Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink.
With a title like Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins, it would be hard to miss the fact that it’s a game based on the popular British sci-fi TV show. What isn’t immediately obvious is that this particular story is a direct sequel to the series three episode “Blink.” If you recognise the quote above (the clip of the Doctor portrayed by David Tennant from that episode is playable in the game at one point) it would be fair to say that you’re going to enjoy The Lonely Assassins more than someone who doesn’t. A player with no prior knowledge of the franchise can enjoy this game as well, but will surely not appreciate it anywhere nearly as much. Unfortunately for adventure game fans, both newcomers and long-time Doctor Who fans alike will find that an otherwise compelling mystery is diminished somewhat by the repetitive nature of the “found-phone” gameplay that begins to wear out its welcome long before the end.
The Lonely Assassins tells the story of what happens after the events of “Blink.” Sally Sparrow and Lawrence “Larry” Nightingale were the two main protagonists in that show, investigating a run-down old house in a part of London called Wester Drumlins. Strange things had been happening in the house over the years, even people disappearing, including Sally’s best friend (and Larry’s sister) Kathy. Unavoidable spoiler alert for “Blink” in the following few paragraphs.
All the strange occurrences ended up being the result of a race of aliens, the Weeping Angels (who are also called the Lonely Assassins; hence the title for this game), who by their merest touch will transport someone back in time forever. The Angels don’t carry weapons but they’re deadly fast, their only disadvantage being that they can’t move when they are being looked at. They possess another key attribute as well, which was not revealed in “Blink” but in another episode entirely, and my foreknowledge of that detail caused me to quickly work out what was happening as I watched events unfold. Discovering it for the first time here might had a more powerful impact, but I enjoyed being a step ahead of the characters in the game.
Sally and Larry ended “Blink” by trapping the Angels in the basement of the old house, the Angels looking at each other, imprisoned forever. Or rather, until the events of this game fifteen years later when Mr. Flint, an angry one-dimensional character, buys the old place and begins to renovate it with the intention of living there. Larry, having married Natasha in the intervening years, has been keeping an eye on the house and attempts, with no success, to keep Mr. Flint away from the Angels still in the basement.
The Lonely Assassins starts with you, the unnamed protagonist, having found Larry’s mobile phone. After unsuccessfully trying to unlock it, the phone is taken over remotely by Petronella Osgood, formerly a UNIT operative now working to uncover alien influences on earth. Osgood, a recurring character in the TV show, tasks you with trying to locate the now-missing Larry.
In this “found-phone” mystery much like the developer’s previous SIMULACRA games, everything you do relates to this phone, whether looking through photos, reading chats and emails, or making audio and video calls. Graphically the presentation consists predominately of this on-screen phone or the apps within which you need to scour for clues. There is a static picture of a blurry old mansion behind the phone that acts as a border on PC, but other than that the look is purely functional.
The same can be said of the music and sound effects, as the best word to describe them would be serviceable. The phone buttons and apps all make the sounds that a real phone would, but aside from the iconic Doctor Who theme at the start, there is no music at all, which is a missed opportunity to help create a more sinister mood. The acting, thankfully, is excellent all around, with Finlay Robinson returning as Larry for the game, and Ingrid Oliver reprising her role as Petronella Osgood.
The first objective gives you a number of messages to read in the Osgood app, which is where you will spend the majority of the game. New text messages appear in real-time, so you’re not just scrolling through old logs. These conversations have points where you can select one of up to three choices, and the story unfolds slightly differently depending on the option selected, although the general plot stays the same. The other apps available are the Browser, Gallery, Phone, Chats, and Mail. At first only Osgood and Gallery are working, allowing you to quickly learn how the game operates.
Osgood has upgraded her self-named app to include what she calls a Scanning Kit, which in practice is a button you press when you come across something that will be useful in your search for Larry. For the first task, which is to locate a picture of Larry, you open the Gallery app, find a picture of him, click the Scan button, and then return to the Osgood Chat and upload the scan to her. This is how the overwhelming majority of the gameplay experience plays out. Another addition to this app is a button at the top that gives you a list of the current quests you are working on, which is a useful feature although there is generally just one thing to do at a time.
The essential tasks you are given are usually a variation on what to do next in locating Larry, but there is a series of optional quests that relate to Osgood wanting to locate the Doctor. These bonus quests represent the main fan service in The Lonely Assassins, introducing more references, pictures, and occasionally videos from the TV show.
To complete an objective, sometimes you will need to look more closely at photos and see if there is a clue in them. There’s no real player input, however, as the Scan button will light up to let you know there is something important to uncover, which makes the gameplay very easy. There are also websites within the game to trawl through as you follow links, sometimes downloading files from them, and there are histories of chats (similar to Messenger) that you can go back through, along with various emails.
Occasionally the investigation requires a bit of detective work on your part. One example occurs after you discover that Larry had visited a missing persons website. In order to work out who he was looking for, you have to assemble clues from different sources on websites, chats, or photos. Strangely, one of the poorer design choices is the need to physically write down some of the clues because there doesn’t appear to be a way to record them within the game, and they are vital to reaching the end.
Although the main gameplay involves looking through apps collecting information, at times there are other puzzles such as a jigsaw you’ll need to assemble. Occasionally phone calls come through that you can interact with, and although they may appear random at the time, they do become important later on. There are also some well-produced videos that play at various points in the story, which usually serve as welcome cutscenes that break up the monotony of playing with a virtual phone. Eventually other characters you have been interacting with in your search for Larry visit certain locations in person, and some of these are shown as “live” videos on your phone, which make for an enjoyable change of pace.
My main criticism of this game is that the actions become very repetitive. Constantly looking through the half-dozen different apps and doing copious amounts of reading becomes very same-old very quickly, and even in a game that is only about three hours in total, it can start to feel tedious. Of course, this applies to found-phone games in general, so if you’ve played one before, you’ll have a good idea what to expect.
Another issue is that the main roadblock to accessing all the data stored on Larry’s phone is a form of corruption that has garbled the information. Osgood will release more info as she decodes it, though at certain times, particularly later on, you are able to unscramble some of the data corruption yourself (simply by pressing the Scan button, which is renamed Delete). The release of more data is tied directly to how far you’ve progressed in the story and feels a little forced at times, though I appreciate that the game can’t just provide access to everything at once. In a more traditional adventure, such gateways can come from a wide variety of obstacles, but in a game played solely through an on-screen phone, there really aren’t a lot of options available.
The mystery itself is the main highlight of The Lonely Assassins, and its real strength is in telling a unique story that isn’t simply a rehash of the TV episode on which it is based. This is a true fifteen-year sequel to “Blink,” realistically showing what has happened in Larry’s life since that first encounter with the Angels. It’s logical that he would still be watching for the Angels to return, and when they did, that he would do everything he could to stop others from being hurt, regardless of the dangers to himself. The game does a good job at building suspense about his fate, although it is somewhat mitigated if you already know about the Angels and how they operate before the game unfolds that information over time.
It is somewhat disappointing that the game doesn’t utilise the Doctor himself/herself (depending on the regeneration) very much at all, which, especially considering that most interaction is text-based, feels like a missed opportunity. Osgood, however, despite never having encountered the Angels personally in the television show, is a welcome addition here. Although she is mainly interacted with through messages, she does occasionally speak to you on the phone and appears in some of the video cutscenes, especially in the climax of the story that proves satisfying and a little bittersweet.
The Lonely Assassins does become monotonous before the end, as is the case with most if not all found-phone games of its kind. However, what it lacks in gameplay and visual variety, it makes up for with a compelling story that returns to a now-classic episode in a clever new way. Doctor Who newcomers may feel a little lost and wonder what all the fuss is about, at least at first, but for fans of the series, this game might be worth a look as a satisfying new instalment that updates us on the lives of the characters we grew to love.
It tells an interesting story that fans of Doctor Who should enjoy, though for non-devotees The Lonely Assassins may initially be a little confusing and its “found-phone” gameplay can become monotonous at times.
- Solid storyline that effectively follows up the events of the TV episode “Blink”
- Well-shot videos provide a change of pace and add some dramatic tension at key points
- For Doctor Who fans it’s nice to see actors from the series reprising their roles
- Gameplay mechanics quickly become tiresome
- Scan button removes almost any challenge from the game
- Lack of music is detrimental to creating an appropriate atmosphere
Shawn played Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.