The first installment of Doctor Who's "Adventure Games" spinoff went online the other day, and Troy Wood has already ventured into the "City Of The Daleks." There, he found a surprisingly rewarding storyline. Spoilers ahead.
Doctor Who fans may be feeling a little spoiled at the moment. Not only do we get thirteen brand new episodes shot in HD after a lengthy gap year, but the BBC and Sumo Digital have been hard at work collaborating on four additional "mini-episode" interactive adventure games; the first of which, ‘City Of The Daleks,' is now available for free download by UK residents on the official BBC website.
(Any Brits out there reading this on their MacBooks will need to wait a few weeks longer until June 15th to get their fix.)
Each game will be about 330MB to download, and reportedly take about 2 hours to play through in its entirety, though the person who came up with that figure may have had even more trouble with the mouse-driven movement controls than I did. (More on that later.)
Alas, like most of the BBC's extra web content, the download is region-locked for UK residents only. Before you object too loudly, just remember that these poor souls have to pay a special license fee for the privilege of being constantly subjected to the likes of Dane Cook and Graham Norton, and had to stay up until 4:00 AM to watch the Lost finale simulcast, so I suppose it all equals out in the end. Those of us here across the pond can either be a bit crafty and use a UK-based proxy service, (*cough* *cough* DaveProxy *cough*), or wait patiently until July, when the game is scheduled for an international release. (No word yet on what the cost will be and whether all four games will be marketed as a bundle, or sold individually.)
So, how does our new Doctor fare against an army of digital Daleks? Surprisingly well, in fact.
"‘City Of The Daleks" is, for all intents and purposes, an episode of the ongoing series, presumably set between the most recent episodes "Cold Blood" and "Vincent and the Doctor." The TARDIS materializes in 1963, ostensibly to catch a performance by the Beatles, only to find that swinging London has been reduced to smoldering ruins. Cue the howlaround and opening credits, complete with cheesily rendered block text and flaming time vortex! After some initial instructions on how to control the Doctor and avoid Dalek patrols, you and Amy descend into the abandoned underground in pursuit of the last surviving human (who appears to be even keener about blowing up Daleks than Ace).
Eventually, you discover that an armada of angry pepperpots poured into our world via a suspiciously familiar looking crack, exterminated everything in sight, and plan on rewriting the entire fabric of time! Bad news for the future of humanity, especially poor Amy, who will never even get the opportunity to be born! The Doctor knows this sort of meddling should be impossible, so it's off to Kaalann, the capital city of the Daleks, which I have to say, is looking remarkably more upmarket than the abandoned cement factory we last visited with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in the 70's.
As you explore the three main settings (devastated London, abandoned underground, and the Dalek capital) classic series fans may enjoy a few sly winks to earlier adventures, including Yetis, Varga plants, and Skaro's less than hospitable atmosphere. There are also plenty of bonus cards hidden across the landscape which provide details about past doctors, friends, and foes, as well as random educational facts, like the history of London cabs, what makes acid rain, and that brown jellybabies apparently taste like chocolate.
As for the technical aspects of the game; the graphics are pretty good for something designed to work on practically any system, and Matt and Karen were both kind enough to provide voices for their uncanny valley counterparts, as well as the multi-talented Nicholas Briggs, who gets to scream both "Exterminate" and the ever popular "My Vision Is Impaired!" (Sadly, we never get a single "Seek! Locate! Annihilate!") Several people have reported trouble getting the game to run on their system. Mine crashed on startup a couple of times, but has behaved itself since, with the exception of a few moments where the animation and audio don't quite sync properly. If this was a commercial release, I might complain about some of the rougher edges, but quite frankly, it's damn good for something the BBC are providing free for the majority of their customers.
The gameplay itself is reminiscent of a simplified version of ‘Thief', with the majority of the action comprised of sneaking around and hiding from Dalek patrols (who just like their classic series counterparts have absolutely terrible peripheral vision), while interacting with various items and objects in the environment. There are also a couple of simple-yet-frustrating mini-games consisting of moving circuit parts through an electrified maze, rewiring an electric panel with different colored wires, and rotating Kaled characters to correctly hack into a Dalek computer system.
As this is a casual all-ages game, none of the challenges are designed to be especially difficult, though if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself dying time and time again simply because of the incredibly clunky right-mouse click movement system, and a camera that absolutely delights in pivoting to face a wall the moment you try to nip past an pissed off Dalek. Fortunately, it's virtually impossible to get lost or fall off anything in this game, and each level automatically saves every time you complete an objective, so you never have to go back very far every time you blindly stumble into a Varga plant.
Even if the controls are far from perfect, the game's true beauty lies in its Doctor Who-iness.
Believe it or not, the classic series spawned a number of video game spin-offs, most of which were utter crap. (but that's a topic for another article.) "City Of The Daleks" shows that it's possible to make an entertaining Doctor Who game where the sonic screwdriver isn't magically transformed into a deadly weapon, and the majority of challenges are overcome by those two staples of Doctor Whodom – being clever and running down corridors. It feels like a proper episode of the series, which is an accomplishment that many tie-in games strive for, but few achieve.
The second installment, tentatively titled "Winter of Terror" and featuring Cybermen invading an arctic research base, should be out some time in July.