Sunday 30 May 2010

Dalek Attack

"A Doctor Who video game (that isn't associated with Top Trumps). I haven't seen that before!" say the current video game press in regards to the recently announced "Doctor Who: The Adventure Games" for Windows PCs and Macs. How soon they forget that there's been Doctor Who games released every few years since 1983!

And somehow I can hardly blame them.

Here's the fourth attempt. 1992's "Dalek Attack" - an attempt to cash in on the 16-bit craze. The BBC tasked Alternative Software with creating a platformer, with the intent to release for the British audience hiding behind their Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS or ZX Spectrum computers, with the latter being only released due to popular demand. You know you've got problems when you're releasing a game for a decade old computer rather than the popular video game consoles of the time.

Dalek Attack was released in an awkward period. The TV series had been cancelled for three years and though it had a cult following, it wasn't as appealing as it had been back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Things would obviously change in the future, but at this time Dalek Attack was seen as some sort of compensation for the lack of new episodes. Basically, it was made for the fans, not the gaming scene, similar to the 1997 Windows release of "Destiny of the Doctors", and as such was forgotten very quickly due to its mediocrity... and it had so much potential!

I'm dropping back into the world of the Amiga for this review. The Atari ST port is practically identical (more on that later) as is the DOS version. Predictably, there's very little point in playing with the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum copies of the game - there are many cutbacks and they aren't really worth the effort unless you're a die-hard fan. But don't get me wrong, it's certainly not hard to die when you're playing Dalek Attack.

The thing about the Doctor is that he has the ability to regenerate when killed. Hence why so many actors have played him over the series' fourty-seven year run. Now if I were making this game, considering of course that is is non-canon with the TV storyline, I would have it so that there were seven lives, where each life represents one of the Doctors' incarnations (remember that in 1992, we were only up to the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy... probably not a wise idea to predict the other five regenerations in advance). You would start off as the first Doctor, William Hartnell, and when killed you would become the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. The idea would be that you'd have to complete the whole game within seven lives, and it shouldn't be too much of a technical issue since unlike the TV series, we can't support large amounts of voice acting.

Sadly nobody listened to what I thought eighteen years after the game was released, and so we're reduced to a selection of Doctors (and assistants) with their own set number of lives. Plucking random numbers out of their head, the game allows you to play as either the second, fourth, or seventh Doctors. The second player (yes it can be a two-player game) either gets to play as Ace (an assistant to the seventh Doctor) or a generic UNIT soldier. There have, of course been more assistants than Doctors, but you still might have expected a bit more of a choice for the second player. I think it would have been interesting to allow more than one Doctor on screen, or allow the game to be completed with no time lords whatsoever, but I guess I just think too far outside of the box.

The game is a 2D platformer... but it's a really poorly designed one. It suffers from the "lack of testing" disease, which means lots of cheap deaths due to poor object placement. The first level is a broken shoot 'em up section set in a sewer, where everything hurts the Doctor and moving too slow gets you killed by Daleks. You then travel to the surface, where you'll likely be killed by Daleks as you're instantly shot at by three different enemies, and so begins the rest of the game, where you're constantly struggling not to be killed by the Daleks and you're not always entirely sure where to go. The enemies are often able to get cheap shots in as the Doctor's reaction time isn't great (unlike in the TV series where there's a lot more talking and capturing involved). It's a bit of a mess, really.

One of the other issues is that when you die, you're not likely to actually know. It's one of those games where a life really doesn't mean anything, and acts more like a very large health bar. Death basically just makes you invulnerable to attack for a bit - you won't collapse or regenerate or do anything other than flash. I don't see much need for it.

The graphics are awful. Most of the game is displayed as these ugly shades of brown and green, and whereas some of the sprites look rather nice (the Doctors), some look terrible (like that collection of rocks in the above screen for example, or maybe the seventh Doctor's HUD). This colour scheme never really changes, and because there aren't that many colours used, it suggests that the Amiga and DOS copies of the game were ported from the slightly-less colourful Atari ST version without any touchups. It's also not great on a practical point of view - lots of enemies can blend into the foreground fairly easily. I'm under the impression that perhaps this artistic choice was to make it look more like the comic book intro... which is a stupid direction to go down and even then it never harmed Comix Zone!

The gradient sunsets are extremely colourful though... too bad you can barely see all the different shades on a CRT display. It really is a bit unacceptable, I mean the TARDIS is BLACK on the character selection screen. Surely a lack of colours shouldn't be an issue in a 1992 Amiga title.

Many versions of the game can't handle both music AND sound effects, so you have to chose between the two. Neither option is great. I think if a little bit of effort was put in, the Amiga version of the game could at least match the theme used in the Sylvester McCoy series, but that obviously wasn't a priority here for some reason (while I'm at it, the intro which should be fancy, isn't fancy. Perhaps the BBC should have contacted someone in the demo scene instead). The sound effects are generic (though there are some nice Dalek samples in there), and one of the stupid bits of the game is that all three Doctors use the same "ugh" sound when hit. It sounds extremely unprofessional - as if it were recorded by one of the programmers in his spare time. Strangely the music doesn't sound so bad on the Commodore 64, but it's still not memorable.

So overall we have a broken game coated in brown and green paint that could have been so much more. That's what you get if you get the folks behind BMX Ninja to develop a game for you!

No comments:

Post a Comment