Ratchet & Clank is a quality series of run-and-gun platforming, but with so many releases in the past few years (and so many overall–this was a series that had loads of output on the Playstation 2 as well) a change to the formula was necessary to keep things fresh. Insomniac did just that with A Crack in Time, giving Clank his own level set and abilities while keeping Ratchet plenty busy with a variety of tasks on his way to find his lost robotic companion. The end result, while not a game of the year type holiday effort, is still noteworthy–you could say this is the definitive Ratchet & Clank experience, which is quite the accomplishment on its own.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Oct. 27, 2009
The first thing you will notice after popping A Crack in Time into your PS3 is the graphics–this is highly polished, very colorful, very creative stuff. During cutscenes, it looks and sounds like a cartoon, maybe even something Pixar would have made. During the actual gameplay, the physics, explosions, guns and the worlds you play on will also impress, as the game is loaded with graphical effects (heat coming off of lava, snow and rain falling from the sky, etc.) that really pop thanks to the PS3. Enemies animate wonderfully, while living and while dying, everything just flat out works. It’s one of the better looking titles on the system thanks to strong art direction and wonderful animation.
Gameplay wise, there’s plenty to love. With Ratchet, you have multiple modes with which to play. The first of these is somewhat standard to the series, as you have different levels on different planets, each with its own distinct look and feel. These planets have a fair share of shooting along with platforming–while the platforming in these areas never gets to be too difficult, the number of enemies (and the difficulty of said enemies) increases as you go through the game enough that you don’t get bored. If you’re playing this game on Hard, you will need to be on top of your game in the later levels, or you will die fast.
The second Ratchet mode reminds me of two different Mario experiences–Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. When you land on the moons that are scattered throughout each solar system, you have the opportunity to collect more mods for your weapons, rare items and Zoni–all of which will be explained in detail later. These moons is where you will find the platforming challenge, as they are designed to be more skill-based than the planets themselves. The Sunshine reminder comes from their increased difficulty and variation from the standard gameplay–remember the hidden stages in Super Mario Sunshine, where you no longer had the water pack and had to do things the old fashioned way? The Galaxy portion comes from the spherical levels–yes, I know Ratchet & Clank have had spherical levels before, but the design reminds me of Galaxy in many ways. While optional, these are worth your time, and not just for the rewards that they hold. Completing them is a reward on its own, given the increased challenge and lengthening of the gameplay experience.
Last, and very much least, you have space. You fly around in your ship from planet to planet (with pit stops at moons along the way), but there are side missions for you to complete that are sometimes worth it, like towing a downed ship in order to get a few thousand bolts (the game’s currency). Most of the time though, you can’t be bothered. There is very boring fighting in space, as you just hold R1 and L1 to fire beams and missiles in the hopes of hitting something and getting back to the good stuff. The enemy ships don’t do much to fight back either, and they don’t do a very good job of getting out of the way of your shots; it just wasn’t necessary. Maybe space will evolve into a worthwhile frontier in another Ratchet & Clank game, but A Crack in Time is not the one where this happens. Thankfully this is the portion of the game you will spend the least amount of time on, especially if you just quick jump from place to place.
Besides Ratchet’s ever-present Omniwrench, which is both weapon and tool, you have a massive arsenal of guns at your disposal. You’ve got your basic laser gun, grenades, a rocket launcher, a shotgun, and then you’ve got the guns that let Insomniac show off their imagination. How about the equivalent of a space pig with a trigger that burps enemies to death? Or a chargeable ball of electricity that you can roll around effectively using Six Axis controls while you run from danger? Maybe a sniper rifle with a bioscope that marks enemy weak points for you–shooting stuff in the head isn’t always the answer, you know. There are tons of guns to choose from, and also plenty of ways to improve them. You can pick up Constructo Mods, which alter the way your weapon fires, whether it explodes on impact or not, the type of damage it will cause, etc. You can also level up your weapons by using them–this increases damage, rate of fire, area of effect, ammo capacity and the like. Once a weapon reaches level five, it morphs into an even more powerful version of the previous weapon. Your grenades get schrapnel, for instance, while your rocket launcher fires three rockets per round rather than one.
The strange thing is that I would find myself moving on to another gun despite creating a super powered one, because I wanted to see what else it had to offer me through use. There’s nothing that can be pointed at as useless in Ratchet’s arsenal–you will find a place for everything, even in the weapons that may seem odd at the point of sale.
Clank’s levels may be the best portion of the game though, as they are time-bending puzzles that will require you to take off that Lombax battle armor and instead use that robotic intellect. It’s somewhat tough to visualize, but here is Clank’s gameplay in a nutshell: you have puzzles where Clank needs to be in multiple places at once in order to open the door out of the room. There could be anywhere from one to three door opening switches in the room, plus additional switches that open up pathways to reach those door switches. Each of these switches works only when Clank is standing on them though, which is why he needs to be in multiple places at once.
In order to do this, you need to use the Timepads to record Clank stepping on the switch–after recording, you can play it back, and a copy of Clank will perform the action you just recorded while Clank goes off to a different time pad to record yet another instance of platforming. Early puzzles are simple–there’s one switch and two Timepads, so make a copy to get on the switch while you run through the door. The later ones though require a lot of trial and error in order to progress, as you will need to make copies that open up pathways that lead to switches that lead to new pathways for previous copies so that they can step on a switch that clears a path, and so on. These are very satisfying to complete, and are just the right level of difficulty where you want to keep trying at it without wanting to throw your controller elsewhere. My biggest issue with them is that there were just not enough of them–Ratchet is still the star, despite Clank’s superior gameplay. That’s not a knock on Ratchet either, but it goes to show you how fun Clank’s sections are.
When you combine the multiple Ratchet elements with Clank’s puzzling, you end up with a fine Ratchet & Clank game that makes you want to play often. The game features multiple difficulties as well as a challenge mode, and with loads to collect in the form of Contructo Mods, gold bolts and the Zoni that upgrade your ship’s weaponry and abilities, there’s plenty to do outside of the standard levels. The Argonian tournaments may be my favorite part though, as they throw you into some ridiculous gladiator challenges that will require a full knowledge of your weaponry and enemy weaknesses if you want to win. The rewards–bolts, weapons and upgrades–are worth the price of admission, but you’ll find yourself here just for the challenge too. Plus, the game is just funny, no matter which character you use, so it’s worth it to you to extend the game to find all of the humor in it.
Blast Factor: While there are still some things to iron out in the form of space, and Clank could have stood to get a little more spotlight, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time holds up as the definitive Ratchet & Clank experience, one that should delight fans of the series while also converting holdouts and making them believers. It’s a quality title that should not be overlooked in this busy holiday season, and despite its cartoon appearance, it’s a game that people of all ages can enjoy.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is available exclusively on the Playstation 3, and retails for $59.99. A copy of this game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.