At last! A quality commercially available game bearing the Doctor Who logo! One day, I hope to type those words with genuine conviction. But alas, not today. Evacuation Earth isn’t exactly a bad game, but it’s not what we’ve been waiting for. Not by a long shot.
Released in good time for Christmas, I think it’s fair to say that this game will make a pretty good prezzie for many younger viewers. I bought it for my nephew and niece, and I dare say my niece will enjoy it muchly – she’s a big fan of those Professor Layton games, and it’s apparent that Evacuation Earth has been strongly influenced by that franchise.
The puzzle games are the game’s strongest elements. They’re challenging, diverse and curiously diverting. You’ve got your classic jumbled up pictures composed of sliding blocks, which need to rearranged; personally I found these to be almost impossibly difficult, but luckily I have access to a sixteen year old young man blessed with a profound sense of logic, so my progress wasn’t stymied completely. Don’t worry, I’m quite pants at this sort of thing, so I reckon most people would be OK.
Other puzzle games include spot the difference, rearranging geometric shapes to fit into tight spaces, maths riddles, and challenges to match shapes from a selection to the example given. There are also games that test dexterity, such as one where you need to guide a ball round a maze without touching the sides, while negotiating obstacles. The blurb claims over 100 puzzles, including 3 types of mini games’, and it’s true that there’s only minimal repetition in terms of the puzzles. While the puzzles themselves are pretty good, I have issues when they’re put into the wider context of the game.
Sometimes completing a puzzle has no real benefit other than increasing your score. When a mini-game does have an effect on your progression, it normally means that you’ve opened a door.
I’d rather have characters who tell you an intriguing secret in exchange for fixing their jet pack or whatever. Later in the game, it’s apparent that the game designers became aware of their lack of imagination – at one stage you have three different tools to open doors: the Sonic Screwdriver, a set of lock picks and, bizarrely, a lump of dalekanium. It strikes me that if you have to go to the lengths of supplying Amy with lock picks, when the Doctor has his Sonic, you need to go back to the drawing board and write in other challenges than opening locked doors. Incidentally, the lock picking mini-game is a blatant rip-off from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
So gameplay-wise, we’re not doing too badly. However, this is, according to the back of the box “A brand new official Doctor Who storyline”, so we need to look at it in those terms. I can guarantee that a script as woeful as this would never make it to the screen.
Basically (spoiler alert! Not much of a plot to spoil, but if you’re worried, skip this bit) the Doctor and Amy go to the Lake District, board a spaceship which is being used to evacuate earth, find that the Silurians have piggy-backed a lift, the Silurians leave for no good reason after accepting a truce with the humans, the Daleks arrive (again for no apparent reason), the Doctor messes with the Dalek mainframe and defeats them.
The end. Total rubbish.
Apart from being an incredibly weak plot, the dialogue is unconvincing and laboured despite the best efforts of Matt and Karen (who, according to the box blurb are “staring” [sic] in the game. Does that give you some idea of the level of attention to detail that has been lavished on this release?). In my view, storyline is essential to an immersive and enjoyable gaming experience, but here the narrative is clearly just a way of linking together the game elements.
Once upon a time Russell T Davies used to sign off on everything to do with the show. Including Frubes. So why has the Grand Moff allowed this awful dross to be released? Has he relinquished this power? Does he just not care? Or has the BBC said they need the money, so it doesn’t matter that the good name of Doctor Who is being tarnished by third-rate writing? Whatever the case, there is no way that this should ever have been allowed to have been touted as “official”.
Another disappointment is the presentation of the game. It’s really not up to scratch. While we can recognise Daleks, Silurians, the Doctor and Amy, the artwork could generously be described as naive. Furthermore, there is no animation whatsoever in the cut-scenes. A three-way conversation might go something like: pic of Doctor, cut to pic of Amy, cut to pic of Doctor just shown, back to same pic of Amy, pic of Silurian. I’m certain that if you gave reasonably talented schoolkids a copy of Flash and a week or so, they could do a lot better.
Sound-wise, it’s not quite bad. As already mentioned we’ve got the vocal talents of Matt and Karen (although I did note there’s no mention of Nicholas Briggs, despite Daleks being in the mix), and lots of official effects such as the TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver. The voice acting throughout is of a reasonable standard, but it’s hard to appreciate when the actors are working with such a poor script.
All in all, I’d say that as a gamer my view of this game is that it’s not bad, possibly slightly better than average. As a Doctor Who fan though, I’d say it’s quite, quite dreadful, and should never have been released in its current form. However, for younger gamers, and less discerning viewers, it’ll make a good gift and provide a good few hours of entertainment.