An Unlikely Heist – Doctor Who Mobile Game REVIEW

    Touching down as quite a surprise for Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary year comes yet another mobile game. Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist! And just like Lost In Time, it’s determined to be a keystone on Whovian phones. But in a different way. Coming from developers Whaleapp (known for games like ‘Family Zoo’ and ‘Hotel Heist’) – it’s a mobile puzzler game. Quite a casual one too.

    Exclusive to Apple Arcade, and released on the 7th of April; An Unlikely Heist is certainly a nice venture into that casual puzzling space… And has a gentle but fun story attached to it.

    The Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz, uncovering a mystery… with the help of one of the Catkind. [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]

    Casual Puzzlers: The Mechanics of An Unlikely Heist

    To sum it up, Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist is a casual-play puzzling game that largely focuses ‘hidden-object’ puzzles. You get different ‘scenes’/backgrounds in which to find various different items that you are assigned to find… And completion of a scene in a level earns you something called Paradox Dust. (we’ll get to this in a minute!) But the game keeps things fairly fresh by having different ‘modes’. They’re really level types, to be honest. Interesting types though. You have:

    • Standard finding
    • Flipped finding (where the background scene has been flipped – you’d be surprised how much this challenges your head!)
    • x2 finding (where you have to have to find pairs of objects)
    • 1/3 finding (where you have 20 seconds to find one of three objects in the scene, for six rounds)
    • Silhouette finding (where you are given the silhouettes rather than the names of the objects to find)
    • Creature finding (where you have to find ten of a particular creature, like the Adipose, within a scene)
    • Bonus finding (where you have one minute to find as many objects as you can for powerup bonuses)

    All in all, it gives you plenty of variety as you pace yourself through the levels. Whether that be the usual leisured casual pace of a dozen levels on a train journey… Or a frantic determined pace of a week… And there’s a lot of levels to keep you covered as you go through the narrative. (again, we’ll get to it in a minute!)

    Plenty To Play

    Currently with a thousand levels, over nineteen ‘episodes’ and five major settings (each with their own handful of scene backgrounds)… You’re likely to be kept rather busy for times to come. Unless you’re a mad assistant editor who does it in one week.

    A familiar face from the past in one of the later scenes of An Unlikely Heist – and the face of Level 1000! [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]

    An Unlikely Heist – the narrative

    Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist ‘s narrative is quite a different one from what you might usually expect. Arriving in present-day London, the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz discover that objects, building and creatures are being transformed by a mysterious Paradox Cloud. It’s all temporal… so some buildings become futuristic… a plant becomes a prehistoric person-eating giant plant. Things like that. Freeing a physicist called Irwin from a nearby horse-and-carriage, the Thirteenth Doctor is able to come up with a solution.

    They can collect Paradox Dust scattered on objects that are nearby… And use it to revert transformed items to their original form. (A nice little way to tie-in the gameplay to the narrative. The items you’re finding in each level are helping you build canisters of the dust to use!) Thankfully, this also counteracts the Cloud somewhat – making it dissipate. But matters are made worse by the arrival of the Daleks…

    Erwin joins the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz as they go on restoring London… And even has to be rescued at certain point. Poor man. But further locations take things into surprising places, with others coming along to assist our main duo. Satellite Five, a new planet called Regnidorch II, 1930s Manhattan and New Earth… it’s quite the adventure!

    The TARDIS lands on New Earth. (well, the one from Series 2, anyway…) [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]

    Keeping Tight-Lipped

    There’s a lot I could say about how the plot of Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist, but having gone through it – I’d like to keep a lot of the surprises for people to discover at the moment. But I’ll give a few insights… There’s a girl called Mia trying to get to her fiance. There’s Cyber-conversions, but not as you know them. An Azbantium wall to break through. A room of mannequins that will spark a massively interesting conversation for fans about a certain somebody. A quest to save a policeman from the Weeping Angels. A mysterious hut. Even a Pting shows up. And it all ends (for now) with the Doctor telling that it’s “Time to take a leap of faith“…

    Further Mechanics

    There’s some nice one-time-use boosters you can earn: extra time, clear three items, and scan for current items… Via boxes earned from completing diary entries about people and objects you meet. And via the bonus ‘mode’. You also will find from levels as you progress… Collection Items. There are a vast amount of themed item-sets (Each of five items) that upon completion will give you more boosters. There’s also the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver mode that you can use to deal with one item, but then it needs to recharge. Trust be told, though I used the boosters at times… the sonic screwdriver was rather surplus to requirement for my personal playthrough.

    Locations also have their own little plot-specific one-off puzzles too as a nice bonus. (My favourite is the New Earth one involving unlocking a door) And the TARDIS interior – via some complications with the telepathic circuits – is looking a little bit different… You then are given the ability to make it even more difficult, with a wealth of customisation options given to you as you progress through the game. Generally themed on the TARDISes of Doctors 13, 12 and 11… they make for a lot of fun combinations, or three nice overall themes for you to use.

    The first of many events to come in An Unlikely Heist. [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]


    A nice further little addition for those wanting a less casual and more competitive play in Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist… are able to get involved in limited-time competition events. The first (which ran from the 14th to the 17th of April) was a ‘Top Score Competition’. Essentially, by completing levels during event time – or playing levels in Endless Mode, if you’re at the end of the currently released narrative levels – you gain Magnifying Glasses. And these are added to a count for you in a worldwide leaderboard. Reaching and maintaining one of the top positions on the leaderboard gains one more boosters… and a boost up to the next league. (There’s six leagues; ranging from the starting Wooden League all the way to the Champions’ League!)

    The second, and more interesting one, is the ‘Special Episode Event’. First run across the 18th & 19th of April; this little special minisode takes the Thirteenth Doctor back into the Confession Dial. With her once again returned to the Dial, the Veil has been returned to existence… The chase is on… Across 10 levels, you must get the Doctor through the castle of the Dial, and through another Azbantium wall to escape. (There’s a nice little bonus Achievement for completing this too!)

    An Unlikely Heist‘s Cheeky Easter Eggs

    Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist is chockful of lovely little easter eggs and nods, but to give just a few:

    • Theremin Theme – Sadly, you only hear it once at the very start of the game… But there’s this lovely theremin-style arrangement of the main theme that I really like. (Whaleapp, add it elsewhere in the game please. Maybe on the Credits?)
    • Androzani Minor – Fans of The Doctor, The Witch and the Wardrobe will be glad to know that one of the Androzani Tree Wood people make a brief little cameo on Regnidorch II.
    • Amelia PondDue to the time distortions of the Paradox Cloud in 1930s Manhattan, you’ll find a lovely recreation of Amy Pond’s advertisement poster for Petrichor. They’ve even used the original photo of Karen Gillan for it.
    • Timeless Topic – The Doctor’s diary entry in the game rather nicely alludes to the revelations of The Timeless Child with her being noted as “a time traveler who grew up with the Time Lords on the planet Gallifrey.” It’s nice to see that articulated properly in an expanded media release.
    • Anyone For Tea? – One of the item collections you get to put together is a nice digital replication of an actual tea set that was released as merchandise many years ago. How meta. (Met-tea?)
    • Pting – I mean, what do I need to say? It’s the Pting!
    • Six Mannequins In A Room – The mannequins. Trust me, it’s not Autons. Trust me, it’ll make sense. Trust me, I’m not spoiling this for a reason!
    The Pting returns – as do the Judoon – in Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist. [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]

    Summarising Thoughts: The Critiques

    Game Type

    Well, it’s the obvious thing… and it’s BOTH a critique & a praise, but your mileage is going to vary for An Unlikely Heist, depending on if this kind of game is something you like. For me, it is (as was Lost In Time) – but ultimately, I’d warn people against forcing themselves to play on if it becomes apparent to them that it’s not their kind of thing. It’s hard with such a ‘distinct’ game to make simple recommendations on whether or not to play.

    Troublesome Ten

    I have to acknowledge this somewhere… The Tenth Doctor is somewhat present within An Unlikely Heist. Popping into the narrative via hologram to give Thirteen some nudges about what’s going on, acting as a bit of a mysterious guide. There’s evidently something going on with him, and stuff he’s privy to that Thirteen isn’t… But as the narrative currently stands – he feels like a bit of an off-key inclusion. It’s possible that future episodes will bring us a standard multi-Doctor escapade in which the reasons for Ten’s knowledge will become clear.

    For the moment though: I’m just not feeling it. Ten’s initial appearance to warn the duo that the Paradox Cloud originated from somewhere other than London… Feels rather at odds with a later moment where, on her own merits, Thirteen spots a signal from the last of the Cloud on London and traces it into space. Even moreso when the endeavours that follow in tracing it feature no acknowledgement of Ten’s warning. A similar situation of warning-before-deduction occurs on Satellite Five.

    His appearances always remain brief, but they feel like the only real weak link-in-the-chain for the narrative. By the time you reach the end of Episode 19, and he shows up one final time (for now, anyway), I imagine most folks will be just as apathetic about him as I’d become by then. It’s a real shame… And I can only hope future episode updates improve the usage of him.

    The Tenth Doctor gets in touch with the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz again, in An Unlikely Heist. [Courtesy: Apple Arcade/Whaleapp]

    Slight Hiccups

    It’s early days, but there are a few hiccups. One or two typos in places… And one slight bug with a character animation late in the game, but nothing major or game-impeding. I’d be certain that these slight issues will get sorted with future amendments to the app.

    Summarising Thoughts: The Praise

    One Of The Best Of Its Type

    Countering my earlier critique that this game will be rather ‘distinct’ in the vast space of Whovian gaming, and not to everyone’s tastes… You’re sure to be lucky if you are a fan of these kinds of puzzlers. The game’s underlying gameplay is tied well to the narrative. The ‘mode’ varieties keep it fresher than most standard find-hidden-object games.

    The Apple Arcade exclusivity (though understandably to be of sadness to Android users) allows it to also be mercifully free of in-app-purchases or time-constrained ‘energy’ counters. You can play as much of the game as you want, at the pace you want…

    And all without worrying about needing little purchases here and there to get progression done. Honestly, it’s set a high bar to me for what this kind of game can be like.

    An Unlikely Heist: A Narrative Done With Love

    I can’t not mention the story here, as a highlight. Though not perfect, it’s rather compelling for a casual game. You get plenty of mysteries to ponder, and interesting answers to them. Old friends and foes are weaved in nicely. (Have I mentioned the Blatheereen? Or the rounds where you have to find ten Adipose?) There’s even an off-stage presence that is felt through a fair chunk of the game… And one wonders how future continuation of the narrative might expand upon that.

    I’ll admit to having being initially a bit skeptical going in that a puzzler like this could hold me, but the writers have brought together a nice story that has done exactly that job. It kept me invested as this little ‘what will happen next’ thought… Ticking away in the back of my head.

    And there is a smart twist in the resolution of An Unlikely Heist‘s nineteenth episode. Something bittersweet, but honestly a crafty little usage of something that gets dropped much earlier as an interesting concept.

    Apple Arcade

    Well, okay, this is a more expansive point but… it’s one to bring up. It’s a subscription-service situation. Not one that the fandom is particularly used to for its gaming experiences. But I’ll say – for what it’s worth from my perspective – there’s an undeniable appeal to this. A small monthly price for not just a Doctor Who mobile game, but also hundreds of others to explore… All without in-app-purchases or their own individual memberships or app costs. If you have a family that’s heavily into gaming on Apple devices too, then it becomes even more appealing too.

    It won’t be for everyone in terms of games available or in terms of finances. (I appreciate that the perspective of an occasional app purchase being better than a fixed subscription does exist!) As something that you can opt-out of at any point as a subscription, and later come back to if there’s a personal desire… It’s something I’m readily enjoying.

    And as proven, you can do the current narrative of An Unlikely Heist in a week of REALLY hard work… or you can put it out across a month or two. And then move on. Something that’s made perhaps even more appealing by the one-month free trial.

    Proof that you, too, could do it in plenty of time. Which might make you a Time Lord… Time Lady… Timely Person. (use as applicable!)

    Final Thoughts on An Unlikely Heist

    Overall, Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist is not perfect but it’s a pretty strong casual experience. For fans of found-object puzzlers, it’s a no-brainer. Polished gameplay for that ‘genre’ with no in-app-purchases and a story that keeps you intrigued. There are a few hiccups, but those are mostly outweighed by just how much fun I’ve had. Non-intrusive easter eggs, monster cameos, and a nice rewarding play. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got the first seconds of eternity to wait out…

    Doctor Who: An Unlikely Heist is available now on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV, via Apple Arcade. The Apple Arcade consists of over 200 games (with new weekly additions) and has a first-month free trial option. Following this, it is an opt-out monthly subscription of £4.99 that can be used on all your Apple devices, and shared with the devices of up to five family members.

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    Jamie H. Cowan
    Jamie H. Cowan
    A wildly varied sci-fi fan. When not dragging people down the Time Vortex with his Doctor Who theories, Jamie is often working his way through 'The Flash' comics (he insists they can be sci-fi!) or trying not to dream of the return of cult sci-fi shows.

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