We embark on an adventure through space and time with a first look at Maze Theory’s new virtual reality game, Doctor Who: The Edge of Time.
The reason that so few video game adaptations of Doctor Who have been successful is the chatty, mostly non-violent nature of the source material. The long-running BBC TV show isn’t a natural fit for many traditional game genres, be it a shooter, platformer, or even a puzzle game. The legendary Charles Cecil and Sumo Digital gave it a creditable shot with 2010’s The Adventure Games but, in general, the property has never received the video game treatment it deserves.
It’s too early to say if Maze Theory’s Doctor Who: The Edge of Time will change all that. However, based on the short demo I played at MCMComicCon, I’m confident the show has finally, within the medium of virtual reality, found its natural gaming habitat.
Set in a deserted junkyard – echoing Doctor Who‘s first episode from 1963 – the demo is a surprisingly sombre affair. It’s heavy on tone and atmosphere, with a deep red sky and eerie soundscape tickling the ears. It’s immediately apparent that Maze Theory intends to make a game that, if not exactly scary, is closer to the show’s behind-the-sofa reputation than Supermassive’s 2012 PlayStation Vita effort, The Eternity Clock.
So, if you can’t go shooting, platforming, or racing in a Doctor Who game, what can you do? Well, you can tell an enjoyable yarn, and you can tap into a rich fictional history accumulated over 56 years.
In this brief demo, there’s little indication of where the game’s narrative will take us – it’s written by The Hitchcock Murders‘ author, Gavin Collinson – but there are enough moments of Doctor Who magic to suggest that Maze Theory understands the show’s ethos and appeal.
Exploring the junkyard is as simple as poking about with the Vive Controller. Interaction is fairly limited but once you get hold of the Doctor’s famous Sonic Screwdriver things quickly pick up. The authentic sound effects play their part, and there’s a simple pleasure in zapping the device at various objects and seeing the effect. It’s as all-purpose as its television equivalent.
The game also features a typically spirited performance from current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. At this stage Whittaker only appears in audio form, requesting the player’s assistance through a radio transmission. With the Doctor’s voice in my ear, and the ominous sight of a Dalek saucer whirring overhead, the experience kicks into gear.
The next moment is even more spine-tingling. A wheezing, groaning sound punctures the air and the Police Box shape of the TARDIS gradually appears. A thousand childhood dreams come true and it’s hard to not leave a tear of joy behind for the next player in the Vive headset.
Summoned into the TARDIS, the game abruptly cuts to an all-encompassing, 360-degree recreation of the Doctor Who title sequence. Tumbling through a time vortex accompanied by Segun Akinola’s stirring version of the theme tune is another moment to savour. It’s a rush of an experience – maybe too much of a rush for my stomach – that’s disorienting and thrilling in equal measure.
And there the demo ends. It’s a short, simple introduction to the game that most recalls the alley investigation scene from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham VR. Nonetheless, it’s a solid proof of concept and a tantalising taste of what might come.
With the obvious temptation to include a cavalcade of old foes and locations, Doctor Who: The Edge of Time is probably not going to offer a particularly sophisticated story. However, with the right iconography in place it should, like Star Trek: Bridge Crew, strike all the right notes for fans.
Creating a sense of place is VR’s stock-in-trade, so it will be no bad thing if the game leans into the experiential aspects of virtual reality, rather than attempting to employ traditional first-person gameplay. Who can resist the thought of going eye-to-eyestalk with a Dalek, playing peek-a-boo with a Weeping Angel, or having your own bigger-on-the-inside moment with the TARDIS?
Doctor Who: The Edge of Time certainly has promise and based on this early look it could well be the first video game to truly capture the spirit of the errant Time Lord’s adventures.
The game is due for release on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC VIVE, and VIVE Cosmos, in September 2019.
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