Doctor Who: City of the Daleks is the first of four adventure games, starring digital alter-egos of Matt Smith’s Doctor and Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond. The first two episodes are currently available to UK residents for free, while the games will be released later on in other territories for purchase. The episodes don’t tie in to any Doctor Who storylines; they are completely standalone, so you don’t need any Doctor Who experience to play them. Having said that, these games are clearly aimed at established fans of the show.
The first episode begins with Amy and The Doctor in the Tardis, headed to London, 1963, looking forward to seeing the Beatles and having some fun. Inevitably, the Beatles are not what they find. The entire planet has been destroyed by the Daleks, who have somehow developed time altering technology of their own. It’s up to the Doctor to head to the Dalek planet of Skarro to unravel these events, not only to save the planet on the epic scale, but also to save Amy, who technically no longer exists (if the world ended, she couldn’t have been born). This is the sort of epic storyline one would expect to find in a series finale.
Players control both the Doctor and Amy in third person, and the game combines elements of adventure games and stealth games. You’ll be presented with an area, and have to navigate your way around, avoiding Daleks and finding items in order to progress. You’ll have your trusty Sonic Screwdriver to get you through a few locks, but you’re otherwise weaponless. This is about as complex as the game gets. Throughout the episode (which is a couple of hours long at the most) you’ll have to play some mini-games (representing rewiring circuits, or other technology). These generally involve dragging things using the mouse while trying to avoid obstacles. The games aren’t particularly hard, though they can become a little frustrating.
The stealth sections can also be frustrating; the controls are clunky at best, and collision detection isn’t perfect, meaning you’ll frequently get stuck in the environment. This is not convenient, especially when you have a very brief window to slip past a Dalek. Although it’s a practical game mechanic to keep things simple, the Daleks very limited sensor field seems a little silly. You can literally sneak past within a meter alongside them, and they won’t see you. The final gameplay element is conversation. This only happens a couple of times in the game, and is largely pointless. You have a few choices of things to say, and each choice has a direct response, with no possibility of complex conversations with consequences.
Graphically, the game doesn’t stand up with the best. But then again, for now, this game is free on the internet. What you do get, though, is more than acceptable. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are largely very well represented, though Karen Gillan’s face looks a little puffy. Textures are adequate, and the lighting is pretty minimal. One odd feature is just how reflective clothes are: it all looks like spandex. Animations are, again, a little clunky but more than acceptable, and finally the models themselves are pretty good, but be prepared to turn up the anti-aliasing to get rid of some significant jaggies.
The performances from the two leads are vital to hold the game together, and also tie it in with the series. Karen Gillan is perfect as Amy Pond, though Matt Smith falls a little short. While I think his interpretation of The Doctor on TV, what I’ve seen of it at least, is fantastic, here he applies a kind of intense mumble to most of his lines. This seems in opposition to his quirky and enthusiastic delivery in the show, but doesn’t spoil the game by any means.
Overall, City of the Daleks is a fun diversion for a few hours. It has plenty of flaws, to be sure, but, for UK residents at least, it’s completely free, which makes it hard not to recommend. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, and were considering giving this one a go, I’d say go for it – just bear in mind the shortcomings. If you have kids who love the TV show, this is almost a must-have, though be prepared to be on hand to help out with a few frustrating bits. Bring on the Cybermen in Episode 2!