Also available on: N/A
Developer: Asylum Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
To put it bluntly, Return To Earth is a terrible game. We've seen mixed efforts with Doctor Who games in the past, but this first proper console outing is packed to the rafters with strange and intrusive design choices that make it a constant struggle to get on with. On the bright side it treats the licence reasonably well, with enjoyable voice acting and cute bug-eyed representations of the Doctor and Amy, in a story that sees them re-encounter the SS Lucy Gray, last seen in the portable Evacuation Earth. It also has you rapidly twist the Wii controller like a screwdriver at certain points, which is a nice touch, but unfortunately that's where its good qualities end.
As the duo work their way around the seemingly abandoned ship, they come against a fleet of deadly robots and locked doors, and being the peaceful sort, the Doctor once again must sneak his way to victory. Just like the episodic Adventure Games released on PC and Mac earlier this year, Return To Earth is essentially a game of hide and seek from patrolling sentries as you flick switches on your way to the next area. A generic premise, yes, but it employs a crystal mechanic to interact with the world. Instead of manually running to the switch to activate it, coloured gems are fired from a first-person perspective allowing you to trigger events from afar, such as extinguishing fires or moving platforms.
The problem is that aiming and firing is horrendously difficult. Since switches move from side-to-side and crystals take a second to travel over, missing is all too easy, and it can take four or five stubborn attempts to trigger anything. To make things more difficult, the shot will fire automatically if you charge it for too long, so you have to ensure it's in plain sight before you start the process. The result is that you just get as close as possible to the switch to minimise error - which is difficult when disabling gun turrets - negating any possible benefits from remotely triggering things, which is a shame considering the potential for interesting uses.
It also doesn't help that you can only carry a certain amount of crystals at one time. It's easy to forgive at first, especially since crystal stations are situated fairly close to switches, meaning you can always head back for more when you mess up. But since stages soon grow in size, you're having to constantly backtrack through previous areas to gather the crystals you need, especially since you tend to squander them on missed firing attempts. It also makes you work for each crystal; being spotted by a crystal station shuts it down until you walk out of sight again. Why it must do this is impossible to fathom, especially when you can slip them past nine tenths of the time, but the game enjoys placing stations next to one another to ensure you can't grab everything you need on a single visit.
It's not as if the game lets you struggle against its mechanics at your own pace. A sudden difficulty spike sees sentries flood towards you, or fire at orbs against a very strict timer, both of which often result in failure. So then begins the process of tracking down more crystals, which usually involves going down a slow lift, past unpredictable sentries at odd camera angles and hopping around stations so they don't hide their spoils. And if you make it to the end of the stage, you're greeted with a mini-game of guiding a ball around a maze filled with fans, lasers and snapping doors, similar to the one seen in Evacuation Earth. Although you have direct control over the ball it's an exercise prone to disaster, especially when you can easily become stuck on a fan blade, leaving you powerless as the health bar ticks away, as opposed to innocently bouncing away to give you another attempt. And if you lose all your lives, you're booted back out to find more crystals, repeating the process all over again.
From top to bottom this is an incredibly frustrating game to play. Although it can be credited for trying to spice up the generic stealth concept, it has a strange desire to make you work for everything, and constantly penalises you with backtracking for the mistakes you're bound to incur. Ignore the attractive licence that sugar-coats this harsh game, and if you're insistent for some Doctor Who action this Christmas, pick up the fairly enjoyable handheld version instead.
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