Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock

One of the benefits of downloadable episodes is that games with a minimal concept can be short, $10 affairs.  They don’t have to be bloated or stretched out into ten hours of action so that they can justify being full price on the shelves.  I’d hate to think of what could have happened to Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock had somebody tried to make it a full-fledged commercial release ten years ago.  After all, how do you make a video game about The Doctor?  He is completely nonviolent nor does he have any special physical abilities.  He is basically just a space geek who uses his wits and sonic screwdriver to get him out of lots of sticky situations and occasionally save the world.  With this difficult source material, The Eternity Clock does at least a competent job of piecing together as many gameplay elements as possible that don’t spoil or retcon the fiction in the four or five hours that it takes to complete the game.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to enhance or advance it either.  Meanwhile, most of the gameplay is either something that has been done many times before, or minigames that could have worked well in almost any other game.  At the end of the day, The Eternity Clock isn’t a disaster, but it won’t appeal to many gamers, outside of hardcore Doctor Who fans.

At its core, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a side-scrolling adventure and platforming game.  You'll navigate rather small levels climbing up or down ladders, riding elevators, shimmying on pipes, or jumping from platform to platform.  You press buttons, turn valves, and push crates in order to reach high places.  You'll occasionally sneak by crouching behind waist-high walls to avoid enemies, of which there are many within the Doctor Who universe.  Your companion, River Song, joins you along the way, helping The Doctor push crates and open gates and occasionally guard him while he messes around with futuristic consoles.  Both characters are playable, although you cannot choose which character to play as at any given time.  It doesn’t make much of a difference, since they have essentially the same abilities.

None of the core elements are so offensively bad that they will make you want to stop playing, but nothing is done particularly well either.  Since The Doctor and his companion aren’t superheroes, they don’t move very fast or jump very far, which makes the platforming kind of mundane.  The side-scrolling nature of the gameplay makes the stealth and the crate pushing somewhat of a no-brainer too.  After all, if there is a crate sitting on the ground, there are only two directions it can go.  If the ledge that you need to reach is to the right, then you have your answer.  Stealth is just a matter of staying crouched behind waist-high walls when you are near enemies, who have simple patrol routes.

Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a rare creature, in that it is a side-scroller that uses both 3D characters and environments.  The combination is somewhat jarring.  The biggest impact of the 3D environments is that they constantly show you everything that you can’t explore.  You can only go left or right, with the occasional up or down.  You are constantly seeing scenery that you wish you could touch, but you can’t because it is a few feet away on the Z-axis.  The scenery, and the characters for that matter, aren’t much to look at anyways.  I can’t help but think the 3D backgrounds are a waste of the technology and the game’s graphics budget.  The game may have worked better with static, 2D backgrounds, like the new adventure series Cognition.

As mentioned above, there are a lot of minigames.  Most of them feel interchangeable, but they are still pretty good.  They are appropriate for the game too, since The Doctor is constantly tinkering with futuristic gadgets.  If you are a Doctor Who fan, then you are probably wondering whether the sonic screwdriver is in the game.  Yes, it is and is put to good use.  For the sonic minigame, you'll move around the analog stick to align sound waves on the screen.  When you succeed, doors and gates are unlocked.  It is a competent minigame that gives you the sensation of using a very cool device.  There is also a minigame involving the aligning of concentric circles to make a picture (whoever designed this game is apparently a big fan of Assassin's Creed 2).  There is a “restore power to this circuit by turning nodes on or off” minigame, and another where you guide a little white ball through a series of concentric rings into the center of a circle.  As mentioned before, they are pretty good, but you could rename the goal to just about anything you wanted and they would work in another game.  The best part about these minigames is the context in which you play them.  There are some challenging (and fun) action sequences that involve completing some minigames as quickly as possible while enemies are coming towards you or chasing you.  Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock does a great job of emulating the action sequences in the series where The Doctor saves the day by opening a door or shutting down a dangerous machine at the last second.  It is the biggest strength of this game.

For a game that is intended for a casual audience, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is surprisingly challenging.  The puzzle-solving isn’t hard, but the action sequences induce a lot of failure.  There are many spots in the game where you will find yourself dying a few times, and not because of poor controls or unfairness – the game was just designed to be challenging in those spots.  It also ramps up the difficulty a little bit as it goes to keep it interesting.  The game deserves to be applauded for providing some challenge.  It might not be intended for an audience without a lot of patience for failure, but a game with The Doctor should have tough parts.  The guy isn’t a superhero.  The Cybermen and the Daleks should be scary and threatening, and The Doctor should be vulnerable.

Speaking of Cybermen and the Daleks, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that they show up as bad guys.  Between them, the Silurians and The Silence, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a veritable who’s-who of bad guys from the television show.   The game crams as much as it can into the package, but unfortunately, it doesn’t tie them together with a good core story.  The Eternity Clock ends up being a thing that has been conveniently spread about in various times so that you have an excuse to go collect the pieces from various bad guys.  The game doesn’t do a great job of explaining what the clock does, or why it got spread into pieces in the first place.  It is just there, and the episode ends without finishing the story.

So, is Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock worth it?  If you are a big fan of the series, then you should get some enjoyment out of getting to be The Doctor.  If, however, you aren’t much of a fan, you probably won’t find this game’s mechanics and minigames to be worth your time.  It is a competent effort, but not a great one.