Saturday, December 4, 2010

Doctor Who: Evacuation Bleurgh

The Prof, being the kindly soul he is, having read reviews that said it was a decent game and knowing my penchant for Professor Layton, decided to buy me Dr Who: Evacuation Earth for my DS.

Well that's £18 and six hours of my life I won't be getting back any time soon. The reviews the Prof had read said it was better than the Wii game, so I truly dread to think how abysmal that must be...

Let it be said, I have always had a fraught relationship with computer games, one which began with The Hobbit for the ZX Spectrum. I hated that sodding game; it was so bug ridden that I'd spend hours locked in a dungeon, listening to Thorin singing about gold before I'd finally lose it and attempt to kill the little @!*%$£!@, only to read the words "Thorin cleaves your skull in two". At least it meant I didn't have to listen to the singing anymore. It can be found here on this emulator, if you're really that masochistically inclined.

The DS game is very much in the spirit of its illustrious (pah!) predecessor. Its starts well enough; some nice banter and pretty good voice work, slightly duff facial animations (particularly for Matt Smith) and some scarily easy puzzles. Don't be fooled, though, its lulling you in to a false sense of security.

Things really go badly wrong when you get on board the spaceship. Its not a spoiler to tell you that, the game's called "Evacuation Earth" and they're hardly going to be rowing off the planet, now are they? Dialogue ceases to make sense, the grammar is abysmal, plot points start to appear in a completely random order (the worst offense being that you find out who the bad guys are from a throwaway line in a puzzle introduction before you actually meet them in game terms).

The fourth worst sin in the game is that far too many of the puzzles have multiple answers because of the terrible grammar and/or lack of explanation as to what you're supposed to be doing, but the game will only accept the answer its been programmed with.

The third worst sin is the reappearance of the crappy "move the ball of energy round this idiot maze" puzzle from the downloadable games (previously bemoaned here). This time there are other balls trying to kill you, giant fan blades a la The End of The World and you have to change the state of your ball (and no, there are no instructions as to how you do that; you have to guess). They also kept the most endearing feature, the fact that it doesn't matter where your stylus is, that pesky little ball will go where the hell it wants. And then blow up. Multiple times.

The second worst sin is that one of the clues for a puzzle is just plain wrong. By this point in the game, I was utterly convinced that a two year old must have been in charge of the QA. Allegedly Nintendo paid £10,000,000 for exclusivity on the franchise, which obviously didn't leave them enough money to pay for playtesters or proofreaders. I'm not blaming writer Oli Smith here, the plot seems fair enough, but the execution is awful. And it does feel like a professional hit, if you take my meaning.

The biggest sin, and the reason why I will not be finishing this game, is because the game does not save data in the way that it claims it does. Allegedly, every time you solve a puzzle or change locations, the game saves. No, it doesn't. I know this because of a well known console gaming law: if you cock something up, just turn off the power and have another crack at it, everything will be fine (unless you're playing Hamtaro Olympics, but at least that's honest and upfront with you about how its going to stuff you if you try it).

There were a few minor, easily fixed infractions but, after six hours of gameplay, the modern equivalent of Thorin cleaving my skull in two happened. Now, if I do want to get to the end of the story I will have to go all the way back to the beginning and start again FROM SCRATCH because the motherless beep-beep of a beep-beep game lost my saved data in such a way that three key items went missing and could not be recovered. Ever. (And don't get me started on the trouble I had getting those three items in the first place with the game's pixel perfect placement of objects requirement). The Prof had to prise my apoplexied fingers from the console.

So, Asylum Games, you have an aptly named company. You're obviously in one.


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