Review / Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time

You’ve got to start wondering if you’re pushing your luck really. In 2002, you release a great new platformer that both kids and adults love, with a sequel coming the following year, and again the year after that. Before you know it, it’s 2009 and you’re pushing your 7th Ratchet & Clank game out the door, 9th if you include PSP spin-offs.

It’s getting to the point now where we’re starting to wonder if another simple revised and tweaked Ratchet game is going to cut it anymore. We all welcomed the buttery smooth PS3 debut for the Lombax and his robot buddy in Tools of Destruction, but after a mediocre mini-game with Quest for Booty even a huge fan of the series such as me starts to run of hype-steam.

The fact is simple, if Ratchet and Clank are going to have one last shot at legendary status, they need to innovate. As such, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time could easily be described as a disappointingly safe sequel. This is your everyday Ratchet & Clank title, the same as the one before it, and the same as the one we’ll undoubtedly see in two years time. This isn’t a title that pulls in a lot of attention by “ramping up the gameplay” ala Uncharted 2, rather gives you its tried and true formula to enjoy yet again.

The thing is, when you pick up that controller, throw out a Mr. Zurkon and let your Buzz Blades rip it’s hard to blame A Crack in Time for not breaking new ground. This is your everyday Ratchet & Clank title, a tight, action packed, exciting, and gorgeous piece, buffed and tweaked to make it more of a love letter to platform gaming than it’s ever been before.

A Crack in Time is the final part of the Future trilogy, so the story isn’t quite as accessible to newcomers. The basic outline is that Clank has been captured by a mysterious race called the Zoni, and is currently being held by none other than Dr. Nefarious, the first returning villain in the series. Ratchet is on a quest to rescue his buddy, while Clank himself sets out on a journey of self discovery, finding his true purpose in life. The subtitle of the game might have you worrying that we’re about to be taken through another clichéd time travel plot, but fear not; time is an important factor in the title, but there’s no predictable story twists around any corner. This is a well presented, often heart warming tale of two separated friends, fueled by some great new characters, and a whole host of returning ones.

One thing the guys at Insomniac need to learn however, is that they’re not that funny. The game will pull out a joke seemingly at every turn, the majority of the time from the mouth of Captain Qwark. Some moments will make you laugh, but most won’t, often making you cringe instead.

Of course, the story’s main job is to get you hopping from planet to planet to shoot stuff as Ratchet, and then solve puzzles as Clank. The shooting part of the equation is as fun as ever. It’s easy to lock onto an enemy, and then start bounding round a hectic battlefield with your favourite weapon, blowing the crap out of stuff. There are some great new weapons to do all your crap blowing with too, although the imagination is admittedly running a little dry by now. The Spiral of Death is great fun, shooting out a circular blade across the floor like a boomerang, but then a Chimpomatic simply serves the same job as the Sheepinator from previous games… just with chimps.

You can still upgrade weapons, rewarding you for picking a favourite, and difficulty settings now mean that one fully loaded weapon won’t see you from start to finish. When it comes to bosses, you’ll find that your arsenal, while fun to play around with, lacks in terms of weapons that will actually get the job done. You come of rely on a few select weapons that are actually useful, and switch between them as ammo supplies dwindle.

Perhaps A Crack in Time’s best addition is its new space levels, acting as a sort of hub where you can complete side missions or gather collectibles. Gathering Zoni, for example will upgrade your ship, but to grab them you have to touch down on smaller planets and travel round them Super Mario Galaxy style. This adds a good number of hours to an already lengthy game, and mixes the gameplay up with different planets focusing of different aspects of the game, like platforming or combat.

While all is well on the Ratchet side as usual, it’s when the series offers new gameplay tid-bits that the quality drops a little. The Clank sections in Tools of Destruction are a great example, only now they’ve been made even bigger in A Crack in Time. Clank has several long levels dedicated to him, and combat in these parts is a boring slog. You get a stripped down version of all of Ratchet’s strong points, which isn’t fun to play. It’s not until the clever time recorded puzzles come into play that the Clank parts present any real fun. Here you have to record yourself pressing buttons and jumping over obstacles to open doors. When you replay the recording, you see your last actions play out and use them to get through the door at the end. If a recording of Clank moves onto a button that opens the door, then the real you can move through it. As the game goes on the puzzles move from easy to an enjoyable challenge that won’t have you scratching your brain for too long. A Crack in Time, like most Ratchet games, has its ups and downs. But the good, like most Ratchet games, far outweighs the bad.

Amazingly, this is Insomniac’s 5th PS3 game now and it shows. The game looks, runs, and sounds like a dream. Graphics are bright, colourful, and crisp, topping what the dev offered with both Resistance 2 and Quest for Booty last year. Loading times occur between planets, and can become annoying if you travel from planet, to space, to new sector, to planet in one go, but once you’re where you want to be, there’s hardly a tech glitch to speak of. With the usual cast returning to reprise all their usual roles, dialogue flows between characters with ease and never once sounds anything below convincing.

Sure, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time plays it safe. It works with what we all know and love, and doesn’t offer much else. That doesn’t stop it from being a blast to play from start to finish though. I came into the game doubting there was much left to enjoy and came out with one of the biggest grins that 2009 has given me. There may well come a day when Insomniac puts the nail in the coffin with an uninspired Ratchet offering, but A Crack in Time isn’t it.

+ Great weapons and tight controls offer a fun Ratchet experience
+ New space missions mean loads of extra content and more focused gaming elements
+ Great to look at and listen to

– Clank sections bring the fun down a couple of notches
– A few uninspired weapons make the arsenal as a whole feel fun, but ineffective
– No real changes to the formula and it’s starting to show

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