Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock

Post-Launch Review
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock
Developer: Supermassive Games
Released: May 2012 (PSN), November 2012 (PC)


Featuring Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor, The Eternity Clock is a puzzle-platformer game that begins when the Doctor is caught in a time storm that seems to be affecting the entire universe. The TARDIS plugs the gap, temporarily stabilizing the storm but preventing the Doctor from moving his ship. The Doctor and River Song have to figure out what's causing the maelstrom before it destabilizes and re-writes history.

At Launch

The Eternity Clock earned a 39% average on Metacritic. Reviewers cite severe bugs and technical problems with controls and the AI. The general consensus is that the voice acting, music, and dialogue are strong, but not much else is worth looking at.

Post Launch

Developers released a patch to the PSN version to fix save game and other technical issues. The Steam version seems to have the patch included from launch.

The Good

Sound and Dialogue
The actual actors who play the Doctor and River Song in the TV show voice the characters in the game. Awesome! They both do a pretty good job, and the 11th Doctor's trademark banter is front and centre. The Eternity Clock also uses music from the show, which tends to be pretty excellent. Therefore the game's music is pretty excellent. 

So many games have collectibles now, but these ones are thematically awesome: you collect pages of River Song's TARDIS diary as well as the Doctor's hats.
Sonic Screwdriver
While playing as the Doctor, you can whip out your sonic screwdriver at any time to scan things or interact with certain objects. If you know Doctor Who, it's one of the most fitting and ingenious hint systems I've ever seen. Don't know what to do with that crate, or can't figure out why the door won't open? Sonic it!

The Silence
There are a couple of levels where you have to deal with the Silence. They're aliens who you forget as soon as you stop looking at them. The game handles this reasonably well: as long as you're looking in their direction, you can see them. If you're looking elsewhere, they fade and become invisible. And if you can't see any of them at all, River loses her memory of what she was doing and has to start the segment over again. Neat way to handle that element. 
If you choose the 2-player option, one of you is the Doctor, and one is River. Several of the puzzles require you to cooperate to activate switches so the other can bridge a gap. I only played single player, but it looks like several segments will have you doing different things at the same time - for example, in one "battle" the Doctor works to re-route power in consoles, while River defends him with her blaster. In single player you just alternate, but I assume that co-op has both players doing their jobs at the same time, which is neat. It also avoids the AI issues present in single player.

The Neutral

Stupid Enemies
The Eternity Clock is a sidescrolling puzzle-platformer. Combat isn't really its thing. For that reason, I can partially forgive how completely moronic the enemies are - they'll shoot at you when they can see you, but get behind cover for a few seconds, and they completely forget about you. In Doctor Who violence is (almost) never the answer, so it's understandable that this isn't a combat-oriented game, but still, it's amazing how these perfect killing machines intelligent enough to control time and rewrite history can just forget about you after three seconds.
It's reasonably good, but doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary or special for Doctor Who. It basically boils down to collecting pieces of the relevant artifact (the Eternity Clock) and ends on a cliffhanger before telling you anything about the Clock (like who made it, what it's doing, etc). The involvement of the four alien species feels just a little bit contrived - each of them has their hands on one of the pieces of the Clock, and you have to get it back from them before they each use the power of the pieces to further their own plans.

The platforming puzzles are fine, but the hacking/rerouting puzzles are fairly uninspired and can get annoying. 
What about those stairs in the background? Why can't we use those?

The Bad

Stupid Backgrounds
This is one of those "2.5D" games: a sidescrolling platformer in a 3D engine. Unfortunately, the background art direction makes the entire game seem stupid at some points. Okay, so the Doctor has to cross this gap by climbing across a pipe. Why doesn't he just walk around the platform in the background, without having to jump or climb on anything? Why does he have to get that specific crate from up on the scaffolding, rather than the dozen lying around in the foreground and background? And this problem goes from dumb to downright insulting in a particular tiny portion of a single level where the game actually does allow you to walk into the background by rotating the camera.
Oh, NOW I can rotate into the background...
Jumping works... most of the time. Ledge grabbing works... most of the time. Sometimes you get caught on invisible geometry and miss your jump or land in the wrong spot. The wall jump animations are pretty bad, having you jump well over the ledge and then fall to grab onto it, which looks dumb.

Enemy Chatter
The Cybermen, the Silurians, the Silence, and the Daleks each have repetitive and tiresome lines they spout constantly when they're around. Every one of the four has some variation on "the Earth is ours", "we will destroy you", and "we control history". Having lines that were noticeably different for each species would have been an improvement even if they were still repeated with the same frequency.
Here you can see a legion of daleks, and also River and the Doctor clipping through each other.
Companion AI
When playing single player, you're occasionally forced to wait for the AI partner to catch up and do its job. This can be pretty annoying, since River tends to just around there until you're in position for the two-character maneuver, at which point she'll finally decide to run across the room and up the ladder to join you, keeping you waiting as the Cybermen (or whatever) are bearing down on you. Worse was at the London Bridge segment where doing things out of order causes River to bug out and fail to climb the tower, requiring you to restart and do things in the correct order.

The Verdict

Recommendation: don't play, unless you're already a big Doctor Who fan.
While it looks like most of the major bugs and technical problems have been cleaned up - I encountered only one major issue - it's still not a great game. If you're not a Doctor Who fan, there's absolutely no reason to play The Eternity Clock, because it does a pretty poor job of explaining what's going on for newcomers. Fans of the series will get a lot more out of the game and might be more willing to forgive some of its shortcomings, because the writing and voice acting are actually pretty good. Whether or not you should play this game depends entirely on how much you like Doctor Who and if you're caught up with the current series.

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