Review: Doctor Who: The Edge of Time
When big entertainment IP’s are turned into videogames there’s always that hope they’ll capture the magic of the franchise, without completely ruining it – like so many previously have. So taking on the BBC’s Doctor Who and its 55-year history has certainly no small undertaking for British virtual reality (VR) studio Maze Theory. Keeping it very much present-day whilst taking nods to all that’s come before, Doctor Who: The Edge of Time may please a lot of fans out there but for those without a vested interest the videogame will likely fall a little flat.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of the long-running series – don’t worry if you haven’t – then you’ll know the general gist that each one revolves around fighting some weird and wonderful aliens whilst trying to save a planet/galaxy or the universe. Doctor Who: The Edge of Time goes for the big guns, saving the universe, time and generally existence as we know it. No small matter then. So you play an unnamed character enlisted to help the Doctor pull off this amazing feat.
In the current TV series the Doctor is played by Jodie Whittaker who reprises her role for this VR experience. She puts in a stellar performance – as does the rest of the cast – helping to ground the videogame and give it that proper Doctor Who ambience. This is also helped by the design, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans to find, whether it’s the official intro music or some of the props, the BBC and Maze Theory certainly put a lot of work into getting these little details right.
Gameplay revolves around you doing all the leg work as the Doctor is currently trapped at the end of time and space (as you do), so you never get to meet her directly. It’s all through intercoms, TV’s and other electrical components that she helps you figure out the challenges which stand in your way, namely puzzles for the most part.
These tend not to be overly complicated so there shouldn’t be any real moments where you can get stuck. They range from activating dials and levers in a certain order whilst timed to swapping cables around to complete a circuit. Nothing too over the top, very light to keep the gameplay flow going, which is fairly leisurely.
Doctor Who: The Edge of Time employs both direct locomotion and teleportation at the same time so there’s no having to switch options in the menu, great. The thing is, locomotion has two-speed settings, ‘normal’ and ‘fast’, which are just barely discernible and definitely not fast. So everywhere is a slow plod. Teleportation, on the other hand, offers a little hop everywhere. The maximum distance of the teleport is just so short that to get anywhere requires constant button bashing, a tiresome effort for those who need to use the mechanic.
What you may be surprised to hear is the scare factor Doctor Who: The Edge of Time offers. There are a number of enemies from the TV series the studio could’ve employed to add that chill factor with the Weeping Angels nailing it. The second chapter features a new creepy race to build up the atmosphere with their glowing red eyes and a couple of jump moments. Chapter three is where the angels appear, offering a sequence that will get your heart-racing. It’s by far the best level in the entire videogame.
However, there are plenty of disappointments and strange design decisions. The biggest of which has to do with your hands. Every time you grab anything they disappear. It’s so incredibly annoying and immersion-breaking. In a modern VR experience which feature your hands – as so many do – the correlation between picking up an item and seeing it in your digital palm is an important one. At one point in the title you can hold a torch and the famous Sonic Screwdriver. Problem is they’re then both floating objects rather than useful tools in your hands. This is particularly exacerbated in the TARDIS. Its main console is filling with items to interact with, knobs to turn and levers to pull, just like the TV series. Alas, with disappearing hands you then lose that visual reference to move said item, so what should be a quick intuitive movement becomes a short battle to learn its operation.
Another little anomaly comes for the audio. In certain parts of the story characters naturally talk to you. Yet, there are no audio settings in the menu so the background music tends to drown them out. This doesn’t affect the puzzles, you simply lose some of the finer plot details.
Obviously, the biggest addition to Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is the Daleks, the Doctor’s greatest foe – kind of like the Borg in Star Trek. Saved for the fourth chapter – there are five in total – this is the main action sequence, where there’s some sneaking to do before jumping into an empty Dalek housing. The Doctor is generally non-violent, using her wits to outsmart enemies. So now you can actually cause some damage and shoot the Daleks with their own weapons. Shame then that the entire sequence is on rails, offering a basic shooting gallery setup. VR titles like Pistol Whip prove on-rail shooters can work and offer excitement, there just wasn’t any here.
There was so much potential for Doctor Who: The Edge of Time as well as expectation that the end result feels muted. Parts of the experience are great and showcase high production values – the storyline, locations and acting for instance. Interspersed with these are the negatives which make it hard to recommend to the casual gamer. Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is one for the hardcore fans out there.