Doctor Who burns through concepts quickly. Big ideas that could sustain an entire season of a different show are often introduced, escalated and resolved in less than an hour of telly. Take Steven Moffat’s Blink, for example: although the Weeping Angels did return in later episodes, fans never got to learn what happened next to the small sect of statue-shaped monsters that Sally Sparrow, Larry Nightingale and David Tennant’s Doctor left trapped in the cellar at a creepy house called Wester Drumlins. Until now, that is.
Enter Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins, a new video game that follows on from Blink, brought to us by Kaigan Games and Maze Theory. In what’s sure to be a fan-pleasing fashion, this fast-paced interactive experience revisits Wester Drumlins and dives deep into Doctor Who lore, with plenty of Easter eggs and nuggets of new information. It seemed like the perfect way to begin RadioTimes.com‘s Game of the Week column, a new series of articles where we’ll spotlight titles that we think our readers will love.
In terms of gameplay, The Lonely Assassins falls into something called the ‘found phone’ genre, where stories are built around the idea of the player’s character picking up someone else’s phone and unravelling a mystery therein. It seems best to play the game on mobile, then – The Lonely Assassins launches today on iPhone and Android devices, although there is also a PC version available today and a Nintendo Switch port on the way.
As well as playing on your phone if you can, we’d recommend connecting up some headphones if possible. That way, you’ll get the full impact of the scary sound effects, as well as enjoying the dulcet tones of the impressive cast that’s been assembled – Finlay Robertson reprises his role as Larry Nightingale from Blink, Ingrid Oliver is back as Osgood, and there’s even a very special cameo from the voice of Jodie Whittaker.
Playing the game is exciting and engaging from start to finish. It’s a brisk adventure that most players should be able to complete in around three hours – that’s a decent amount of bang for your buck, considering that the Lonely Assassins price is under a fiver. That being said, you will get a score card at the end of the game, which might make you want to restart the whole thing and try again.
The Lonely Assassins gameplay tasks you with sifting through a stranger’s lost phone – you’ll be looking through image galleries and videos, searching through messages and websites, and chatting back and forth with Osgood about all the clues that you find. There’s a satisfying loop to the process – as you find more clues, more parts of the phone unlock, and you start to build an understanding of what happened to the owner of this phone.
To say too much about the story might spoil the fun. It’s best if you load up the game yourself and discover its secrets in your own way. But one thing that is worth saying is this: it’s clear that the developers from Maze Theory and Kaigan Games are big fans of Doctor Who. You can tell. Their passion for the franchise shines through in a lot of ways – you’ll find references to the Doctor’s previous adventures in all sorts of places, from fictitious online forums to things that Osgood confides in you. And these aren’t just sly nods for the sake of it – they’re often laced with humour and insight, too.
Across the board, the writing by Gavin Collinson is really strong, especially when you consider how many different forms of writing he has to tie together in this game. It can’t be easy to write text-chats with various different characters, as well as all the webpages, and the live-action scenes, at the same time as trying to weave a story together that flows in a satisfying way. But Collinson succeeds, admirably, and he even manages to give you three dialogue choices in pretty much every exchange that you have. You can make your character funny or scared, confident or confused, which makes it feel like a neatly personal experience.
In its best moments, The Lonely Assassins makes you feel like an active member of the Doctor Who universe. There are some great little challenges where you really have to use your brain, and your detective skills, to piece together information from various sources and crack open a new chunk of the story. You might even find yourself taking screenshots or making pen-and-paper notes when something seems important.
There are also a few moments of actual terror, which isn’t easy to achieve on a mobile phone screen. When the threat of the Weeping Angels begins to present itself, the graphics and sound design combine nicely to send a shiver down your spine. Some fans may come out of the game wishing they saw a bit more of the Angels, however, as the bulk of your time is spent going in and out of apps rather than confronting the monsters head-on. Regardless, the Angels evolve in some interesting ways here, despite the fact they’re often on the periphery.
Much like the main Doctor Who TV series, The Lonely Assassins also burns through concepts quickly – some skills that you learn in the game will only get used once or twice, which is a bit of a shame. For example, there’s one segment where you take control of some CCTV cameras, which you could probably rush through in a minute. There’s also one scary segment where you’re up against the clock for a timed challenge, but if you take too long, you don’t get another shot at it (unless you play the whole game again). If they make The Lonely Assassins sequels, it would be cool to spend a bit more time with ideas and see how far they can go.
The way the story comes together works really well, though, with things that seemed unimportant at first paying off in surprising ways. There are a few twists and turns to enjoy, and one superbly silly moment that will stick in fans’ memories for a while. (If you thought Gwen Cooper taking out a Dalek with her son’s moped and some boxing gloves was a bit off-the-wall, wait until you see how The Lonely Assassins ends!)
It’s also worth taking a second to praise the live-action scenes in the game, which really feel like proper Doctor Who. There’s heart and humour in the glimpses we see of Larry Nightingale’s post-Blink life, and it’s a real joy to see Ingrid Oliver stepping perfectly back into the role of Osgood. Long-term fans will surely be happy to see these two back in action, and you might even come away from The Lonely Assassins feeling like you got to know these characters on a personal level.
Also, given that The Lonely Assassins isn’t too long of a game, it almost feels like an episode of Doctor Who that you get to assemble yourself. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that the game deploys that iconic theme tune for its opening-credits and end-credits, even going so far as to treat us to a rare rendition of the middle-eight at the close. Given that we might be waiting a while before Doctor Who returns to our TV sets, we’re certainly happy to have this extra interactive interlude.
As we’ve touched on a few times, there are a few reasons why you might want to replay the game more than once, and the developers have built the game to reward you for that. If you missed a few Easter eggs the first time, you should be able to find them on your second try. Or you might take the first play-through quite seriously, but choose to select the more humorous conversation choices on your second play. Or you might just want to see what happens if you hang up on Osgood.
Whichever way they choose to play it, most Doctor Who fans will have fun with The Lonely Assassins. It’s a really strong debut for the franchise in the ‘found phone’ genre, and it’s easy to see how potential sequels could build on its success. We’re proud to name it our very first Game of the Week, and we might even go back for a third play-through!
Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins launches today (19th March) for iOs, Android and PC, with a Nintendo Switch release following at a later date. You can learn more about the game in our exclusive Lonely Assassins interview for the RadioTimes.com Doctor Who Podcast.
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