DOCTAH

31 Aug

The third Doctor Who Adventure Game, simply titled TARDIS, is initially bursting with promise. A brief but character-heavy episode doing away with the frankly terrible ‘stealth’ sections from the last two installments in favour of a more cerebral puzzling experience, set solely in the Doctor’s spinning blue box. It also features the most horrifying loading screen in gaming.

This would be awesome, except you’re never really exploring the TARDIS – a grand total of two rooms can be visited, the famous central control room and the study. Fair enough, it’s covered in trinkets from the show (Tom Baker’s scarf, David Tennant’s fob watch, broken bits of Dalek and Cyberman and so on), and thankfully they actually serve a purpose in the story rather being pointless winks to fans. Still, having the chance to provide free access to the most mysterious of rectangular time machines and passing over it is the biggest missed opportunity these games have made. What do they do with the numerous stairs and walkways? Go into the entrance that isn’t to the study and it’ll eject you back in the main room from a different entrance, possibly with the caption “It’s so easy to get lost in here”. No, I wasn’t lost, I was actively discouraged from exploring.

"Funny, I remember being taller than this"

Of course the absence of the ‘sneak around moron Daleks’ mechanic is a huge improvement, but the minigames are still the tired rewiring and maze-navigating tosh they were in the first game. So misplaced are these bits that when the triumphant “DUN DUN DAHN, DAHN DAHN DAH-DUN” theme plays, it almost sounds sarcastic. “Yeah, well done, you connected some coloured wires. Real nice Timelording, there”. Luckily there a couple of highlights – a quiz, one that will put smug smiles on the faces of Whoniverse buffs and normal smiles on everyone else for the phrase “Amy Pond for the win!”, and a sequence where you get to do all that nifty lever-pulling shit to make the TARDIS go. A final word on the minigames – when they become less entertaining and more jarring with the feel of the show than a quiz, it might be time to try something else. As long as it isn’t stealth.

Not that there would any need for it – the token monster in this story is the least threatening creature in Doctor Who since those Stay Puft Marshmallow things. A time-chomping glowing tennis ball whose only power appears to be giving people yellow outlines, not unlike when a teammate gets covered in vomit in Left 4 Dead, is on the loose and of consequence to pretty much nobody. The voice actors give a jolly good crack at it, but the canned animations that play out when confronting this thing only make it look like more of a joke. Why don’t the games get the flesh-eating spores and the legions of John Simms, eh Moffat?

"Funny, I remember being less blue than this"

If you’re a fan and this all this is putting you off trying it, feel free to ignore most of what I’ve said. From the standpoint of a depressingly frequent gamer, the problems of The Adventure Games are amplified as you think why you’re not playing something with more polish and smarter design. From the standpoint of a series fan who wants to experience it in a new medium, TARDIS – for all its many flaws – still feels satisfyingly Who-ish. There’s pseudoscience to be blurted out, sexy Scottish girls to save and a spaceship to be piloted. There’s a few good gags and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just worth the 265MB download, but there’s still a lot that needs fixing by the time Episode 4 hits.

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