You Were Expecting Someone Else 31 (The Eternity Clock)
Frezno has done such a nice job continuing The Nintendo Project that I felt like I should let him play on this blog too.
1985 was a very eventful year, when one looks back on it from a broad perspective. Swap out your wide-angle lens and zero in towards two of the important moments of that year, for our purposes. In England, Doctor Who was supposedly struggling to entertain the masses. The Doctor, he of bright coat and bravado, faced off against deadly foes like the Bandrils and the tree mines. The final straw came just as Peri Brown was running away from a cannibal with bushy eyebrows. The program failed to get a passing Grade and was put on hiatus. As has been noted, this was the first major blow to Doctor Who in the 1980’s. One could argue it was the blow that eventually killed it. It got better, though.
You know what else got better? Video games. 1983 saw video games in North America face their own Ragnarok at the hands of over-indulgent capitalists. Howard Scott Warshaw, unfairly maligned man that he is, did what he could. The world ended. It was up to a red and white box from a land that did not exist now. It transcended the sea between worlds and became corporeal, becoming a magical grey box that was bigger on the inside. The Nintendo Entertainment System was born. Video games existed again. Put the wide-angle lens back on, and zoom out to track the course of history that stems from this grey box’s success. The NES gives way to the Super NES. Plans are made to give the Super NES an upgrade, a CD expansion. Nintendo works in tandem with Sony on this, but creative differences cause it to never happen, relegated to a different universe where we all have pods in our ears. Sony, to its credit, uses this knowledge to create the Playstation. Its success gives way to Playstation 2, and then to Playstation 3… and that leads us back to a world where the anoraks have taken over the asylum since the novel days, and Doctor Who is The Biggest Thing On Television. Naturally, licenses are made and agreed upon, the ever-present billowing dress of Lady Capitalism securing the creation of something that will make plenty of money. This, friends, is Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock.
It would probably help, then, to define what The Eternity Clock is. Aside from being a mystical video game Macguffin to be collected. Doctor Who dabbled in video games before. None of them really turned out to be all that good. This isn’t even the first Doctor Who video game since it came back; there were a handful of adventure games with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond running around solving puzzles. The Eternity Clock goes in a different direction, and turns the Doctor Who video game into a cinematic platformer, not unlike Prince of Persia or Another World. Really, it’s the best direction one could have gone with when considering a Doctor Who video game. Adventure games are a fine idea, but running around and jumping across gaps is the sort of thing that saved video games in the first place. It adds a dash of excitement to the whole thing. Pity, then, that it isn’t as good as Prince of Persia or Another World… but then again, what is? Those are some of the finest computer games ever made. The Eternity Clock is not nearly as fine, but we won’t hold that against it. It draws its power from the brand. Names have power, as the bloggers with their alchemy kits will tell you… and the power of Doctor Who’s name is what’s brought us all here in the first place. So. The Eternity Clock. What does it have going for it?
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, for one! Mr. Bowtie and Miss Hello Sweetie, virtual avatars flirting in high-definition compressed MP3 probably Redbook Audio for all the kids to hear! Crisp polygons and 3D rendered graphics! Daleks! Cybermen! Silurians! The Silence! Time corridors, vortex manipulators, sonic screwdrivers and hallucinogenic lipstick… and we haven’t even gotten into the kisses to the past. Have you ever wanted to hear a voice clip of Matt Smith referencing UNIT dating? Here you go! Let’s sneak a peek at River’s diary and read about how she snooped around 76 Totter’s Lane! Wow! These are the things that resonate strongest about The Eternity Clock, because they are the reason it exists. This game uses the mercurial ever-shifting power of Doctor Who to turn an otherwise unremarkable adventure platformer into something that a fan will gain extra enjoyment from. Certainly, I can admit to sort of falling into this trap. I mean, it was the reason I was playing this Doctor Who game. The same reason why we read the novels or pop Big Finish stuff onto our music players. We want more adventures with madmen and their magical boxes. This particular adventure is not a classic, but only a few things are. We can file it along with the many other pieces of Doctor Who that are merely okay.
Where does The Eternity Clock fall flat? For one, I have no real idea how any of the things in the game happened. We begin as many a new series episode will begin; explosions and alarms within the TARDIS as Murray Gold swells into our ears and Matt Smith flutters about like a Time Lord hummingbird. He steps out of the TARDIS and finds himself in the vault of the Bank of England as the blue box vanishes. After some basic tutorial jumping and climbing and pushing things on to other things, we cut to Stormcage and play as River Song as she breaks out to go help the Doctor. This segment is a lot of fun for a bit of forced stealth nonsense aping off of Metal Gear Solid. We’ve never actually really seen River bust out of Stormcage. It’s not required to show on television in favor of moving the plot along, but it’s a cute addition here. Once River retrieves her vortex manipulator, we get co-operative puzzles! You can get a friend to help or let the AI control River as she helps the Doctor climb ledges and operate dual-control switches and stuff like that. We’ll get to how effective the machine is at playing sassy archaeologist in a bit. After that, all hell breaks loose.
There are Cybermen below London, and they sound nothing like Nicholas Briggs because he and his distinctive vocal talents are replaced by Sir Not Appearing In This Electronic Video Game. Hell, they don’t even act much like Cybermen. Here we see the Final Upgrade, a process finally complete after 44 years. The Cybermen began as the shadow of us, the true microchip self. They killed Doctor Who, and it turned out that they also died with him. Replacing them were monstrous men in silver suits who buzzed that we BELONG TO UZZZZZ. Replacing those were different men in silver suits who liked to say EXCELLENT. More and more of humanity’s shadow was lost, and now we have the final result; a video game monster. These aren’t living things any more. They have no presence. They stamp forward and yell DELETE. The only reason they are called “Cybermen” is because names have power, and the recognizability is the heart of the clock. It could be anything. It could be a swarm of KL-2s. It could be Sandminder robots. Whatever these… things are, they are coming and it is the player’s job to outwit their evil plot.
London has been invaded by a whole fleet of these things, and… look, this is about where it all goes off the rails. This isn’t the London of the new series. This is an abandoned London with a gigantic Cyber warship smack dab in the middle of it. They hold a piece of the mystical and magical Eternity Clock, and it’s the Doctor’s job to Get It All Back. After all, Doctor who did invent the “collect them all” concept back in 1964. There aren’t any stakes, though! Iconic bad aliens from the show we love are doing bad things with time and they each have a piece of this powerful thingy. The Doctor says “River we have to get the thingy back” and then the player goes and does that. Hell, you don’t even leave the planet Earth! You jump back and forth in time to solve different problems in the London of the past, like a rogue Silurian who wants to pump deadly gas up to kill all the people. It is Doctor Who as video game in its most basic form, and in the process it debases the popular creatures from the show into video game enemies, turning the broad ideas that came from 46 years of time and space into Pokemon. The Cybermen yell DELETE! The Silurians yell about APES! The Daleks yell about EXTERMINATION! The secret of alchemy is not here. The only thing that makes it out of here with some character and innovation are the Silence, in a reverse stealth segment where River needs to sneak around them. If you fail to keep at least one on the same “screen” as you, River promptly forgets what she was up to and you are sent back. It’s clever, but not enough to salvage the game. There are too many issues.
Not to mention the bugs. See, the AI in this game is less than stellar. I can cast my mind back to a certain section in Elizabethan London, where the Doctor and River must work together to ascend a tower of some sort. Thing is, if you let River follow you to a certain section before you climb up, she gets stuck in an endless loop. Leaping for a platform, failing to grab it, climbing up again and again. Now, either someone really really liked the chronic hysteris from Meglos, or something’s gone terribly wrong with the AI script for Dr. Song. This is the most gamebreaking example, but little moments of her running around aimlessly crop up here and there… and this was the Steam version I was playing! This is the definitive version; it’s hard to imagine that the original PS3 release was worse, but that appears to be the case! Not that there will be much improvement, either; the developers of this fine computer game closed shop not too long ago. Troubling, since The Eternity Clock just sort of ends. You stop the Silurians, you conquer the Cybermen, and even deal with the Daleks during their invasion of Earth to get all four pieces of the Clock back… and then the game stops, all but throwing a To Be Continued at your face. It ends just as abruptly as it began, and sequels were planned. An assumption of success; it’s Doctor Who, it has to make loads of money! Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but the simple fact remains that all of this is yet another dead end for Doctor Who. Perhaps, in that distant universe where the roses sing, we got sequels. Perhaps they were blockbuster hits. We’ll never know.
That’s The Eternity Clock. It’s the best intersection Doctor Who and video games have shared, even if it isn’t a standout. It occupied my time for 7 hours or so; fairly brief by video game standards, but fine by me. The thing was a gift, anyway, so I personally had fun with it. Nevertheless, it failed. That’s okay. We still have the show, and that’s still fantastic. Doctor Who doesn’t need video games to thrive. It’s doing that just fine. The money from the video games might help it a little, but that’s Lady Capitalism’s kiss for you. We’ll always have our dreams of what could have been, with the Clock fueling interactive adventures through time and space. Ah well. At least scanning things with the sonic screwdriver was a lot of fun.
August 20, 2014 @ 12:43 am
I remember following all the news of this all the way through and every single thing seemed like a warning sign. Puzzle-platformer… small development studio without much experience… then the reviews came in talking about how buggy it was.
Such a shame. I haven't bothered to play it because every review says the same thing.
August 20, 2014 @ 1:42 am
Puzzle platformer really seems like the best genre for Doctor Who, I think. That or Telltale Adventure.
Well, I say that, but I mean "a Doctor Who game starring the Doctor". A Doctor Who game starring a Dalek, meanwhile, would basically be the most pure FPS ever devised. Serious Sam without all that wussy jumping and running.
I also recall a suggestion from a long time back of a Battlefront style game of Daleks versus Cybermen, that would be cute.
You know, it seems awfully strange that we live in a world where there's no Doctor Who game for the wii that makes use of the wiimote as a sonic screwdriver. There's a lot of really simple and satisfying minigames you could devise using the wiimote and its numerous buttons and speakers and accelerometers. Tack those onto a stealth platformer* like Dishonored, come up with a suitable enemy/story, and you could have a genuinely decent Doctor Who game that lets you actually slide into the role of the Doctor.
*Maybe not the most satisfying description of Dishonored, but when playing it I often felt the traps, running, jumping, and climbing all felt very much like a Doctor Who experience. Far Cry 3 had a similarly pleasing feel, though the absurd number of Schwarzenegger-style macho action scenes usually killed those vibes.
August 20, 2014 @ 2:21 am
Did anyone play The Adventure Games? They seemed to be considered canon by the production team, and were free to download and play in the UK as well. I'm outside the UK and am in a part of my life that has no have the time for computer games (young family), but if they're any good I'll get around to them one day…
August 20, 2014 @ 2:40 am
I'm pretty sure there was a Wii Doctor Who game released at around the same time as Eternity Clock, but I don't recall if it was any good or not. The closest I've ever come to this is beating Super Mario Galaxy with my Wii remote that is shaped like 11's sonic screwdriver. That was nice.
Also, yay! Words I wrote!
August 20, 2014 @ 2:52 am
I actually really liked 2010's Adventure Games. They were marketed as ‘interactive episodes’ of the show, and sure, the gameplay wasn't perfect and the stories weren't quite up to the standard of the TV episodes, but Sumo Digital got the mix of all necessary elements about right, with the games improving as the series progressed. The fifth and final, The Gunpowder Plot, was by far the strongest, having a complex and compelling story with the Doctor Who mix of history, humour and adventure. It was even educational, dispensing snippets of history regarding Guy Fawkes and his lot, without seeming patronising or distracting to older players. Importantly, it showed that these games had writers from the TV series involved, whereas it was painfully obvious that no-one with a sense of what makes a coherent story had been near The Eternity Clock.
August 20, 2014 @ 3:23 am
Sounds worth a look – ta!
August 20, 2014 @ 4:34 am
I'm not much of a gamer but I really enjoyed reading this article – so thanks it was a great read! I have played most of the Adventure Games and did enjoy elements of them and agree with you KieronMoore above.
August 20, 2014 @ 5:43 am
Imagine four Dalek Bumps on the edge of a cliff…
August 20, 2014 @ 5:45 am
In all seriousness, I'd be quite keen on a Lego Doctor Who game.
August 20, 2014 @ 7:36 am
Coincidentally (OR IS IT?), there was also this today:
(I have not played either of these games.)
August 20, 2014 @ 9:45 am
Yeah, I have to disagree that a puzzle-platformer is the right genre for Doctor Who. I think a classic Point-and-Click Adventure game is a better fit. Unfortunately, the official Adventure games had nearly broken controls, so it was infuriating to play them.
Actually, for my money, the DS game (NOT the Wii game) was the best attempt. It went for a Professor-Layton style puzzle game, which was hugely enjoyable. The big downside was that is was far too short. It was really just one chapter of a game, sold as the whole thing. But it very much worked as a proof-of-concept. If you could expand that out, you would have the perfect Doctor Who game as far as I am concerned.
August 20, 2014 @ 11:31 am
Best intersection of video games and Doctor Who? Surprisingly enough, mobile game Doctor Who Legacy is a good contender for that title.
August 21, 2014 @ 9:57 am
Ditto. I've tried the Adventure Games, Eternity Clock, and Legacy. but Legacy has a simple structure, nice drops, can be played without paywalls–though the fan area is worth the six crystals, it's not necessary– beautiful visuals, infinite team combinations—I really can't say enough good things about it, and the makers are wonderfully responsive to fan concerns, not to mention the tie-ins to the expanded universe (comics and even mentions of Big Finish)
Pen Name Pending
August 21, 2014 @ 3:57 pm
Legacy is awesome, if a little daunting and time-consuming.
Pen Name Pending
August 21, 2014 @ 3:58 pm
Lovely writing style, Mr. Frezno.
August 22, 2014 @ 9:38 pm
I adored the Gunpowder Plot, but then I thin, the Sontarans are the best Who monsters, so my taste is questionable.