For those that do not know, a little sci-fi show from the UK called Doctor Who has become a media phenomenon and a popular television program in many countries. Doctor Who even holds a handful of Guinness world records including one for most successful science-fiction series, one for the longest running magazine based on a TV show, and longest running science fiction show. You would think that with a pedigree of that ilk, the show would have entered the realm of videogames more often, but aside from a recent Top Trumps game and a few PC games released in the 1980’s not much has been done with the franchise.
Recently BBC revealed that it was in talks with a few major publishers to bring a few top BBC properties to our consoles, and Doctor Who would be one of the first. The Production staff for the new show got in contact with Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil and Sheffield-based studio Sumo Digital to make Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. The series is a four part episodic adventure game, released for free in the UK, with a US release forthcoming.
The first of this four part adventure has all of the content you would expect from a doctor who episode, and in fact even has the iconic title sequence and theme song there to remind us that this is essentially a standalone episode of the show. The story revolves around the Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and his assistant Amy, as played by Karen Gillan, landing in 1963. The Doctor suggests that they go see the Beatles or another activity of the time, but finds that something is not right. It appears that the ever-so-popular adversaries for the Doctor, the Daleks, have landed there at some point and re-written time. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy to unravel the catastrophe and hopefully prevent the ramafications of human enslavement under the regime of the metallic marauders.
The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use either the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, leading me to believe that this game was mostly meant for the younger fans of the show, but any inherent “easiness” is not indicative of the game being childish or condescending as some children’s games are.
The children’s aspect of the game is re-enforced by the inclusion of “fun facts” where you click on a point of interest such as a fallen bus stop sign, and there suddenly pops up a history of red double decker busses. This is done in a way much similar to the lore found in the Metroid Prime games. While this does make the game somewhat educational, it doesn’t hammer you over the head, and these segments can be skipped if you are adverse to the idea of learning anything while you play a game.
Since the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, fending off of enemies is pretty tricky: Doctor isn’t exactly Rambo. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes, the closer you are to getting killed. Luckily if you do die, the game resumes at the last checkpoint that you made it to. The last real gameplay type you’ll have to deal with are occasional puzzles including a “drag the item through a maze without touching the walls” segment. These aren’t too challenging, and they keep you busy throughout the game.
On the graphical front I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to be honest considering the price tag, but was pleasantly surprised that the game looked somewhat like an original Xbox game, or possibly even a Wii game. The animation is sometimes inconsistent with a few places looking far better than others, giving a somewhat rushed appearance. Some of the motions are a bit jerky, but I’ve seen worse mishaps on console games with a much larger budget. The game has an almost cell shaded appearance which really helps any sort of graphical inadequacy as it gives a more cartoony look. The mannerisms and facial features of the actors involved is flawless, a feat that was achieved by the use of a new type of rotoscoping to map the real life actors' movements onto their 3d models.
The sound direction in the game is done fairly well, and contains a lot of spoken dialog. This really helps the pacing of the game, and again reiterates the belief that this game was intended to be as much like an episode of the show as possible. In the background there is also have music that I assume was composed for the show, which adds both tension and wonder.
For the most part, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 1: City of the Daleks is a great game for the price, which for UK players is nothing (well technically you guys paid for it with the license fee). As long as the US price is reasonable upon release, let's say maybe 5 dollars, it'll be good as well. While not a technical achievement, it stands head and shoulders above any other free game based on a TV show that I’ve played, and is probably the best Doctor Who game ever made. The developers did a great job using what I imagine was a miniscule budget, and made something that was reasonably enjoyable. The game lasts a few hours, and will keep you busy if you decide to collect everything, and mess around. Sadly, we don’t get much of a “next time” trailer (if you will), but rumor has it that the second game will contain the iconic villians: The Cybermen.