Thursday, 17 November 2011

Doctor Who - The Gunpowder Plot

The Doctor and some Guy.

Hello again, today I would like to tell you all about the latest Doctor Who Adventure Game, The Gunpowder Plot. I have covered all the other games in this series so now it’s time for me to produce my usual report on both game and story. I’ll split the review into two halves so first up is a review of the game itself...

The Game

Oh dear. It’s been almost a whole year since the last Adventure Game (the Vashta Nerada based Christmas episode) and surely the time has been spent evaluating the series so far and devising ways to make the game more fun? Less... crap? No it has not.

You may not remember my previous grumbles about this series and the inherent problems I’ve had with the game mechanics, and the general competency of the design. Let me remind you of the ways in which previous Doctor Who Adventure Games have offended me:

1. Stealth sections. Bloody stealth. Doctor Who is not Solid Snake or Rikimaru, he’s the Doctor, a stumbling, loud, talky man. The Adventure Games love to include stealth sections that are usually too tough for kids and too frustrating/boring for manchildren like me.

2. Time limit finishes where precision and timed button presses are essential, neither of which are possible given that controlling the characters feels like driving a hovercraft full of eels through a pool of extra slippy custard.

3. Mini games that are boring and frustrating. The previous games decided to recreate the Doctor’s habit of bashing gadgets together out of bits of junk by forcing you to play tiresome min games, the worst being the steady hand game. The game that can be found at the fair where if you touch the wire with your metal loop there’s a loud buzzing noise and you lose. It is the worst game.

4. Lots of running down corridors. Okay, this is a Doctor Who tradition but it doesn’t mean that I want to spend my time up and down the same bloody sets like poor old Colin Baker in Mindwarp.

So after almost a year to clear up the mistakes in past games I was expecting an improvement, what I got instead was a neutered version of the same frustrating mess. The good news is that the mini games are infrequent and largely painless, the hateful wire game has gone and is replaced with a simple connect the shapes puzzle. It’s pretty easy and not frustrating – great for kids and good for someone who just wants to get through the story. So although the mini games are still there, they’re largely painless and irrelevant. Hurray. Still, it would be nice not to have them at all.

And that’s the only positive.

The stealth section is present again, only this time the setting appears to be the traditional computer game staple of a bloody sewer. Not only do you have to play through a risible stealth section (now with added stealth ‘kills’) but you have to do it in a series of brown corridors. Fun. The stealth section is also overlong and repeated twice. Plodding slowly behind dim-witted aliens does not make for excitement or tension, it fosters boredom.

The traditional adventure game puzzles are incredibly easy and come across as half hearted. The good news is that it’s almost impossible to get stuck as almost all the puzzles can be solved with the sonic screwdriver or the psychic paper. The bad news is that it removes any thought or challenge to the puzzles. You'll often find an item but then realise that it’s the solution to the puzzle you’re about to encounter in the same area. Again, good for young children, bad for anyone who wants to put their brain to use. Still, I did find it funny that over the course of the game Amy manages to make use of the various remnants of a Chinese meal she keeps in her pocket.

The animation is appalling, everyone runs like the T-1000 in Terminator 2 and the water effects are awful. The game looks like it was developed 10 years ago, if you play the game at the default Medium graphics quality then Rory is a nightmare creature - a being spawned from beyond with fronds for hair and black liquid eyes. If you want to change any of the graphics settings you have to close down the game. There is no option to restart, you have to close down and restart the game manually - the game does not prompt you to do this either. I would also like to mention the incredibly bizarre bug I encountered during installation where for some reason the installer would hang for 20 minutes and then commence installation. I wasn’t the only one to have this problem and it took a trip to the official site to figure out why the installer wasn’t working.

Rory would like you to join him... IN HELL.

The game itself is terrible, the novelty of playing as the Doctor, Amy, and Rory soon wears off and you find yourself wondering how much time you’ve wasted watching poorly implemented cutscenes and listening to poor voice acting. Again it seems that there is little direction for the actors as even the normally excellent series regulars sound flat and unconvincing.

These complaints are nothing I haven’t already mentioned in previous reviews and it seems these problems will never be resolved. This is a tragedy, there was a chance here to create something truly special for the Doctor Who audience but the ball was dropped, rolled down a hill, and landed in an open sewer.

The Story

Enough moaning about the game, what’s the story like?

It’s actually not bad once you get past the crappy game mechanics and the tedious running through dull corridors and city streets. The Doctor crashes his TARDIS into another ship after escaping a horde of angry medieval Chinese warriors that Amy and Rory had managed to annoy. 'Dimensional lesions' begin to appear in the TARDIS itself and the Doctor tracks more lesions to Earth. The TARDIS crash lands in 17th Century London on the 5th November 1605 and the Doctor and crew stumble across Guy Fawkes and his co conspirators, who are led by a strange woman with glowing green eyes...

It transpires that the Doctor crashed into a Rutan ship (Horror of Fang Rock) and stranded a crew of Rutans under the streets of 17th Century London. The Rutans want to blow up Parliament so that the explosion can propel their ship off Earth (yeah... what?). It’s not long before the Sontarans arrive to stop the Rutans and take the Rutan’s genocide device. It seems the Rutans were travelling to Sontar to destroy the Sontaran race with a viral bomb. The Sontarans want to get their hands on this bomb so they can reverse engineer it and use it to destroy the Rutan race.

After a lot of running up and down corridors and avoiding Rutan and Sontaran patrols, the Doctor saves Parliament by transporting it into space and recreating his anti-Dalek weapon from Remembrance of the Daleks and modifies it to fight off the Rutans.

Eventually the Doctor reverse engineers the bomb to destroy the Rutans and gives a spare bomb to the Sontarans so that both races have the power to wipe each other out. The aliens, having reached a stalemate, decide to leave Earth alone and continue their war elsewhere (or later on one side will probably steal the other side's bomb and then detonate the genocide device). The Doctor then returns Parliament to Earth and leaves Guy Fawkes to be captured by the authorities.

The problem with the story is that it is constantly interrupted by the game itself and by heavy handed educational dialogue. “Hello, my name is Guy Fawkes, my favourite colour is green and I had liver and onions for dinner. I hope to blow up Parliament with my barrels of gunpowder. I hope I don’t get caught because the punishment of the time is to be pecked to death by a duck.” This pretty much happens every time you speak to one of the conspirators. I love history and I’m always interested in the stories of historical figures but the presentation in this game is sorely lacking, it's like having a textbook read aloud to you.

I remember an old collectible series called Discovery that had a Guy Fawkes special, it had wonderful posters and educational facts and stories behind the Gunpowder Plot. Hanging those posters on my wall was more fun than playing this game.

The BBC has released some educational material for schools to go hand in hand with the game. I hope the kids have fun with the PDFs 'cos the game will bore them to tears.

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