Eternity Clock Uninspired, Glitchy, Best Doctor Who Game Ever

Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock finally arrives on the PlayStation Network, with later releases planned for the Vita and the PC, after missing its original release date by about a month. Still, that’s OK, the TARDIS often misses its target dates by much larger margins.

Two things need to be said about Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock. First, it is not a very good game. Second, it is the best Doctor Who game ever. If that makes it worth twenty of your preferred currency unit then so be it, you won’t really need a review to tell you what to do. Good for you, mate.

The Eternity Clock is a 2D platformer on a 3D plane with some for-the-most-part uninspiring puzzles to break up the monotony somewhat. The rather bare bones plot sees the TARDIS make an emergency landing on Earth due to a “time storm” and from then on it’s basically every over-the-top all-star fan fiction as Cybermen, Daleks, Silent and more show up for various reasons, necessitating a visit to the Eternity Clock, some sort of giant depository of all time and events that probably contradicts a million Doctor Who stories and audio books. It certainly reads like some sort of overwrought and ultimately hollow season finale “event.”

So what we have got here? The plot switches between the Doctor and River Song, voiced by Matt Smith and Alex Kingston respectively, as they bop along in their sub-Little Big Planet gameplay adventures. Developers Supermassive Games are most known for their LBP expansion packs and it is certainly that game that Eternity Clock draws the most influence from. While the Doctor’s sections tend to feature slightly more block pushing and River’s features some awful stealth gameplay, the differences are minimal.

The game actually starts off promisingly enough. Matt Smith is in good form voicing the Doctor and the starting platform segments ease you in while giving you a bounty of quips and wisecracks (“Who designed this thing, Escher?!” he notes of the Bank of England, which has more platforms and switch puzzles than the real thing, I imagine). The whole feeling is only enhanced when you find a selection of hats, bonus collectable items that the Doctor can make many joyful references from his past about (including a “42” reference, of all things). Even the first puzzle type is pretty clever, using the R stick to calibrate the Sonic Screwdriver to the correct frequency to open a series of doors. It seems like you’re in for a simple, but fun game.

And then you switch over to River Song and everything starts to slip a little. Even if you’re a big River fan, you’ll be a wee bit disappointed. She’s quite muted, doesn’t have any witty lines to draw you in, despite Alex Kingston doing her best with what she’s given (note to writers: “Hello, sweety” is a fine catchphrase but is not funny in and of itself). Her inaugural level, breaking out of Stormcage, is basically a series of trial and error encounters with buggy guards who will randomly decide whether they spot you or not that only serves to remind you of all those poorly-thought out stealth sections put in games in the mid-90’s after Metal Gear Solid came out. Her gun, once you get it, has very little use, only stunning most enemies momentarily because without a constant stream of drones, the gameplay is rendered defunct. Soon enough though you’re reunited with the Doctor and then the game slips between Doctor, River and dual levels on a regular basis

But by then, even when you’re back in the Doctor’s shoes, things start to drag. The puzzles become more obtuse (not difficult, on Medium difficulty most puzzles should only take one try) and poorly explained, the difference between the two characters lessens and the laughs become fewer as the dialogue becomes bogged down in the usual Doctor-River fluff, except not as tightly written. The style of writing that we come to expect from Doctor Who is not necessary in most games, but in a Doctor Who game whose main draw is most certainly not its gameplay? It starts to kill the motivation to keep going after it suddenly vanishes.

Even then, Eternity Clock could have made for an average, if uninspired game but the various bug and glitches are a constant niggle that can continually frustrate you. Enemies will either spot you or not for no real reason, the music and dialogue will cut out and then pick up again later, going through everything you missed so you’re hearing conversations from 20 minutes ago play out. The goodwill the game earns in its opening 15 minutes slowly evaporates as you continue to jump about levels with inconsistent checkpoints, often secretive objectives and questionable design choices (enemies continue to advance and attack not only while you’re attempting puzzles but while you’re reading the tutorials for them).

The collectables continue to be fun (the Doctor referencing the UNIT dating controversy and the Valeyard, of all things, is always good for a chuckle and River’s “An Unearthly Mess” diary entry is fun) but with no gameplay value they’re not a large motivation to continue playing. Nice touches abound through the game with some choice lines of dialogue (including a small, almost unnoticeable Torchwood reference), a handful of atmospheric settings and a plot that if thin, at least tries to make up for it with bombast but that hardly seems enough.

Graphically, the game resembles some sort of missing link between an excellent PlayStation 2 and an average PS3 game. However, everything is more than adequate and any weaknesses in the game’s look stems from its love of dark, muted colours which hide detail and make things more complicated than they need to be. As for the music, when it sticks to the Murray Gold tracks things are OK but when it ventures off that, the quality drops to mediocre. There’s nothing here that’s going to stick in your head after you turn the game off.

Still, this is the best Doctor Who game ever made, beating out 1997’s just-below-mediocre Destiny of the Doctors. Even if you disagree on that, it is certainly the best Eleventh Doctor game by a large, large margin. Maybe that’s enough, considering the developers, the budget and the time frame involved (a little under five months from announcement to release). If you loved Little Big Planet but felt it needed to have more dark underground settings and no customizations, you’ll enjoy this game. If you’re a huge Doctor Who fan, you’ll probably buy this game anyway and will scramble for anything, anything to enjoy, like I did. There’s some potential here, but it’s just obscured and finally overwhelmed by its flaws.

Downloadable content is said to be in the works, in order to continue the plot apparently. There’s a chance to improve upon the gameplay but such things usually aren’t the focus of DLC. This is the game we have and while some of the bugs, such as the infrequent crashes back to the PlayStation menu, might get fixed, there isn’t likely to be an upswing in gameplay. Sure, the TARDIS looks better in the new series but it doesn’t matter if I keep having to watch “The Idiot’s Lantern” on repeat, does it?

If this game were some part of the series, it would be the 1996 “movie” with Paul McGann. Neither are absolutely terrible and you’ll probably like the Doctor in both but in the end, there’s too much pointless chasing, frustrating elements and logical gaps that even if you’re sad they never followed up on the movie and would be sad if Supermassive Games don’t follow this up with another attempt, at least you’ll understand why.

17 thoughts on “Eternity Clock Uninspired, Glitchy, Best Doctor Who Game Ever”

    1. Yeah. You just do the puzzle up there with River (I forget what it’s called, but it involves getting the pellets into the trivial pursuit piece holder) and the game continues.

      1. I tried but everytime I get to the top river won’t do anything it still shows the action button but it never goes to the puzzle! I’ve redone this level 4 times hoping it would do something but it won’t!

        1. That really sucks. I would have hoped the patches would have taken care of a lot of these issues by now.

    2. the same happens here, river gets to the computer, sits to use it but no puzzle starts!!! cannot get further! disaster

  1. I played the game for less than twenty minutes, and as soon as it switched over to River, it crashed on me! Blah. I deleted it, and downloaded it again. Hopefully that helps. If you ask their QA team, they’ll likely tell you to do the same thing. If this doesn’t work, well for 1, the game was rushed, 2, it’s obviously low budget (Kingdoms of Amalur’s first DLC was bigger than this game…) and 3, hopefully it sells good enough to warrant a patch in the first place. If it doesn’t make the money, chances are, we’ll be stuck with a broken game…:(

    1. It’ll probably make at least enough money to pay for post-release support, so a patch or two doesn’t seem unlikely. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for content updates, and should it do well enough to warrant DLC of any kind, I’d rather see that effort go towards sequels. Sequels with as many mechanical improvements as possible.

  2. Did you play any of the little DW adventure games from the last couple years? I think they were web-only, Eleventh Doctor stuff, but I can barely remember anything about them.

    I’d really like to see Telltale try their hand at a Doctor Who game.

    Oh, and the Torchwood reference? Anything good (Children of Earth) or totally forgettable (everything else)?

    1. There was some DS stuff as well, but on a very limited, possibly UK-only release. They were pretty dire.

      I liked old Torchwood. :'( Sex clouds! Space lesbians! Alien fight club! It’s a very tiny reference. There’s a section where there’s a bunch of regular people, stranded or something, and one of them is a very heavily Welsh accented woman who asks for her sister, Gwen. Everyone else there just speaks standard estuary English, something of the equivalent of that midwest neutral American accent, so it stands out even more.

      Sorry if you were expecting something more along the lines of an NPC saying “it sure was weird when we all became immortal and things went all totalitarian and Nazish for a few months, wasn’t it?”

      1. Since you mentioned “overwrought and ultimately hollow season finale ‘events'”, where would you place this game versus the first four of those season finales? I’ve noticed that they’ve tapered-off significantly in their ridiculousness since Moffat took over as showrunner, so those are the ones I’m going with here.

        1. I guess I’d go with season four’s then. The whole “end of time and space itself” thing and featuring an all-star cast. Because of the cost of having everyone voice their characters, the all-star element is shifted onto the enemies but the basic idea is the same: they needed excitement, and instead of having an atmospheric plot, decided to come up with something that needs lots of exclamation points to describe.

  3. Hey does anyone know when doctor who the eternity clock comes out, it is either today or on Thursday (am from Australia) and is it only on PSN or can you buy it at the shops.

    1. The May 23rd release date was supposed to be global, so it should be available on the Australian PSN store. There’s a limited store release in the UK only.

  4. got this game a few days ago, full of random glitches that require restart, random crashes and the autosave feature only saves between levels so if it crashes near the end you go back to the start.

    first problem i had was the bottom split screen in multiplayer was way more zoomed in then the top making it near impossible to spot things in the dark areas of the game. most of the time when for example the doctor has to go back in time, there is very little for river to do, so the 2nd player just sits around looking bored.

    in the tower with the cybermen, the big red beam several times falls through the floor and gets stuck.
    in the past with the doctor ive had those platforms that you have to sonic to move, just randomly float into the roof.

    will try and re-download to see if this fixes it, but so far the game is unplayable for more then 20mins, it makes me want to hurl the remote at the screen in anger

    1/5 score

  5. I was apprehensive about buying this game and actually didn’t until this week (July). The promo pictures looked great but I was disappointed with the lack of information given about its release date. I also tried to contact the BBC multiple time to see if/when it was coming to the Steam platform. I got no response. I then started reading reviews with most of them saying the game was full of glitches and ultimately not very good.

    But, with that aside, I bought it via digital download on PSN and have been playing it for the past 2 days. I can see how people say it’s not a very good game.

    Once you’ve played the first level, you’ve pretty much seen everything. The graphics could have been much better and it’s FULL of glitches. Basic continuity is badly executed too. Things like the ladders in every level being the same colour and the drain pipes. Also the way that all the creatures encountered seem to use the same effects and the use of the same laser walls. It just comes down to lazy graphics, really.

    Examples of glitches would be the River AI not responding at points and then getting locked behind a gate because she was meant to be standing on a button. Also the fact that it seems you have to specifically walk where the game wants you to in order for River to follow you and get to the next checkpoint. Speaking of checkpoints, why does it only save at the beginning and end of a chapter? I don’t believe that the creators of this game have no experience of other games in order to think that that’s a good way to checkpoint.

    I was also annoyed that it used the same principle as the earlier released “Doctor Who: The Adventure Games” in that every now and then you’d get a totally unrelated puzzle. I ended up just switching to easy puzzles mode just to get them out the way and get back to the main game.

    I think I speak for a lot of us when I say I hope they release DLCs which improve gameplay.

    I think we just shouldn’t have expected as much as we did when this game was first announced. However, I’m disappointed at the fact that the BBC keep attempting to make these exciting pieces of merchandise but turning to third parties to make them, badly. I suppose you get what you pay for, I only paid £13.99.

    Hopefully the BBC will begin learning from it’s mistakes and put more effort into its campaigns before rushing something purely to make money as quickly as possible.

  6. The overall theme and message of this game seems to be that River Song is mentally retarded. I don’t mean her dialogue: I mean her character’s inability to keep up with the jumping and climbing and strong tendency to get stuck, forcing me to restart the level.

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