part with River you'll have to start the whole process over again, including completing the super hard puzzles again. Finally after much trial and error and about three hours I completed the puzzle and could finally move on.
Yet another puzzle has you diverting power from one node at the top of the screen to another at the bottom. In between the two nodes are about 30 rotating discs with different paths for the power to travel across. Rotating the discs so that the power connects isn't too difficult, so to make things harder you only have a few seconds to do it, before a different node activates and you must change the entire route again.
At three points in game will have to travel back to your ship the TARDIS, which should be simple matter of opening its door, unfortunately this is made exponentially more difficult by having to match the shape of flying platforms in a time tunnel, while you're also timed. Supposedly once the platform you're on get struck by lightning at times it will disappear, sometimes that happen pretty quickly, but others it could be as long as two minutes. Platforms are divided into four squares segments, and the goal of the minigame is to rotate the platform in front of you with the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons, until you find one that's compatible with the platform you're currently on, then press the triangle button to join together. Now clearly if you're on a platform made up of three squares, and the one in front of you is just one square in the exact same position that your platform is missing one, it should match up. Unfortunately this is Too often not the case. When you select the wrong platform to move to, it will turn red and bounce you backwards. There honestly seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what platforms are compatible and which ones are not. So instead I recommend just quickly rotating the wheel of platforms trying to pair each one until you hopefully succeed, since there's really no strategy involved. I notice that to make things easier, if your platform, does disappear and you do die, you'll respawn at the same distance from the TARDIS as you last were so it's not much of a setback.
Lastly there are two different minigames for overloading or disabling a device. Both of which are very annoying.
In the first you control six valves that let in or block power to the main computer. The goal is to only let blue energy sparks into the computer, and not any red energy, which will deter your progress and set you back. Letting only one red energy spark through effectively subtracts two blue energy sparks from your total. Plus every time a red energy spark hits a valve, it will be forced open, leaving the computer vulnerable to further red energy attacks. So you must quickly navigate six valves, usually keeping them shut, and only opening them when you see a blue spark headed towards one as the values will deflect those. It gets pretty frantic because it seems like the digital pad moves too slow, but the analog stick is too imprecise so it often overshoots the value you're trying to select, plus it seems like there are three times as many red sparks as there are blue ones. It also doesn't help that this puzzle only seems to come up when you have about a minute to complete it before an enemy kills you. Finally after an hour of trying, I noticed that the order of the sparks go in to the computer is always the same, at least confined to the particular level. Usually this puzzle pops up to four times within a stage, so knowing that the pattern is always the same, at least for that level, I recommend failing once on purpose, while taking note of what order and which valve the blue sparks go to. Then remember the pattern and practice until you can complete the puzzle very quickly nearly every time in order to beat the clock and not get killed by the time limit.
The other puzzle for disabling machines I can perhaps best describe as a simpler version of the classic arcade game Frogger, with yellow and red dots being the frog and cars. It also takes place on a circular field. The goal is to maneuver the yellow dot to the center of the circle while avoiding any collisions with the about 15 red dots as that will send you back to the outer edge of the circle where you started. This is a minigame that you're either good at or not, since you kinda have to get into the zone, phase out a bit and focus only on the movement of the red dots. The red dots only move on blue lines, so the yellow lines should be thought of as safe zone, where you can catch your breath, and ponder your next move. What's annoying is that the center of the circle is divided into six segments, like fractions of a pie, and once you get to the center you'll light up only one part of it and then must traverse the dangerous course again. If you try to enter the center in a area that you've already lit up, it will deflect the yellow dot and you'll have to rotate the map and enter at another side. There are also occasionally yellow barriers along the yellow line preventing you from freely rotating the map, and you'll have to venture into the dangerous blue lines to get past and continue on.
Unlike the Doctor, River Song is actually armed, and always carries a laser pistol with her. It's not as useful as you might imagine though, since it oddly only stuns enemies and doesn't actually kill them. Perhaps this was done to get a lower rating for the game, regardless it's annoying when you shoot a robot with a charged Shot and they get back up five seconds later. This also makes sections of the game where you'll have to protect the Doctor from a series of enemies while he works on a puzzle much more difficult. Another problem with River's gun is its touchy controls, and difficult aiming. Basically the right analog stick is overly sensitive, making it difficult to hit your intended target without simply spaming the R2 trigger as you move the stick. It becomes more of a problem really later on when enemies require a charged shots to even phase them at all, which of course can't be fired rapidly. The aiming gets particularly bad toward the very end of the game where there are segments where you can actually shoot in three dimensions, but unfortunately you still have no control over the camera. It's very hard to see the red line that indicates where you're aiming at your those sections. River also has poisoned lipstick to temporarily neutralize guards in one of the many stealth segments of the game. If a human enemy spots you, you'll be caught and you'll have to start the entire area over again, strangely however if a robot spots you can just run away while they open fire and hope that they lose interest in following you. Unlike most stealth games you can't hide bodies, but you can't hide yourself in lockers or closets and wait for guards to pass by. Interestingly guards won't notice your AI partner, as they only react to the human controlled character in the single player.
Throughout the game you'll often stumbled upon collectible hats for the Doctor, or pages of River's diary, either in corners or hard to get to areas. Unfortunately outside of the PlayStation Network Trophies you'll get for acquiring them all, there's not much incentive to do so, since they have no effect on the gameplay at all. You can view the ones you've collected at the main menu, where the Doctor will comment on each hat or you can actually read River's diary yourself but the print is very small. It would be really great if the game allowed you to actually where the hats on the Doctor that you collect, but I guess they were too lazy to implement that feature.
A large portion of the game has River always by the Doctor's side, this is mainly due to the game largely being designed first and foremost as a co-op experience. You'll often come across rooms with two sets of puzzles, platforms that require your partner to boost you up to or a switch that one player must hold for the other to advance There are also parts of the campaign where the Doctor and River must spilt up for a large amount of time, usually about 15 minutes before finally reuniting. These areas can actually be pretty fun, as you race your friend to try to complete your section first. There are several problems with the co-op experience. Firstly the game cannot be played online at all, despite it having such a focus on co-op which I think is simply unacceptable in this day and age, especially with a title that can only be purchased online in the first place. Although the game supposedly did get a retail release in England. Secondly many puzzles in the game are timed, and you only have about a minute to complete them. One of the two players might finish the puzzle right away, but the other player could have trouble and get them both killed, and they would then both have to restart the entire area, including redoing multiple puzzles again. Lastly the game has horizontal split screen co-op and because of the many puzzles and platform and segments, it's often more difficult to play with the tinier segmented screen, and you might miss an important create for a puzzle or not find an exit to a room. The advantage to playing the game in co-op is that when you die which happens quite often, you'll respawn next to your co-op partner just as long as there're still alive, and if you're on a section of the campaign where you're forced to split up, then you'll respawn almost exactly where you were, but out of harm's way. This of course makes the game a hell of a lot easier and much more enjoyable. Another advantage is that in co-op, once you figure out what to do in a puzzle you can just tell your friend how to solve it, and hopefully they'll comply so you'll move on.
In the single player however you'll have to deal with an AI controlled River who is sometimes helpful, but more often than not will repeatedly run into walls, jump back and forth onto the same platform repeatedly, get stuck on ladders, or worse stand still in place while you wait endlessly for her to pull a switch. Many times I was forced to exit out of the game and return to the main menu, just to reset River's broken AI so I could once again attempt to complete a section of a level. I actually have to do this six different times just during the London Bridge level of the game since she refused to pull the lever to move the platform so that I could jump across. There really needs to be a button that will allow you to reset the AI of River without exiting the game, since even getting yourself killed, still often won't get her to start moving again.
This leads me to another problem with the game, it only saves when you change areas to a new level, regardless of how many puzzles you completed, or how large or long the stage is. For example every time I restarted the London Bridge level I had to redo 10 minutes of work just to get back to the spot where River glitched out, which as you might imagine is very annoying.
Another advantage to multiplayer, but disadvantage tosingle player, is that in co-op player one only plays as a the Doctor, and player two only plays as River. So if you're a Doctor purest and only want to play as him you can do so, just as long as your friend doesn't mind being stuck with River. Although at certain parts throughout the game the characters will switch weapons and River will have to use the Sonic Screwdriver, which might cause some problems in co-op. In the single player every time the Doctor and River split up throughout the campaign, you'll play the Doctor's section first, followed by River's even if you don't want to play as River. Personally I don't mind playing as River, but I do hate stealth levels, and I could see how most people would probably be annoyed with being forced to play as her.
The graphics in the game are a little underwhelming. The character models look good, and the backgrounds are decently decorated, but the textures aren't that good of a quality, and most seem plain and dull. There also never seems to be that many enemies on screen at once, at least moving ones. One particularly frustrating moment in the game comes As you riding an elevator through a room filled with Daleks. Which left me thinking "Gee it sure would be nice to be able to actually fight them and not just pass by." Fans of the show will be pleased that Matt Smith likeness who plays the Doctor is dead on. It looks exactly like him to the point where it's actually a little creepy, and thats how you know a likeness is really good since it hits the uncanny valley. Alex Kingston's likeness who plays River Song is insultingly bad however, to the point where I think the developers must not think very highly of her. Still it's a videogame so of course she has enormous breasts and always wears a skin tight cat suit. It's a shame that they didn't pay more attention to her face as much as they clearly did to her body.
The voice work in the game is really amazing. Matt Smith especially does a superb job delivering even throwaway lines that are only supposed to be mildly amusing Doctor-isums that he turns and makes hilarious. Alex Kingston also does a great job often showing concern for the current situation, or being flirty with the Doctor. Even supporting characters like the guards or Cybermen are excellently acted. I'll never forget the way a Dalek says "My target has escaped, I have failed." in his screechy robot voice. It's the subtle hint of sadness for failing in the last line that's really outstanding. Music in the game I think is all taken from the show itself, and because of it is spectacular. Once I started the game and heard the iconic Doctor Who theme song, I knew I got my money's worth.
The controls in the game are pretty good mostly, but aiming with the sonic screwdriver, or River's pistol Is too often imprecise, which can be mildly frustrating at times, especially when there's a time limit. Generally I also find it easier to control most of minigames with the directional pad than it is with the analog sticks, as they are again too imprecise. The left analog stick as well as the digital pad control your characters movements. The X button is jump, and during minigames is used to select or interact with objects. The square button is used to interact with the environment, such as pushing or pulling a crate or starting a minigame. The circle button is used in some minigames like the one that's similar to Tetris to let go of tiles that you've already picked up. The triangle button is used in the TARDIS time tunnel minigame to move the platform you're on forward. The L1 and R1 shoulder buttons are used to rotate the platforms in front of you in the TARDIS mingame and what direction to rotate the tiles in the Tetris like minigame. The L2 button makes you sneak around or crawl, and if you're climbing across a pipe holding it will make you grab on with your legs as well, instead of just your arms, which will actually make you move slower but be less vulnerable to attacks. The right analog stick aims either the Sonic Screwdriver or the laser pistol depending on if you're playing as the Doctor or River, although you do occasionally switch weapons during the game. The R2 button activates the Sonic Screwdriver, and also fires the laser pistol. Holding down R2 until you hear the a beep noise and then releasing it will fire a more powerful charged shot.
Reviewing Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is tough, because I'm conflicted. On one hand I'm a big Doctor Who fan, and this game is loaded with fan service, so I really enjoyed the story, voice acting, music, and even just seeing the characters in the game itself. On the other hand the gameplay itself just isn't that fun, and is far too often boring or frustrating, and is made only worse by the tedium of the repeated minigames and terrible AI of your partner in the single player. Multiplayer co-op is a lot of fun, but since the game lacks a online component, you'll probably have a tough time finding another Doctor Who fan who's willing to play through the entire game with you, which takes between 3 to 12 hours depending on what difficulty you select, how often you get stuck on puzzles, and if you're playing single player or co-op, with single player taking much longer. What's interesting is that I really enjoyed the first two or three hours I played the game, but as it went on, and the same minigames, and design problems kept showing up, I liked the game less and less. Which is why I recommend that if you're rich guy, who has hardly any time to play games, and also loves Dr. Who, to stop playing once you reach the cybermen factory, as you've already passed the peak of the game's fun factor, and it's really all downhill from there. Clearly the game can really only be enjoyed by big fans that love Doctor Who, as people only casually interested in the property won't be able to overlook the gameplay's many glaring flaws, or it's rather high price tag for a downloadable title at $20. For non-fans the game is probably a 4/10, in co-op I'd give it a 6/10, but in single player for a fan of Doctor Who I give it a 5/10 as my final score.