I’d love to be able to tell you that Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is the sort of amazing Doctor Who video game that fans have deserved for decades.
Unfortunately, I can’t do that.
Failing that, I’d even settle for telling you that The Eternity Clock is just another entry in the pantheon of bad Doctor Who games that the show’s audience has endured since the show’s inception.
I can’t do that either.
The reason I can’t tell you either of these things is because The Eternity Clock, for me, does a lot more than just suck (And make no mistake. Suck, it does). Now, I am an admittedly huge Doctor Who fan with perhaps higher-than-average expectations. However, I don’t think that can entirely account for the simple fact that this game makes me feel like a worse person for having played it.
Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a side-scrolling, puzzle/platformer in the vein of Out of this World or the original Prince of Persia. Players take control of either the eponymous, ever-lovable Time Lord the Doctor or River Song, the most harrowing archeologist since Indiana Jones and the Doctor’s wife.
The game opens with some brief and promising tutorials, which have the Doctor solving puzzles with a flourish of his sonic screwdriver and River exfiltrating the Stormcage prison with the aid of her hallucinogenic lipstick (as is her wont to do). All the while the reference-ridden stages give the impression that this was a game made by the fans, for the fans. I began to think that The Eternity Clock had beaten the odds, that this was the game that I hadn’t dared to dream existed.
The dialogue was spot-on. The fan service was in full effect. Both Matt Smith (The Doctor) and Alex Kingston (River Song) sounded like they were enjoying themselves mightily – which was a great relief after Smith’s half-asleep performance in The Adventure Games – everything seemed to be falling into place. Sure, the platforming was a bit slippery, the animations were sub-par on a good day and the puzzles were really just childish mini-games designed to keep you from beating the game in 45 minutes, but none of that mattered, because the parts that did matter, the parts that were Doctor Who, were in full attendance.
And that’s exactly when everything came tumbling down.
After playing through the tutorial, the game switches to a forced two-player experience, with the AI taking control of River Song for the majority of the game, should you be playing it as a solo experience like I did.
The problem is that your companion’s AI is atrocious. It is, in fact, perhaps the worst AI that I have ever encountered in any video game. During puzzles, River will fail to pull time-sensitive levers in unison with the player or help the Doctor clamber up ledges in time. Oftentimes, she will even fail to activate these sequences altogether often resulting in having to restart from a previous checkpoint. On top of this, even the computer seems to be vulnerable to the aforementioned slippery platforming, as she will run past the Doctor off of ledges, into walls and even disappear completely, leaving you to run around searching for her for huge chunks of time as you need her help to open a door or push a box.
As you can imagine, this is all incredibly frustrating for the player. Now, when I get frustrated with a section of a game I tend to be vocal with my distaste for that particular component. I’m sure that many players can sympathize with the stress reducing technique of yelling at their TV and insulting the characters thereon. During a particularly agonizing bout of AI woes I found myself shouting at of River Song’s simulacrum as she refused, over and over again, to pull a lever that would allow me to progress to the next stage of the game.
It’s difficult for me to admit this next part in print, but I feel that it needs to be said in order express the full extent of my distaste for The Eternity Clock.
After about 20-30 minutes of repeated attempts to ‘trick’ the AI into doing what it was supposed to — and watching it purposelessly meander about the immediate area — in the midst of my tirade I found myself beginning to shout “Just pull the lever, you stupid bitch!”
I caught myself about mid-way through the sentence, and didn’t finish vocalizing the thought and immediately felt bad about it afterwards. However, I know exactly what I meant to say.
Some people will probably think that this isn’t such a big deal, and for them it might not be. However, it’s not the sort of thing that I’m ever alright with saying in any serious manner (even more so when it concerns a character I so respect and admire) and so I can only use it to point out just how seriously frustrating the brokenness of The Eternity Clock was for me personally.
Existential issues aside, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is a terrible game. It’s a poor platformer with horrible AI, cheap puzzles, sub-par visuals, game-breaking bugs and not a whole lot of content. If you’re a huge Doctor Who fan that absolutely cannot wait for the new season this fall to get your dose of occasional Whovian dialogue and story, and you are positive that you can put up with everything else, be my guest. However, even if you can stomach everything else, I still don’t’ think you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
This review is based on a review copy sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.