Enter the "The Adventure Games" banner - with the intention of making "interactive episodes" that could plausibly be fitted into the canon of the actual television show and provide fans of the series with a way to become more involved in the world of Doctor Who. Definitely a brilliant idea, though how does it come out in the execution? That's what I'm here to take a look at - and in four parts, no less. Yes, I know there are five and I will get to the "Gunpowder Plot" in due course.
Like, say...around November, perhaps? Eh?
For now, however, let's see the BBC putting out their best foot forward with City of the Daleks.
...oh, right, there might be all of four people on the planet who don't know what Doctor Who is. Basically, for my American readers, it's the British-equivalent of what Star Trek is to our culture, science fiction that is often used to address real life issues of humanity within the bounds of fantastic places and times in both our past and future...and sometimes it has episodes of farting aliens (I did mention I really, really prefer Moffat to Russell, didn't I?).
The show, most often, follows a character known only as the Doctor. He travels around in time and space in a time machine that's bigger on the inside than the outside, and he more often than not has a human companion who travels with him. Beyond that, you don't really need to know anything to get into the show or to enjoy the games that will follow, though being a fan most certainly helps.
The game begins with the Doctor (voiced by Matt Smith) and his companion Amelia "Amy" Pond (voiced by Karen Gillan) in the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS, about to head back to London in 1963. When they arrive, however, they find things a little less rock n' roll and a little more Escape from New York, as it seems that London's been pummeled into rubble and the Doctor's dreaded old foes - the Daleks - are the culprits.
What follows is a jaunt around the war-torn London where the Doctor and Amy must sneak around several Daleks on patrol to follow a woman into the Underground, and here is where most players will experience their first irritation. You see, the visual range of the Daleks is somewhat decreased and they project handy little green cones that let the player know just what they can see at any given time - internal sensors be damned.
The irritation comes, however, when a player hits that range and then is immediately one-shot killed by a Dalek. For sections where the player is required to sneak, they're usually locked into a stealth mode until they either complete their objective or are caught. Those players who aren't as familiar with sneaking around are likely to get burned quite a bit if they don't learn to be patient and learn the Daleks' movement patterns. Of course, when you do, the game is really insultingly easy in that regard as you can literally walk right past a Dalek without them so much as vaguely noticing that their greatest enemy is within arm's reach (figuratively speaking) of them.
This becomes even more hilarious when the Doctor later builds a device out of science that can blind the Daleks entirely.
Also of note is Amy. There are several sections where Amy tags along with the Doctor in his sneaking - in fact, most of them - and it's important to note that if she gets shot, she'll likewise die and you'll have to start the section all over again. Not a big deal, but make sure to time your movements to include her as well, when necessary. In the event that you do get caught, however, don't panic, just get behind cover. You see, the Daleks are routinely known for giving up on finding an enemy - particularly one so prolific on their threat board as the Doctor - if they just hide behind a computer bank or some other form of cover for a few seconds.
There's also item interaction, which allows the player to access little mini-games to further the plot, such as rerouting the power in the London Underground by doing a little connect the dots via wires in a fuse box or matching Dalek letters to disable a security feed in the Dalek City. A little tedious, but nothing too taxing on one's sanity, they're all fairly straightforward. There's also the occasional pushing around of objects and climbing, both of which are done by a prompt that generally isn't too finicky about showing up when the player comes near the object.
I will say, for those who are diehard fans of adventure games and were drawn in by the banner under which these games are presented, you're probably going to be very disappointed. As I stated above, the mini-games are not all that difficult and even the fetch quests to pick up items don't fall under the insane adventure game logic of "that axe you could use to hatch a trap door open you need to use instead to give to the old woodsman who will give you the key", though given Doctor Who's use of technobabble, the logic is roughly just as sound. Still, there is no complexity of that kind to it. The Doctor needs an item, the player sneaks around and gets the item. Nothing to it.
The only real criticisms I have for the game are in the voice acting and the animation of the human(oid) characters. While both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are fantastic actors on the show in live-action (Smith being my personal favorite Doctor as of this writing), their voice acting is...a bit disconnected from things, though I think that has a lot to do with the animation which is rather like they took 3-D models of both actors and stretched layer after layer of Silly Puddy over their faces for that bizarre, Uncanny Valley sort of look.
As for the plot, it's a stock Doctor Who. The Daleks are being menaces, they have an artifact of Ultimate Doom, the Doctor learns of the plot, does Doctor things, and eventually everything is sorted out because wibbley wobbley, timey wimey. While it does have some challenge for younger players (as it is intended for) and those who are not versed well in stealth or adventure games, it will hardly scratch the itch of anyone who considers themselves "teh hardcore" in either genre. Still, it is enjoyable and I could very easily see this episode being right there in with many of those of the Matt Smith era.
City of the Daleks is, all things considered, a good first step for the Adventure Games brand.
Let's see if the momentum continues next week. Pack up your parkas, flamethrowers, and blood-testing kits, everyone! Next time, it's Blood of the Cybermen.
Doctor Who: City of the Daleks is now available from the BBC.
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