With a global fan base and decades of material to draw upon it’s no surprise that BBC Studios have again commissioned a game based on the long running sci-fi series Doctor Who. This one though is regenerating into a VR title to put players into the crazy world of the enigmatic Gallifreyan. Leveraging the popularity of recent enemies, all the assets in the archive, and engaging the talents of the current Doctor Jodie Whittaker, there’s potential for fans of the series to really get something special out of the experience. The danger as with all VR games is that it might not manage to give enough bang for its buck… though can thinking of The Edge of Time as a special interactive episode overcome that hurdle?
Dumping you into the thick of the action almost immediately, with the Doctor spinning a yarn about being stuck at the edge of time whilst a reality virus distorts the universe, you’re a random bystander tasked with following her instructions to travel through eras to find some missing time crystals. Pushing things forward, the Doctor propels you through these numerous puzzle based scenarios giving just enough guidance to figure things out on your own. It’s a pure Who story with all the bells and whistles of fantastical science, horrendous enemies and everything being saved for the ending with a usual Deus ex Machina reveal to sort things out. Written by Maze Theory’s Marcus Moresby and approved by show writer Gavin Collinson, it’s got an authentic feel to the proceedings that some TV and movie tie-ins manage to not get right.
As the majority of Edge of Time is puzzle based, you’re free to roam around the environments and investigate or inspect pretty much everything that’s within reach. Using the Move controllers there’s a choice of locomotion or teleporting depending on whichever is most comfortable, and they’re also used to grab and manipulate items alongside handling (most importantly for Who fans) the sonic screwdriver. The iconic device comes into play a couple of times, sadly mainly as a glorified lockpick, and remains holstered ready for grabbing at any point from your chest. With a fairly decent variety in the puzzles nothing repeats itself, with each time period giving a different style to work through. Every area also comes with its own atmosphere and that’s one of the core surprises of the game.
What translates well in VR is the sense of dread and horror that the Doctor Who of old used to instil in children. Just beneath its Saturday teatime friendly veneer lurks dread and despair when you start to think too hard about the content. That feeling is evoked in spades in a couple of levels, and is particularly well done with the Weeping Angels. These recent favourite monsters only move when you can’t see them and having the ultimate control over where you look in the headset makes for some very tense gameplay. Daleks are there too because it’s law that they’re in everything, and of course there’s a visit to Victorian London, it’s where they go in the TV series when the budgets get tight. Fortunately they’re all realised well in The Edge of Time and do their TV based counterparts justice.
With the look, feel, writing and acting credentials sorted, how does the actual gameplay fare? It’s solid enough though lacks a bit of polish that would have elevated it somewhat. In a game where everything is touch and grab you want to be able to pick up items easily – especially if it’s interacting with the TARDIS controls – but weirdly here you have to reach through an object to activate it. It takes a while to re-calibrate your brain that in VR the reality isn’t even attempting to be virtual. There’s also the fact that the latter part of the game feels very padded just to make it last beyond 2 hours. An on rails shooter followed by ten minutes of very slightly interactive cutscene didn’t make for an exciting ending; nor does an enforced stealth section garner any love when failure means a reload that feels like it takes an eternity. Also, if you’re making a game that relies on instructions provided verbally, make sure the sound mix doesn’t drown out each spoken word.
However, there are a lot of good ideas in Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, and it’s executed faithfully to the source material, so it’s a shame that it runs out of steam in the home stretch and becomes almost boring. I didn’t expect it to have horror elements with moments that are genuinely creepy, and I was delighted with some of the more involved brain teasers, but not being an avid fan of the story direction of the last few series on BBC One I think the way it all panned out didn’t have the impact it should. With optimised loading and a tighter control on delivering a shorter yet more rewarding game this could have been great, though I’d expect most Whovians will get a kick out of helping the Timelord save the universe. Again.
A PSVR review copy of Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time was provided by Maze Theory’s PR team, and the game is available now for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Vive Cosmos and PSVR now for around £25.