First let’s talk about what it’s not. It’s not a huge sandbox of a game. It’s small and the plot runs on rails. There are puzzles but it’s not a classic puzzler. It’s not a First Person Shooter, though some of the sneaking will be familiar to FPS fans. It’s not a platformer as you can’t fall off stuff but some of the three dimensional puzzle solving is similar. It’s is very much it’s own thing and what it mostly resembles is an episode of Doctor Who.
And it would make a pretty good episode of Doctor Who. It starts very well. There is some lovely dialogue between Amy and the Doctor in the TARDIS leading up to that great staple of Classic Who: stepping out of the TARDIS to find that they are definitely not where they expected to be. This moment is then topped by wonderful “Ooh crap!” moment that I wont spoil for you and into the opening titles. The actual plot is simple but engaging. The Daleks are messing with the fundamental nature of time in a way that makes the Doctor very cross and threatens the continuing existence of the Universe. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy Pond to stop them and this is where the player comes in.
The basic mechanic of the game is a like a simplified FPS crossed with a point and click adventure. You explore your 3D environment by moving the Doctor and/or Amy around using the mouse or the cursor keys. You interact with your environment by right clicking whenever something glows. If you get stuck you can talk to Amy or hit the Esc key to pause and be reminded of your current objective. You can pick things up and combine them with other objects in your environment and the Doctor always carries his Sonic Screwdriver.
Some objects simply move the Doctor and the plot along but some trigger much more complicated interactions. This is the puzzle element of the game. I play a lot of puzzle games and I was expecting the puzzle element to be one of the weaker areas. After all many of the gamers will be young or inexperienced. The puzzles were fairly well integrated and well explained. At no point did I find myself unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. However these puzzles are not easy. The first puzzle, re-wiring a an electrical panel, took me a good 20 minutes on my own. When I re-played it with my son he easily understood how the puzzle should work but found it very hard to crack. If he had been playing alone he might have given up.
But not everything that you can interact with has anything to do with the plot. This is Doctor Who after all. It’s not just thrilling science fiction it’s educational. Some objects don’t help advance the plot but instead trigger facts. You can learn about history, science and classic Doctor Who. There are also ‘collectables’ – virtual cards featuring previous Doctors, enemies, friends, and companions.
Let’s get technical. Will it run on your system? Actually it probably will unless you are using a netbook. The download page has its own system checker which seems to be fairly reliable. I first tried the game on my netbook and although the netbook exceeded the minimum specs the game didn’t so much run on it as crawl. Next I tried my old laptop which passed the system check easily (much to my surprise as it’s practically steam powered). The game ran surprisingly well. If you too have an older machine then I would suggest defragging the hard drive after downloading the game and turning off everything that runs in the background.
So you’ve downloaded the game and you’ve got it running. Will you enjoy it? I think so. I certainly did and so did my kids. Even with minimal quality graphics it’s absolutely gorgeous. The sound is stunning and the music perfect. The voice acting is everything you’d expect from the BBC. The animation is good. The game play is exhilarating and infuriating by turns, but mostly in a good way. Perhaps the most impressive thing is the way the whole thing integrates. The puzzles make sense and you care enough about the plot to want to succeed and when you hear that triumphant music it feels great. Even the frustration of being shot by the Daleks again feels kind of good when it stops. Though I think my kids learned a few new words.
I have very few criticisms and it seems churlish to mention those at all when the game is free but here goes. Some of the puzzles are repetitive, too hard for younger gamers and there’s no way to skip them. There’s also no way to skip the cut scenes. Many will feel there is too much sneaking around and not enough running down corridors but some will find that pleasingly reminiscent of Classic Who. It’s really annoying when Amy or the Doctor get hung up on any object more than six inches high but at least they can’t fall off things.