Supermassive Games unleashed its latest production this week for the Sony PlayStation 3: Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock in which players take on the roles of both the Doctor himself and the mysterious River Song for an adventure that spans time and space (PlayStation Vita and PC versions are coming soon). I've been waiting for a proper Doctor Who game for several years now, so I was eager to sit down yesterday evening and dive into the adventure. I played for an hour and completed what I felt was meant to be the warm-up portion of the game that teaches players how the basic mechanics work, and while I have a few criticisms, overall I really like what I see.
Playing as the Doctor is the highlight of the experience. Eternity Clock stays true to his character; his weapon of choice is his trusty sonic screwdriver that is used for gathering information and gently manipulating the environment around him. The Doctor runs, jumps, crawls, climbs, and otherwise explores, but you won't see him aim a gun. All the while that I send the Doctor under and over obstacles, actor Matt Smith is chattering away to provide fun commentary and observations. It's strange; while I'm playing as the Doctor, I'm also something of his companion on this adventure as I listen to what he has to say and following the advice that, in-universe, he's giving to himself.
Eventually the Doctor runs into an obstacle he can't overcome alone, so the story shifts ahead to the future where River Song is locked away inside the Stormcage Containment Facility. The Doctor's exploratory gameplay goes back into the box for a bit as River is sent on a stealth escape sequence from prison armed only with her hallucinogenic lipstick and the ability to hide in darkened doorways. While controlling the Doctor was sublime, working with River bordered on frustrating. It's all too easy to trip an alarm or bump into a prison guard, and I wound up repeating sections of Stormcage many, many times.
Eventually I recovered River's pistol and vortex manipulator, allowing her to travel back in time and join the Doctor at his impassable obstacle. With the characters united, the way that the game is played changes again. As I'm playing in single-player mode, I'm once again cast as the Doctor with the game itself taking over for River. This led to the low point of the evening as the characters encountered a battalion of Cybermen on the march in the London subway tunnels. Our heroes must outrun them, but that means running down a path that it loaded with a series of tandem switch puzzles in which the Doctor must press a button to cause a retracted horizontal pipe to lower into a climbable position so that River can cross a gap. Once River is on the other side of the gap, the Doctor lets go of the button so that River can press an identical button on her side, lowering the pipe again so that the Doctor can climb across. There are several of these same obstacles repeated one after the next, and even rushing at top speed I only arrive at the end point just slightly ahead of the Cybermen horde. The Doctor and River offer some exposition to explain how I'm supposed to open a vault door that's at the end of the path, and the Cybermen march up and electrocute/delete whichever character is standing furthest away from the door before the two can finish their conversation. The continue point for this scene is all the way back at the start of the climbing/button sequence. I felt as if I was having a flashback to Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One in the segments in which players must work together to assist critters romping through habitrails by stepping on switches and jumping through other irritating hoops. I repeated this area eight times before I finally realized what I was supposed to do at the vault door and was able to move on, but it's little bits like this one and the aforementioned Stormcage sequence that left me bristling at the game's first hour.
There's a lot to love about Eternity Clock (particularly for Doctor Who fans) thanks to the game's innate Whoness (collectible hats! The satisfying snap of the sonic screwdriver! Callbacks to episodes of the series!) and I'm looking forward to where the story takes me from here. I know the puzzles will grow in difficulty and I'm sure there are more tandem button/switch challenges ahead, but I intend to see this game through to the end. Whatever the Cybermen and other foes like them throw at me, I know I can handle it. After all and at last, I'm the Doctor.