Doctor Who: The Adventure Games - Episode Two: Blood of the Cybermen review
With a license like Doctor Who that revolves around such expansive fiction, there is an almost unlimited potential for new stories. While most have been limited to the television screen in recent years, the BBC decided to produce four episodic self-proclaimed “adventure games” to coincide with the current TV season. The first installment, City of the Daleks, was a welcome chance to personally climb into the Doctor’s world, but it was let down by repetitive stealth gameplay and a middling story. Blood of the Cybermen addresses these faults with a twist-filled plot and more interaction, making for a definite improvement over the opening chapter, although not without raising a few new problems of its own.
Upon receiving a distress signal in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Amy investigate an arctic excavation site that they soon discover is overrun by Cyberslaves – humans who have been infected and transformed into emotionless cyborgs. These metallic horrors are using the underground dig with malicious intent, leaving the duo to procure an antidote and figure out a way to stop them before the whole human race is converted. Whereas the first episode sank in intensity in the middle, this time around the pace manages to remain exciting throughout, constantly chucking in new elements or spinning out a surprise. As the protagonists descend further down through the base, they slowly uncover what is truly behind the chaos and how the Cybers managed to achieve everything they have. To help flesh this story out, there are two new supporting characters added to the cast. Chisholm, the worker who is terrified out his mind, is by the far the stronger of the two, as you have little conversation with Professor Meadows, the project leader, who seems to be present largely as a plot device, which makes her feel like a superficial addition.
Sadly, for all the middle section contributes to the storyline, it lacks in environmental design. It’s set inside the isolated base, a fairly bland and lifeless locale with little to spice it up bar a few television screens on the walls. The uninspired room layouts consist mostly of shelves and tables littered with random scientific equipment, often reusing the same assets. Research labs may really look like that, but it doesn’t make for fun exploration. Luckily, the acts wrapped around it are far more appealing to the eye. The opening at an ice cavern and the closing at the Cyberslaves’ operational hideout beneath the snow are spacious, visually impressive and good fun to sneak and run around. The frigid setting perfectly captures the cold, calculating nature of the Cyber-race and is sure to send a shiver down your spine at certain moments.
You’ll be making greater use of your surroundings than before, too, as Blood of the Cybermen adds some much needed interaction. Although inventory use is still kept to a minimum, the Doctor and Amy will be doing things like jumping over icy drops, operating construction lifts and fiddling with mirrors to create a light reflection between them. You’ll also be pushing ice blocks, spinning cogs and pulling levers to see what impact they have on the world around you. Making a return from the first episode are the stealth sections, although they aren’t as predominant here as they were with the Daleks. Despite working the same way mechanically, a lot of the sneaking takes place in the enclosed underground tunnels, creating a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere. Could there be a Cyberslave behind that corner? Is it going to turn around before you duck for cover? The uncertainty makes these sections trickier than before, and as a result, slightly more enjoyable.
There are more mini-games to discover as well, and apart from one wire connector sequence near the beginning of the game, they are entirely new. The primary activity involves rotating a number of balls that are orbiting a centre point and colour coding them to a set of rules. On top of requiring a degree of dexterity to align them, there is also logic needed to succeed, and these tasks get progressively harder in the more advanced Cyber technology. The other mini-game, which only appears once, sees you twisting dials to match a radio frequency. It’s nothing too taxing, but at least it fits in with the narrative and is mildly enjoyable.
One gripe to be had is with the overly simplistic nature of the traditional puzzles. Usually your task is to find an object, which often just means wandering between rooms until you come across what you need, although at times you’ll need to perform another easy step beforehand. Sometimes the solution is obvious from the start, and other times you’re directly told by someone how to solve a problem. With so little to figure out on your own, the game may as well just be a television episode. Appealing to children is not an excuse to hold the player’s hand to the extent it does. For example, the Doctor reads a birth date from a file and notes its relevance. It turns out this is a numerical key code, but he automatically inputs it when needed rather than letting the player connect the two themselves. Elsewhere, when Amy must stop a Cyberslave from chasing her, there are only a couple of things for you to click in the room, making the solution exceedingly basic. There’s something to be said for puzzles that don’t interfere with the story, but the simplicity here ruins what could have been more worthwhile deductive moments in favour of quick advancement.
Matt Smith as the Doctor is still reserved in his delivery (perhaps a little too much so on occasion), but this time around Karen Gillan is a bit chirpier as Amy, although the duo still lack the on-screen spark fans of the show will be accustomed to. The supporting cast provide a decent performance too, all aided by the genuinely chuckle-worthy dialogue full of pop culture references and nods to Doctor Who past. The music from Murray Gold is once again of standout quality, adding mystery and intensity at all the key moments, as are the sound effects, from the trademark clomping of Cyber-feet to the crunching of snow underfoot.
Disappointingly, I encountered several technical bugs. The biggest offender was in the middle of the game, where a door that was meant to automatically open refused to do so. After wandering around trying to figure out what I’d missed, I eventually resorted to a walkthrough and found my solution: restarting the game from the beginning. For some reason, despite doing exactly the same steps as last time, this fixed it. Other problems were being able to walk through walls and into darkness or hearing the Doctor spout dialogue relating to a completely different scene. It’s surprising these latter two weren’t caught (or perhaps bothered to fix) during testing, as I was easily able to recreate them.
Despite some weaknesses both old and new, Blood of the Cybermen is nevertheless a more enjoyable game than City of the Daleks and lasts longer in the process, taking close to two hours. The twisty nature of the plot makes for a far more exciting narrative, and the increased interaction keeps the gameplay from getting repetitive and dull. Unfortunately, the experience is still let down by some severely easy puzzles and one particularly boring setting. As before, the game is free to download for UK residents, and available for a small fee elsewhere throughout the world, so its value to you will depend on where you are. For Doctor Who fans, this second installment once again nicely complements the show, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement in the next two episodes.
Some of the fun is drained by lacklustre puzzles and dull exploration at times, but Blood of the Cybermen is an improvement over the first episode thanks to a surprise-filled plot and greater gameplay variation.
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