Have you ever wanted to receive text messages from the Doctor Who universe?
No, us neither. That’s not to diminish the long-running sci-fi telecast as a whole; more of a sad acknowledgement that its current incarnation perhaps doesn’t represent the programme at its best. We were surprised, then, to find that Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins is quite possibly the best Doctor Who game ever made. Although, admittedly, that isn’t exactly a difficult feat to achieve given the series’ relatively bereft history with the medium.
While the “found phone” genre isn’t brand new, it feels remarkably fresh here, and is a very smart way to bring the player into the Doctor Who universe; your character isn’t named or gendered, so it’s effectively you. Your Switch becomes a mobile phone, either set in the middle of the screen and controlled via cursor using the stick and buttons, or – more intuitively – turned sideways and used like an actual phone (albeit a massive one – pretend it’s the late '80s or something). The latter is the most absorbing way to play — any means of playing this game besides a touchscreen is a step down. The option to play on the TV is welcome, but it’s clearly designed for play on smartphones.
Contacted by UNIT’s Petronella Osgood, you’ll need to navigate the phone’s various apps to solve the mystery of a missing person, as well as keep tabs on The Doctor themselves. You’ll examine text messages, flip through and zoom in on photos, listen to recordings… almost anything you’d do on a regular phone. This makes the interface very intuitive, though there are some overtly “gamey” moments where certain files and functions will “unlock” as you progress, which never feels as natural as it should do.
Of course, you’re not going to solve this one without some friction, as the absolutely terrifying Weeping Angels – best known for the episode “Blink”, to which this game is a direct sequel – will be on your trail throughout. Their pervasive influence and some quite frankly excellent writing make this game genuinely frightening in places; this writer is slightly embarrassed to admit he nearly threw his Switch across the room at one point thanks to a brilliantly simple scare we won’t spoil.
There are puzzles to solve in the two-hour or so duration of The Lonely Assassins, but they’re not too taxing – a notepad might be useful to keep track of certain details, but the game’s interface is intuitive enough that you should find yourself breezing through. You’ll want to, as well, because this is probably the best-presented Doctor Who narrative we’ve seen since the Moffat years; certainly superior to anything from Chris Chibnall.
Making The Doctor a background character was a stroke of genius in making the cast (and you, the player) seem vulnerable – much like “Blink”, there’s a real sense of atmosphere to this game. It’s so well done that it almost seems effortless, with only its short length and a few less organic moments of the introductions to new mechanics clashing with the necessity for the narrative to move forward. Overall, though, it’s easily, comfortably the best Doctor Who game we’ve ever played – yes, even better than Dalek Attack on the Amiga. So good, you won’t want to blink. But you should, or your eyes will crust over.
Can we have a “Ghost Light” game next, please?