SAN FRANCISCO – Doctor Who, the long-running British serial, is at its best when it embraces its roots as a zany, fantastical space adventure. It's understandable, then, that many fans were not happy when a lot of the most recent seasons embraced weepy melodrama and narrative convolution. Enter Doctor Who Infinity: a breezy puzzle game that introduces fans to a brand-new time-traveling adventure, full of bright colors, inspired artwork and real actors from the show doing their very best impressions of Peter Capaldi's Scottish burr.
I got a firsthand look at Doctor Who Infinity at GDC 2018, and even as a casual fan of the show, it's easy to see the title's appeal. The game tells the story of the heroic Doctor, his steadfast sidekick Bill, his occasional nemesis Missy, a conflicted new villain named Freya and a whole host of exterminating Daleks, as they cross paths in dangerous, unexpected and exciting ways.
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The first thing I noticed about the game is that the production values are through the roof. Doctor Who Infinity tells its story through vivid, brightly animated comic-book panels, penned and inked by artists who worked on the Doctor Who spin-off comics.
Better still, a number of actors from the show reprise their characters here, including Ingrid Oliver as the introverted Osgood, and Michelle Gomez as the delightfully over-the-top Missy. Bella Ramsey, better known to Game of Thrones fans as Lyanna Mormont, plays Freya. While Peter Capaldi is, unfortunately, not present, the other actors all impersonate him at one point or another, as they retell stories of what the Doctor did, and when. That alone is worth the price of admission.
At first, I was underwhelmed when I discovered that the gameplay looked like a simple succession of Bejeweled puzzles. The Doctor (and his friends and enemies) would square off against Daleks and other foes, matching gems to fend them off and advance to the next cutscene. However, the gameplay is quite a bit deeper than it appears at first.
Instead of switching one jewel at a time, you can drag a single jewel anywhere on the grid within a limited time period, swapping every other jewel it crosses along the way. This allows for some devious combinations. The game will also periodically introduce new elements, including turn limits, guest characters, moving tiles, falling blocks and even maze-like entrances and exits.
Doctor Who Infinity may be more challenging than it first appears, but that doesn't mean the puzzles will be punishing. Susan Cummings, one of the game's developers, explained that Doctor Who has always been a kid-friendly show, and wants the game to be accessible to all ages as a result. Players may have to try tricky puzzles a few times, but they're unlikely to ever hit a wall. There aren't any high scores to pursue or additional perks to unlock, although there will be achievements available for players who crave a little more difficulty.
Although Doctor Who Infinity doesn't do much to push the boundaries of either Doctor Who or puzzle games, it doesn't really need to. After Doctor Who: Return to Earth, we've seen how easy it is to mess up a beloved formula through overambition. Doctor Who Infinity may just be a voice-acted motion comic punctuated by puzzles, but the voice actors are veterans from the show, the comic-book graphics look fantastic and the puzzles are just unconventional enough to hold a player's interest.
Doctor Who Infinity will be available on Steam around the end of May, with the potential for mobile ports later this year. While the app itself is free, each adventure within it will cost $5. Cummings estimates that the first adventure will take about 15 hours to get through, with subsequent adventures clocking in around 10 hours apiece.