Whether it be the Worlds Collide escape room currently running up and down the country, 2005’s interactive red-button adventure Attack Of The Graske or even a visit to Cardiff’s sadly now defunct Doctor Who Experience, Britain’s favourite space-hopping TV show has long striven to give fans a convincing way to play the Doctor’s companion. Up until now, the Time Lord has only half-heartedly dabbled within the realms of virtual reality, but Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time has materialised to try and change that. For the most part, this new VR game from British studio Maze Theory delivers on its bold promise of wish fulfilment, even if a few technical hiccups can keep it from immersing you fully.
Much like in the revival era of the show itself, The Edge Of Time sees the life of a Doctor Who companion begin in a very mundane place: in this case, it’s the local launderette. It isn’t too long, however, until its revealed that everything isn’t quite as it seems, and you’re quickly called upon by Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor for help. It turns out that someone (or something?) is attempting to hack the entirety of time, deploying a plague known as the ‘reality virus’ that is somehow preventing the Doctor from reaching and piloting the TARDIS. Only by visiting specific fixed points and gathering the three Time Crystals can you help her get back and possibly save the universe in the process.
If this sounds like standard Doctor Who fare, that’s probably because it is. But, despite this basic setup, The Edge Of Time does a good job at convincingly raising the stakes, with the plot penned by Gavin Collinson serving as a good enough excuse to visit multiple settings that each display shades of previous Who adventures. Your first stop on the Time Crystal tour, for example, sees you visit the desolate planet of Lucia Minor, where a colony of humans have mysteriously disappeared. Getting to them involves solving a series of logic conundrums indicative of the “place X into Y” puzzle design that The Edge Of Time often punts for, which works well enough yet can sometimes feel overly simple.
The five or so destinations that you visit in the game are more about setting an atmosphere than leaving you stumped for no good reason. And also assuring this smooth ride are the intuitive controls, which stop getting around from ever becoming an issue. We played The Edge Of Time on PlayStation VR, and the corresponding PS Move Wands give you the choice to either straight-up glide in the desired direction with just a left-button press, or alternatively, those that prefer bamfing to the correct position in first-person VR games of this style can do so with the right-side button.
In terms of the Thirteenth Doctor herself, Jodie Whittaker puts in a fine voice performance, always full of charm and that sort of hopeful optimism we’ve come to expect from modern incarnations of the character. It may, however, surprise some fans just how little she is featured overall here. You see, rather than tackle the threat side-by-side, her main purpose is to guide you to your next destination every time you step into the TARDIS console room and deliver important bursts of exposition. This feels a little strange considering how The Edge Of Time grants you with another voice to accompany your ear early in the journey anyway, but it’s at least explained when the story comes together at the end.
Thankfully other elements from the show are here in full force too, whether it’s in how you use the sonic screwdriver to unlock all manner of doors and panels or the handful of classic creatures that crop up throughout this four-hour adventure. Despite being largely inspired by Doctor Who’s most recent season thematically, The Edge Of Time isn’t afraid to pay direct homage to previous eras – we spotted a fez prominently featured in a display box in one area, for instance. We won’t say too much for fear of spoiling what few true surprises are included, but a particularly climatic on-rails sequence during the game’s final moments impressed us in how it offers up a whole new perspective on a classic Who foe. It’s done in a way that only a VR game really can.
Sadly, it’s when it comes to the technical side of things that the illusion The Edge Of Time sets you on partially crumbles. While it is by far the best attempt yet from Doctor Who to make you feel like a true companion amidst an adventure, it’s clear that it just isn’t up to the standard of other licensed VR adventures like, say, Batman: Arkham VR in terms of polish.
Areas of the environment often suffer from texture pop-in, the load times between sections are a bit long in the tooth and an early section with a flashlight simply looks rough aesthetically. None of these individual drawbacks are enough to ruin the adventure overall, but they do pull you out of any established immersion when taken together.
Still, Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time makes a good case for being one of the best pieces of interactive fiction the show has been adapted into yet. The brief story is thrilling, the puzzles are perfectly fair, and the act of stepping outside of the TARDIS doors, onto a new planet, then looking behind and back through into its console room comfortably fulfils the fantasy that is travelling with the Doctor. The Edge Of Time is hopefully the first of many high-end Doctor Who VR adventures. And just remember, in VR, there is no sofa to hide behind.
Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time is out now for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos.