Given how popular the Dr. Who series is, it's a bit odd that the franchise hasn't done much more than dip its toes in the world of video games. Filled with quick wit and creative sci-fi scenarios, the show seems ripe for interactive adventures. I haven't seen much of the show myself- only the first of the rebooted seasons, which does not include the storyline that this game is based on- yet I still found Dr. Who: The Lonely Assassins to be a fun, if not entirely involved, experience.
The story here starts with a found phone. As the player, you've come upon the cell phone of a man named Lawrence, and a mysterious hacker/helper, Petronella Osgood, reaches out and enlists your help to figure out what the heck happened to the phone's owner. The whole game takes place on Lawrence's phone, on which the player will have to correspond via text messaging, peruse websites, listen to voice messages, search image galleries, and more to keep the story moving forward. While this interface might be even more immersive when playing on an actual phone (The Lonely Assassins is also available on both Android and iOS devices), the virtual cell phone makes for a smooth UI, that's logically organized and easy to operate.
The actual puzzles that the phone presents, though, are never particularly challenging. There are a few in which I had to make some connections like finding basic info about a person from a few photos and messages or plugin in numbers from phone calls, but the majority of the gameplay is clicking on the highlighted phone content, reading or watching, then clicking the scan button. It's a very passive experience, which is fine, but those looking for a challenge or more interactivity are likely to be disappointed. Failure isn't ever an option, and there aren't any decisions to be made to impact the story or get different endings. Towards the end of the game, it seemed as if some more interactive and challenging tasks were about to be introduced, but they never were, keeping the tough stuff in the hands of other characters.
Blink and You're Dead
Narratively, The Lonely Assassins acts as a sequel to 'Blink,' one of the more popular episodes from the tv series. As I mentioned above, I haven't actually seen that episode, and I was a bit worried that references and plot points would go over my head. While I can't say how many easter eggs are actually in the game, I was pleased that everything is explained well and the experience largely succeeds as a self-contained story. The only story elements that seemed forced were actually the references to the titular Doctor, who, if you're unaware, is a humanoid-looking, time-traveling, charmingly witty alien that gets into all sorts of hijinks. While I'm guessing that anyone picking this game up has at least a passing familiarity with the character, the Doctor doesn't really have anything to do with the actual story in this game. That's totally fine, but it does make the side-task of finding pictures of the TARDIS (the Doctor's phone-booth-looking space/time ship) stick out as a bit forced and irrelevant to the time-sensitive events going on in-game.
The story, centered around figuring out what happened to the owner of the phone, Lawrence, was a bit hit or miss for me, and I have a feeling that the less you know about the source material the better the mystery will land. While I haven't seen the aforementioned episode 'Blink,' I am familiar with the basic concept of the Weeping Angels (aka Lonely Assassins), and I think putting their name right in the title and their images all over the marketing material and title screen were bad choices. Even only knowing the super basics of who they are (I know what they look like and what their gimmick is) made the build-up and reveal seem a bit anticlimactic. Too much time is spent figuring out what happened to Lawrence and another missing person when the answer is fairly clear from the start. Too little time is spent actually dealing with the threat once all the cards are on the table. The only real twist for me came with finding out what happens to people that fall victim to the angels, which wouldn't be a twist for anyone more familiar with the property than me (which I'd guess most people picking up this game probably will be). Narratively, I think the game would have been a bit better either laying out the antagonists earlier and adding more to the 'dealing with them' part of the game or holding the identity of the Angels as a secret for longer, letting the reveal that they're involved be the surprise.
Great Pace, Easy Puzzles
That being said, while I wasn't blown away by the mystery itself, the way it was presented was great. The Lonely Assassins strikes a great balance between having enough content but not overstaying its welcome. The whole game took me about two hours and 25 minutes to complete, which I split between two evenings. Conversations have substance, but I never felt bored or overwhelmed with text or information. It was always clear what I needed to do, and there wasn't really any fluff or filler. As a busy person with a full-time job and other obligations, I've come to appreciate games that get their pacing right and don't tread water. The Lonely Assassins does that well, moving at a brisk pace and wrapping itself up exactly when it should.
Dr. Who: The Lonely Assassins is an enjoyable game that different people are likely to enjoy for different reasons based on their previous experience with the Dr. Who tv series. Those who don't know much will likely find the mystery more engaging than I did, and those who have seen more of the show than me are likely to find more pleasure in easter eggs and returning characters. While I found myself a bit in the gray-area middle, knowledgeable enough to make the mystery fairly obvious but not knowledgeable enough to appreciate the references, I still enjoyed the game for its relatively tight storytelling, good pacing, and slick UI.
The cell phone interface is slick and easy to use, the pacing is brisk and tight.
I'd have liked a bit more challenge with the puzzles, bits about the titular Doctor Who seem a bit forced, the central mystery was a bit formulaic for people who are familiar with Dr. Who characters.