It seems as though the key to making a good Doctor Who game is... to not let the player take control of The Doctor. Developer Maze Theory's recent (and rather excellent) Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins was a compelling realisation of this concept, and now Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality is a somewhat more traditional take on the long-running series.
We don't think it's controversial to say that Doctor Who has a patchy-at-best history with the medium of video games, from the Amiga's Dalek Attack and earlier through to Charles Cecil's The Adventure Games and well-meaning side-scroller The Eternity Clock. The misses, to put it bluntly, are a lot more recurrent than the hits. It's an odd situation, because you'd think that Doctor Who has more than enough locations, creatures and general fodder for a rollicking great high-budget adventure. Unfortunately, said high budgets don't appear to be in evidence, and The Doctor's predilection for non-violent resolution — laudable as it is — doesn't lend itself brilliantly to blasty-wasty video games.
It's also a little bit of a downer that Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality is so obviously a VR game that's been adapted for non-VR gaming; while this is preferable to the opposite, in a sense, it also means that the first two thirds of the game are fundamentally compromised by the limited inputs of VR gaming. That's not to attack VR — at its best, it's incredible — but what feels immersive in that ecosystem can only feel limited and a little embarrassingly underbaked when taken out of it. Five Nights At Freddy's: Help Wanted, we're looking in your direction.
It doesn't help that the Switch runs this game very poorly indeed in places whether playing in handheld or docked mode. The frame rate is unlocked, and can even hit 60fps at times, but mostly it's peaking at 30 and often falls far, far lower; later in the game, single-digit frame rates are fairly common. This is obviously atrocious, even if this this isn't a game that particularly requires twitch skills. It does look quite nice, if dark and a little muddy, and there's decent atmosphere and variety in the locations, especially towards the end of the game, but performance can be a real mess.
You'll spend most of the game simply fetching items for The Doctor or whichever of the incidental characters is currently in your ear, so to speak. Obstacles are overcome with ingenuity, to some extent, but mostly you're more or less told directly what to do. While there are fail states (you can indeed be caught and "deleted" by a Cyberman), it's best to consider Edge of Reality a glorified "walking simulator" in which you explore locations made famous by the TV show while rifling through drawers and cabinets for items and answers you need.
The devotion to the TV show, in fact, is one of the highlights of the game. It's very in-keeping with its tone and some of the little easter eggs and locations genuinely delighted us as long-time fans; in the early game you'll quickly stumble across The Seventh Doctor's umbrella as an incidental detail, not to mention a very familiar scrapyard. The whole experience drips with love for Doctor Who, with faithful writing and good performances from both the current Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and, later, the fan-favourite Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), who reprises the role in an extended final act that's completely new and feels more tailored for non-VR consoles.
Yes, this is very much a bolted-on enhancement of the original, VR game Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, with a totally new final act that's easily the best and most interesting part of the game. There's more in the way of actual game to it, with platforming sections and a chance to run alongside The Doctor themselves in a fittingly climactic finale. A finale which could come at a mere two hours or so, if you're competent. We got lost and died a few times and managed to see the game through in about two and a half hours; perfectly acceptable for VR, but at twenty quid on Switch, a little less appealing, certainly with such massive performance issues.
Taking into account some of the dross hitting the Switch eShop, we can't really consider a game designed with the obvious care and attention of Edge of Reality to be outright bad — there's too much love for the source material here to ward fans away from it. It's just a shame, though, that a series with as much cultural cachet as Doctor Who can't get a properly full-featured AAA experience behind it, though maybe it's just not the right franchise for something like that. This kind of smaller, more quirky experience, then, is a better representative of the show at its best. But do the Chris Chibnall years really represent the pinnacle of Doctor Who? There's so much more to draw from.
A bijou Doctor Who experience, Edge of Reality is impressively dedicated to the beloved TV show but unfortunately suffers in its transition from VR exclusive to traditional console game. Limited inputs and fetch-questy scenarios hardly inflame the imagination and it's not until the game's last quarter that things start to feel more tailored for the Switch — because they are. It's too short and there aren't enough clear save points (we lost a fair amount of progress when we quit during the first area to play something else and it simply hadn't saved the game yet) but the fact that performance is so all over the place is Edge of Reality's main issue, and one that will absolutely affect your enjoyment of an otherwise serviceable adventure. Overall, it's the most cautious of recommendations to Doctor Who fans, then. Everyone else almost certainly need not apply.