Over the years, many games have tried and failed to capture the feel of TV's Doctor Who, from officially-licensed BBC platformers (The Adventure Games and The Eternity Clock, we hardly knew ye) to puzzle games, role-playing stories, Top Trumps, iPhone maze games and even a game released in 1983 for the BBC Micro.
But does virtual reality hold the key to finally bringing the Whoniverse to life? Well, based on a short preview I’ve played of Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, it just might.
Developed by Maze Theory and BBC Studios, The Edge of Time puts you in the position of someone helping out the missing Doctor, flying the TARDIS to various locations and exploring them to find and complete various puzzles.
Unlike previous VR experience Doctor Who: The Runaway (which came from a different team and was aimed at a younger audience), players aren’t confined to a single spot in this adventure. In The Edge of Time, you can wander around the TARDIS and a variety of alien and historical locations, either by physically walking and turning or (with less risk to your shins and/or possessions) via the handheld controllers.
Your mission? Er, to collect some sort of “time crystals”, or something – it doesn’t really matter. Really, it’s all about finding your feet as a (sort of) Time Lord-in-training, complete with hip-holstered sonic screwdriver which you can whip out (and replace) very satisfyingly throughout the action.
The short section of the game I played saw me instructed by a large hologram of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor (Whittaker provides the voice) in my mission, before being instructed to use some fairly simple controls on the TARDIS “auto-pilot” mode to take me to my first location.
Unfortunately, I rather spectacularly fell at the first hurdle by completely misunderstanding this section for a good few minutes – all I had to do was use the hand controls to turn a few nobs in a pre-determined order, but I kept trying to get them in a particular rhythm, or based on size, and had to be rescued by one of the team demonstrating the game.
Still, eventually I managed to get the ship moving (with a little exasperated encouragement from the Doctor) and found myself on an alien world, where the gameplay proper kicked in. Moving around a misty landscape I had to collect clues, solve puzzles and decide which path I should take at different times, all while being stalked by unsettling, hunched grey aliens who watched me from afar with glowing red eyes.
Make no mistake – some parts of this game are pretty scary. The atmosphere and design of the alien world make for a chilling experience, and I genuinely jumped out of my skin when one of the aliens ran past the mouth of a cave I was huddled in. This game may well inspire some people to try to find some sort of computer-generated sofa to hide behind when it comes to later Dalek-themed levels.
Of course, it’s not quite a perfect representation of the Doctor’s world. For the most part the story I played wasn’t that distinguishable from any sort of vaguely sci-fi VR game, though that may change in levels that face you off with the TV show stalwarts like the Weeping Angels and the Daleks. And given that it’s a game where the Doctor is largely absent, it’s fair to say it doesn’t feel entirely like a Doctor Who episode come to life (well, maybe 'Love and Monsters', 'Blink' or 'Turn Left'…)
On a more practical point, your character also moves frustratingly slowly through the virtual world, with only a very short-range teleport function (about a metre) offering any short cuts.
I also found some of the puzzles both in the TARDIS and on the alien world a struggle to understand, and not because of difficulty – they were simple enough – but more because the format wasn’t very clearly laid out to me. Still, I’m assured that in the full-length game players will have a tutorial section before they end up in the main action of the game, which may lay out the gameplay a little more clearly for them.
Still, overall I found what I’ve played of Doctor Who: The Edge of Time to be a major step up in terms of Doctor Who video-game storytelling. Only time (and space) will tell if the full game lives up to expectations.
Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time will launch on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive and HTC Vive Cosmos. Stay tuned for a release date