There’s a fair amount of untapped potential in the Doctor Who universe given its ability to shape anyone as the protagonist or assistant, the plethora of lore available, and the infinite number of world and time period combinations, so why does the TV show mainly seem to base itself in Victorian London? For the games linked to this cultural behemoth though, there’s a chance to break free from that and use any setting at all, and Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins takes that freedom of vision and… wait, what… it’s set in present day London and features the some of the villains from the last game? At least it’s not Daleks in the late 1800s I suppose. Can Maze Theory make an interesting mobile experience then out of material that’s been well trodden in other mediums? Keep your eyes on the page at all times to find out.
Flippancy aside on location and character use, the Doctor Who game offerings have been decent affairs with high production values and a determination to provide links into the show that fans will love, yet won’t necessarily alienate those unfamiliar with the time travelling eccentric. The Lonely Assassins takes this core principle and actually uses it to build an epilogue of sorts to the admittedly brilliant Blink! episode from 2007. Introducing the Weeping Angels that are a ravenous breed of aliens that send their victims hurtling through time and feed off the energy created, their only weakness appears to be the fact they look like stone statues, and can only move when not being observed. It created some genuinely tense moments as the main characters of Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale try to stop an attack with pre-recorded messages from the Doctor who’s been stranded in the past. It was a great idea, well executed, and one that’s partly reused in the game.
Billing itself under the “Found Phone” genre, The Lonely Assassins works on the idea that you’ve stumbled across Larry’s phone some years after the events of the episode. Larry has gone missing, and Petronella Osgood (another show link) has found a way to access his phone and talk to you to try and find out what’s gone on. The aim is simple – navigate the phone searching the photos, calls, messages and browser history to understand what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks and solve the mystery. Mixing images, audio and video from the actual cast of Doctor Who, it provides about an hour long diversion from whatever you’d usually be doing with your phone, and really does manage to pull you into the world it’s trying to create. This is down to the mix of high quality production and thought that’s gone into making it an engaging experience.
Although needing to look like a distinct operating system, the interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, and there’s always a hint or pointer available if you can’t work out what to do next. The main communication with Petronella is through the messaging side, and that’s built well enough to feel like someone typing a message at the other end. It doesn’t let you put your own text in, that’d be some really impressive stuff, so the responses and questions are a bit limiting, especially if you work something out well before the game wants you to; but they do the job they need to. More interesting is the use of audio/video files and receiving calls from various sources. If you’re new to the genre it’s a really novel feeling answering calls in a game or having a video chat with one of the antagonists, and it helps to bring the events to life around you. The Lonely Assassins recommends headphone use, though I suspect this is for jump scare impact only, the vast majority of the time you’ll have no issues understanding what’s going on.
Linking the story together and triggering its progress are the puzzles which are a low to moderate challenge, though mostly fall under 2 categories: search for something and tap on it, or search for something and remember information. Fortunately the mechanics don’t get used too much to make them dull, but equally it could have done to be a bit more challenging. This is Doctor Who after all, you expect some level of mental gymnastics to be employed, even if it’s just to believe the plot. Because the phone interface limits its scope vs what a real person would have, there could have been a bit more breadcrumb laying for tracking down info, or even something more meaningful in the “action” sections. These are set pieces (for want of a better word) where you need to repeatedly tap to stop whatever is happening. It’s a bit tiresome after the third time of it stopping you and switching the screen, and it adds to an overall feeling that the game requires no skill. That’s not actually true, and these elements tend to detract from the more cerebral side of what you’ve had to do to that point.
However, Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins is a really well put together game with great acting from the genuine cast, and a neat premise in wrapping up a loose end from an episode that’s getting on to 15 years old. It’s not overly long, and definitely not complicated, and most fans will get a kick out of what it does revisiting one of the best, if not the best, episode ever. Finding out what happened afterwards is probably worth the cost of entry alone. Could it have had more? There’s a part of me that as I was going through wanted to see it engage some sort of AR mode to bring the Weeping Angels into the room, and when it didn’t I have to say I was disappointed they’d missed that opportunity. That said, it probably wouldn’t have fit with the story and would have cheapened what they were trying to do. For the price though it’s really well done, and it’s definitely worth Whovians checking out.
An Android review copy of Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins was provided by Maze Theory’s PR team, and the game is available now on Android, iOS and PC for around £4 (and there’s a launch discount of 25% right now).