Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock Review

Full disclosure: This was a very tough review to write. I'm not much of a Doctor Who fan myself, but my wife is a big enough Who nut to carry her own miniature TARDIS on her keychain. With her watching over my shoulder as I played through The Eternity Clock, the newest game to spring from the legendary Sci-Fi franchise, I got two perspectives on the downloadable title. Hers was as a huge Who fan, and she mostly approved of the adventure. My perspective, however, was as a gamer, and my picture was not quite so rosy. When mixed together, our two opinions paint The Eternity Clock as an average 2D platform/puzzle game that will appeal to gamers and Who fans alike, though far few of the latter will find this adventure worth the price of admission.

The Eternity Clock stars Matt Smith, the latest Doctor in the long line of actors who have portrayed the character over the years, and his time traveling TARDIS (a London Police callbox with a little something extra). Something is wrong with the device, and in determining the cause, the good doctor discovers a world-threatening plot he, in predictable video game fashion, must stop. Well, that's half the story. The other half is told from the perspective of River Song (played by Alex Kingston), a quick to draw femme fatale with some seriously dangerous lipstick (you'll see). In the quest to fix the TARDIS and save the world, you'll switch between the two characters quite often, and the gameplay differences between the two keep things mostly interesting for the (somewhat short) length of the game.

From a story and character perspective, The Eternity Clock hits all the high points. The voice acting is second to none, and the story sequences are funny and fit the source material better than any previous Doctor Who game. In fact, my wife (the Who fan), was continually urging me to get through the gameplay segments so she could see how the story would turn out. But when it comes to those segments, the gameplay itself, things aren't quite as cool as the story and script.

We'll start with Doctor Who's segments. These play like the 2D Xbox 360 title Shadow Complex, only without the gunplay. The doctor will be pushing boxes, moving platforms, etc. in getting from point A to point B, and these sequences are where the game is at its best. The doctor also has access to his Sonic Screwdriver, an analog stick-controlled device he'll need to solve a good bit of the puzzles he'll run into. This works a lot like the cryptographic sequencer from the Batman games; you use the two analog sticks and the vibration to line up solutions and open new paths. Playing solo (I'll get there in a minute) as the doctor offers some decent, low-key thrills, and serves as a sharp contrast to the other half of the game, the River Song segments.

I have much less praise for the doctor's female counterpart. These segments play as 2D shooting/stealth action bits that feel dated and obnoxious. Sneaking by guards on the 2D plane feels inconsistent and too-touchy; some guards seem to stare right at you and never see you sneak by, while others have eyes in the backs of the heads (and everywhere else on their body). Being seen shoots you right back to a predetermined checkpoint to try it all again, and with the haphazard placing of said checkpoints, these bits will cause ragequits in all but the most dedicated players. The shooting works a tad better, but with the Shadow Complex comparison in mind, the action probably won't provide too much enjoyment.

The real problem comes when The Eternity Clock expects the two characters to work together. This is a single player game, remember; the computer will be controlling your teammate. This is where everything falls apart. Getting your teammate to do what you want is never an easy task, and buggy A.I. will almost always be the reason for failure. There were more than a few occasions in which my partner would refuse to enter a door or hit a switch, prompting a necessary restart of an entire level. Not a checkpoint, a whole level. Pressing through 15-20 minutes of gameplay in hopes that maybe, this time, the game will figure out what it needs to do is frustrating, especially after the third or fourth try. I'm never one to cry and whine if multiplayer is left out of a game, but here its omission just doesn't make a lick of sense. If my wife could have used the second controller to hit that switch of go up that ladder, most, if not all, of the screaming frustration caused by the A.I. could have been alleviated.

The Eternity Clock is (I'm told) the best yet in a long line of efforts at adapting the franchise into a video game. That said, buggy A.I., poor hit detection and the lack of multiplayer keep this one from being the game Doctor Who fans have dreamt of. Fans will get a lot out of the story and excellent voice acting and motion capture, but only gamers with a high tolerance for frustration will find the fun buried in this one. Still, an Eternity Clock sequel (there is room for one for sure) with these problems worked out could be a seriously fun downloadable title. Non-fans will have to take this one with a spoonful of sugar, to be sure.

Final Rating: 55%. Doctor Who fans will get a lot out of the story and excellent voice acting and motion capture, but only gamers with a high tolerance for frustration will find the fun buried in this one.


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