Saturday, 5 June 2010

Doctor Who - City of the Daleks

It's here! It's finally here! The Doctor Who PC game made by the BBC and given to the public for free. FREE! Now isn't the BBC brilliant?

Is the game equally brilliant?

Well, not quite. I'm going to split this post into two parts, I'll discuss the mechanics of the game itself and then I'll take a look at and describe the story for those of you who can't, or won't, play the game but want to know what happens.


Mechanically the Doctor Who Adventure Game is a mix of point and click adventure, stealth, and godawful mini games. It's a strange choice to include so much stealth in a Doctor Who game, the Doctor is not the most stealthy of characters and his usual approach to a new situation is to boldly walk in, start showing off, and talk at everyone. I can understand the need for stealth in this story though, I just hope that each episode doesn't include this episode's often tedious stealth sequences.

The game repeats the same formula throughout its act based structure - you will be presented with a problem to overcome (find a path through ruined London, construct a device, switch power back on, etc) and then you'll be forced to creep and run down corridors to achieve it. Yes, even in a computer game the Doctor is still forced to explore and run down endless corridors. Bloody things. The various problems and tasks are not too puzzling and everything that you can interact with is helpfully highlighted with a bright blue glow whenever you stand near. Unfortunately in order to resolve the Doctor's problems you'll have to sneak behind Daleks and play some awful mini games. The worst offender is the gadget creation game where you have to drag an icon around a maze whilst avoiding touching the electric walls. It's just like the game at the fair where you have to keep your hand steady and guide a metal loop around a wavy wire only much less fun and you don't win a stuffed animal.

During the course of saving Earth from the Daleks you can find collectible icons hidden around each level. Your reward is often a picture of an old character or monster accompanied by a brief summary of their appearances or abilities. The first Doctor collectible I found was Colin Baker with his multi coloured coat. That coat was something I did not want to see suddenly appear on my screen without warning. The collectibles seem to do nothing other than fuel whatever OCD game habits you might have.

The voice acting isn't great. I don't know when the lines were recorded in the filming schedule but Karen Gillen sounds tired and flat. Matt Smith tries to inject some energy into his performance but he sounds weary too. The performances also sound like they were recorded separately, especially as the sound quality seems to change from line to line. It's a shame that the performances couldn't give the game's plot the energy it sorely needs from its principal characters.

As a game City of the Daleks is disappointing, personally I think that a point and click Doctor Who game that focuses more on the adventure aspects would be more satisfying. The puzzles in City of the Daleks are never taxing enough to give you a sense of achievement once you've completed them. I'd prefer to see less stealth and more puzzle solving and interaction with other characters in game. There are some dialogue moments where you speak as the Doctor but it's merely a case of clicking on all the options until you've heard all the dialogue and the plot moves on. I'm interested to see if the balance of gameplay elements changes in the next episode.


Did you enjoy the Willaim Hartnell Doctor stories, The Daleks and Dalek Invasion of Earth? Would you like to see them combined into a less satisfying whole with a classic Who continuity reference?


What's wrong with you?

Okay, here it is - the story isn't very good. Phil Ford has constructed a very basic plot for a game. It's so generic in structure that I wonder if the fact that he was writing for a game caused him to reduce the number of locations to make it easy for the developers.

The Doctor takes Amy to 1963 London to see the swinging sixties. Unfortunately the Doctor learns (by virtue of the most conveniently placed and unnecessary newspaper headline ever) that the Daleks have already visited and laid waste to the entire planet.

The Doctor and Amy soon see the last remaining human (a young woman still dressed immaculately during the alien apocalypse) being hunted by the racist pepper pots, so they decide to follow her into the subway. Unfortunately the Doctor and Amy manage to get the poor girl killed when she is forced to sacrifice herself to cover the Doctor and Amy's escape back to the TARDIS.

The Doctor decides to visit the Dalek's home planet of Skaro to find out how they have acquired the ability to change time and conquer planets so rapidly. Yes, Skaro is back and the Daleks have rebuilt their capital city, Kaalann. The Doctor is shocked to see that the Daleks have recovered so quickly from their previous dire straits so he creeps around the city attempting to find out what happened. At this point Amy starts to fade like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.

It seems that Amy has now become a paradox (she now won't be born as the Daleks have exterminated the human race) and she is disappearing from reality. Luckily for her the Doctor makes a magic bracelet that stops her from disappearing altogether. The Doctor mentions that the TARDIS protects its passengers from paradoxes but it can't protect Amy for long.

The Doctor eventually tires of sneaking around Skaro (at one point he sends Amy to do the sneaking to look for Dalek spare parts, despite the fact she could be erased from existence at any moment) and surrenders himself to the Daleks. The Daleks as ever, spend all of their time talking to the Doctor instead of exterminating him. The Doctor meets the new Emperor Dalek and asks him to explain his evil plan, which he gladly does.

The Daleks have harnessed the Eye of Harmony (last seen in Doctor Who The Unsuccessful US Pilot Episode, fact fans) and are now using it, much as the Timelords did, to travel through time and space. It seems that the Eye of Harmony is now called the Eye of Time and it's now a natural phenomena that can be caught and housed as the Timelords are now gone and the Eye was just floating around space waiting to be pinched. What? It's utter nonsense of course but it's a significantly dramatic McGuffin as the Eye of Time gives the Daleks the power to access, and invade, all of time and space.

The Doctor and Amy jump into the Eye (apparently that's perfectly fine despite it being essentially a wibbly wobbly black hole thing) and appear, rather conveniently on Skaro before the Daleks appeared and rebuilt everything. Why this convenient piece of time travel occurs, I'm not sure.

The Doctor uses the opportunity to sabotage the device that houses the Eye of Time so that when the Daleks chase him back through time he can release the Eye. The Daleks appear through the Eye on old Skaro and the Doctor destroys the Eye's housing. Then the Doctor jumps back into the Eye which delivers him back to the TARDIS. Everything the Daleks did has now been undone and 1963 London is back to normal.

Urgh. The magic reset button.

Only, this makes no sense and is now a giant paradox. Seriously, don't think about it or you'll go mad. Furthermore, what is preventing the Daleks from locating the Eye again and repeating the same thing?

Oh well, it was nice to see that the Daleks weren't defeated once and for all (for what would have been the 8723rd time) but I don't think anything in the TV show is ever going to reference the events of the game in any meaningful way.

Ultimately this game is a disappointment due to its shoddy story more than its gameplay failings. I can forgive shoddy mechanics as long as the plot is entertaining and intriguing but City of the Daleks fails at both elements. I still think it's fantastic that the BBC have devoted time and talent to this project (and it's still early days) but I hope that the games improve during the course of their run.

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