Tuesday, June 22, 2010

City of the Daleks Review

The first episode of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is available now for free for residents of the United Kingdom, as part of the programming paid by the BBC licensing fee, and for $2.50 US as part of a package with episode two by those outside the UK.  It is considered by the executive producer of the Doctor Who, Piers Wenger, to be an interactive episode within the fifth series.

The story definitely holds it's own among the other stories of the current season of Doctor Who.  The game is meant to take fans places that aren't possible on the show due to budget constraints, and this episode lives up to that goal.  The episode starts in a destroyed London on Earth in 1963.  Nearly the entire human population has been destroyed, and within the first moments of the episode the Doctor and Amy discover the Daleks are behind it all. The Doctor takes the TARDIS to where the destruction began, the capitol city of the Dalek planet Skaro, Kaalaan, which is shown for the first time.  Phil Ford, the writer of the 2009 Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars, has done an exceptional job with this story.  All plot holes that I thought I noticed in the story were addressed as the story unfolds.  It's a complex weave of time travel, paradoxes, and the exploration of human determination.  Which is everything you'd expect from Doctor Who.

The presentation is also everything you'd expect from Doctor Who.  The episode begins with a non-playable intro that sets up the story, and cuts into a real time version of the series five opening credits.  The graphics are similar to the level of detail present in the episodic adventure games by Telltale Games, as the developers have aimed for as many computers to be able to play the game as possible.  You won't find mind blowing graphics that will match the computer imagery found in the television show, but the developers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the digital characters match their on-screen counterparts as closely as possible given the technical restraints.

The voice acting doesn't quite live up to the story and presentation, but it's definitely not bad.  The parts of the Doctor and Amy are played by their on-screen actors, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, and it's clear they don't have much voice-over experience.  For the most part, the lines are read well.  But there are points where the lines are read with little emotion, and come across sounding more dull than you'd hear in the show.  It's never to the point of being bad.  Even the lines lacking in emotion are better than a lot of adventure game voice acting, and thankfully the really dull lines are few and far between.

The music, however, is just what you'd expect from the show, as it uses music composed by the composer from the television show, Murray Gold.  The music cues are just as you'd find on the show.  The music is quiet in moments where the duo are trying to not be seen, but gets more intense upon detection by enemies.

Presentation aside, the gameplay is what seperates an episodic game from a television show, and this game is quite playable.  The developers have tried to keep all types of adventure game players happy.  The game is controlled via direct control of the playable character, which alternates between the Doctor and Amy.  The default option is control via the keyboard and the mouse.  The keyboard controls the movement, and the mouse controls the camera and allows the player to click on objects.  Like Telltale Games, Sumo Digital has provided an option to control the character entirely with a mouse.  In this game, the player can be controlled similar to the control found in racing games.  With the click of a mouse button, the character will move forward, and then can be turned using the mouse.  Once the mouse button is released, the character will stop. 

There is stealth-based action in this game, but it works surprisingly well and in my opinion it doesn't cause the game to enter into action-adventure territory.  If you mess up and are shot by a Dalek or bitten by a Varga plant, you don't get a game over screen.  Like Full Throttle or Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, you are simply returned to the beginning of the section to try again.

As this game is intended for players of all ages, the puzzles in this game are not difficult.  They consist entirely of pattern recognition and puzzles using basic motor skills.  There is one instance of a block-pushing puzzle, but it is very short.  The one flaw the game has is in puzzle repetition.  The maze puzzle was the major offender. It was an OK puzzle the first time, but not great. I enjoyed the wire puzzle and the pattern puzzle since they seemed like something the Doctor would actually do. But the maze puzzles seemed a little weird, since I couldn't imagine the Doctor pushing little circuits through electrified mazes.  If it would have only been done once, I would have let it slide and just chalk my dislike of the puzzle up to fangirl nitpicking. However, they put in three pattern puzzles (but it actually made sense why there would be three of those in the storyline). Then they put in three of the maze puzzles, which were the weakest puzzles.  The final puzzle, however, was quite entertaining.  Like the episodic adventures by Telltale Games, the boss battle at the end was a puzzle.  It wasn't a brain teaser, as it was a simple puzzle testing basic motor skills.  However, it was the most memorable puzzle of the game since it fit into the world of Doctor Who so well.

Despite it's flaws, The City of Daleks is an entertaining game.  The story, presentation, and music make this really feel like an interactive Doctor Who episode.  The voice acting, while never truly bad, is a bit dull at times, and does detract from the overall feel a bit.  The repetition of puzzles also detracts from the experience.  However, for a game that is free to the majority of its audience, it is quite good.  If the next episode continues the impressive presentation but improves upon the voice acting and adds more variety to the puzzles, it has the potential to be a great adventure game.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

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