Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist sets the Doctor and Yaz on the trail of a gentle mystery, with unchallenging but surprisingly addictive gameplay
Another Doctor Who game has launched with the goal to conquer your phone and mobile device and become every fan’s new obsession. Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist may be a, well, unlikely title for a Who game. But the good news is that the game itself is a huge improvement on the recent Lost in Time. It’s not a game that will challenge you to any great extent, but it’s colourful, neatly thought out and more addictive than it really has any right to be.
An Unlikely Heist opens with the Doctor and Yaz arriving in a present day London undergoing some very odd changes. A purple fog, crackling with time energy, is changing the geography of the city, transforming the familiar sights. Sometimes they become their equivalents from the past, like a Tube station entrance becoming a forbidding cave covered in runes, and sometimes from the future, like a red bus becoming a red hoverbus. The quest is immediately on to both put the city back as it should be and track down the cause.
Doctor Who’s entry into the ‘hidden object’ genre features the repetitive, but strangely satisfying, gameplay you’d expect
The gameplay that drives this mission does initially seem a little random, almost bizarre. Unlikely Heist is fundamentally a scavenger hunt spot-the-object game. Each action involves visiting a location like an antique shop, tube station, gift shop, or street side cafe where you race against the clock to click on all the items on your list. As the levels go by, naturally, the lists grow longer and more complicated, and the time grows shorter. You may wonder how, for instance, assembling a collection of hat stands, Queen Elizabeth dolls, police helmets and other bric a brac, allows you to build an arc welder to cut open the gate into a shopping centre. And you’d have a point. But it hardly matters when it hits that sweet spot of creating a soft buzz of satisfaction without really any prospect of failure.
In that regard, then, this is one to relax and de-stress to, rather than to get the blood pumping.
It gets a little repetitive returning to the same few scenes over and over again. It does feel a little desperate, in fact, when you’re given the special treat of ‘mirror mode,’ which is the same location, only with the picture flipped. The action does expand from London as the TARDIS journeys into time and space on the hunt for the culprits. But a few extra locations per environment would have been welcome.
London is steadily transforming into a mishmash of past and future. But can the Doctor and Yaz find out why and put things right?
The storyline follows the same lead. It’s not going to tax your mind to follow the plot, and it’s hardly going to send you scurrying behind the sofa either. It’s still intriguing enough, though. The Daleks are the initial obvious suspects, for instance. But it soon becomes clear they think the Doctor is behind it. The journey to find out the truth will see encounters with the Cybermen and holds that basic gameplay together with just enough sense of purpose.
The Doctor and Yaz following the clues, using paradox dust to put things back to normal, and meeting new friends and old enemies is good fun. Their characters are well captured, particularly the Thirteenth Doctor’s bouncy energy and ability to cheerfully admit she’s making up as she goes along. Only one of the very first lines, with Yaz happily celebrating being “back in London,” feels a little off, with the proud Yorkshirewoman of the TV show more likely to engage in some tongue-in-cheek mockery of the capital. However that, along with a reference to a “subway car” in the Tube, are the only real hints to the writers not being completely au fait with the BBC’s biggest SF institution.
The Tenth Doctor even shows up for a cameo or three because, well, of course he does. Though at this stage the predictable presence of Doctor Who’s most ubiquitous Time Lord may draw more of a resigned sigh than a cheer. There are some fun little bonuses along the way too, like collecting elements to allow you to change the TARDIS desktop theme to older looks, or building your own Dalek.
The bright and colourful design work is subtly gorgeous, capturing the characters’ energy and style perfectly
The bright, colourful, representations of our characters are delightful and engaging. They and the blocky, slightly cartoonish representations of locations, feel just right for this sort of game and are very easy on the eyes. All in all, it makes for a game it’s dangerously easy to lose a few hours in without even meaning too, your cup of tea growing cold beside you. How much replayability value Unlikely Heist has once you finish the story remains to be seen, but an expansion with new storylines for the upcoming Ncuti Gatwa Doctor would be a welcome addition to the often patchy history of Doctor Who games.
At least for the moment, Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist is exclusive to the Apple Arcade. This has its own advantages and disadvantages. Chief among the downsides, obviously, is that it’s only available on Apple devices, so it you’re a Who fan on Android you’re out of luck. Arcade is also a subscription service, meaning you have to pay £4.99 a month for access (though you could likely fit the whole of Heist into your free trial period).
Balanced against that, there are over two hundred games in the Apple Arcade, with access to them all included in that price. And, best of all, it’s a model that means this latest game is free of the tiresome in-app purchases fast becoming a blight of the mobile game industry. With another model it would be easy to imagine times getting shorter, and lists of objects larger, until you were all but forced to buy time extensions if you wanted to finish the story. But there’s none of those mercenary shenanigans here.
Comfortable and easy as staying under the duvet on a Bank Holiday Monday morning, An Unlikely Heist is well worth Apple users taking a free Arcade trial for
Fundamentally gentle and cosy in gameplay, design, and story, An Unlikely Heist is unlikely to be written large, for good or ill, in the history book of Doctor Who games. But should you have any long commutes, visits to particularly boring relatives, or even lazy mornings looking for an excuse not to get out of bed, this is the game to wrap yourself up in to make the time pass a little easier.
You can find Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist at the Apple Arcade now.