Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time

If there’s one series that has tested the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying time and time again, it’s Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank series.  These guys took one clump of ideas, melded them into a single excellent gameplay formula, and continued to apply it to each game they made, polishing it just a little more with each entry.

Before it entered the 7th generation of gaming, the Ratchet and Clank series didn’t have much of an overarching plot.  There were numerous references, sure, but the games were primarily episodic in nature.  That changed with Tools of Destruction, the duo’s first foray on the PS3.  ToD introduced a single grand plot, which was continued by the downloadable title Quest for Booty, and is now concluded with A Crack in Time.

And just what plot is that?  Well, the origin of our two buddies!  As I discussed in my review for Tools of Destruction, Ratchet is supposedly the only Lombax left in the universe.  His search to understand his past leads to him being separated from Clank.  Soon enough though, he meets General Alister Azimuth, who is another Lombax, surprisingly enough.  Most of the game is split into two parts; playing as Ratchet, who is searching for Clank, with Alister’s help, and playing as Clank, who finds himself in the Great Clock.

The Great Clock is a gigantic space station sitting in the center of the universe that regulates the flow of time, to prevent the universe being destroyed by the space-time continuum.  It is the home of the Zoni (who you’ll remember from Tools of Destruction), and also Orvus the senior caretaker, who oversees the clock’s functions.  Orvus is Clank’s father, and wants to pass on the job to him.  As Clank, you’ll go through some training for your abilities as senior caretaker, as you make your way to the Orvus Chamber, the central control room for the clock, which holds the power to manipulate time.  Unfortunately, Dr. Nefarious has his eyes on the Chamber too, and won’t stop until he gains access to it.

If you’ve played ANY other Ratchet and Clank game before, there won’t really be anything here that’s new to you.  Ratchet’s sections involve heavy platforming and shooting.  You’ll be jumping across platforms, grinding down rails, turning cranks, and (when he receives his hoverboots) boosting through treacherous passes.  When you’re not doing that you’re dealing with Dr. Nefarious’ henchman, who are determined exterminate you.  As always, however, you have a variety of big weapons at your disposal.  There’s the Rift Inducer 5000, which generates a black hole from which large tentacles snap out and maul your foes before snatching them away.  You have the always-reliable Negotiator, which solves any argument with two rockets.  Fan favorites Mr. Zurkon and the Groovitron Glove return, this time made into full weapons.  Mr. Zurkon taunts your enemies while blasting them to bits, while the Groovitron Glove tosses out a portable disco ball that, when activated generates pretty lights and some fabulous tunes.  What else are your enemies going to do but stop attacking you and dance?  

The bomb glove-esque weapon and your typical blaster and shotgun-types have been re-introduced as modifiable Constructo weapons.  Weapons of the Constructo line have interchangeable parts, allowing you to change their properties (and their color scheme), a little like the weapon customization present in Deadlocked.  Another returning feature is weapon and character experience.  As you fight and defeat enemies, you and your weapons gain XP.  When Ratchet levels up, he gets more health.  When his weapons level up, they get boosts to their stats.  On your first playthrough, your weapons can get up to level 5, and you can further upgrade them to level 10 in Challenge Mode.

Ratchet’s gameplay is split up primarily across several space sectors, each containing a couple primary destinations (planets or space stations), as well as several smaller planetoids (think Super Mario Galaxy) that you can explore for collectibles such as Gold Bolts and mods for your Constructo weapons.  Though you’ll still have to warp between sectors, you can freely roam each one (and they’re quite large) in the Aphelion (Ratchet’s talking ship), getting into battles with Nefarious’s henchmen and visiting planets as you please.  For the most part, Ratchet is still as fun to play as as he was back in the first Ratchet and Clank game.

Though the amount of gameplay content is dipped in Ratchet’s favor, you’ll spend a meaty portion of the game as Clank, too.  While there is a bit of combat and some platforming, it’s more about puzzles.  Fittingly, you’ll encounter a set of time pads that let you record temporal clones of yourself.  You step on a time pad to begin recording one clone and proceed step on a button to open a door, for instance, then you step on a second time pad to playback your first clone stepping on the button, allowing you to travel past the open door.  It’s difficult to explain, but the puzzles are pretty fun.  They’re introduced gently, but get pretty complex later on, with four clones to manage, who have several tasks to do.

Overall, the tried and true gameplay formula is just about as fun as it was back on the PS2.  Clank’s puzzles are difficult, but engaging, and Ratchet’s hoverboots, as well as full space combat and exploration are both extremely welcome additions.

Graphical-wise, the game looks pretty darn good.  The cutscenes are simply beautiful, and the gameplay features impressive animation and detail, without a single hitch.  Most of the environments are well done and fully realized, load times aren’t particularly long or common, despite a modest install size (300-400MB if memory serves), and there are almost no bugs or slowdown to speak of (though the game did freeze once during my playthrough).

The audio doesn’t always stand out, (though the Groovitron churns out some pretty catchy beats) but when it does it makes an impression.  The voice acting is also superb, as always, and while not all of the game’s numerous attempts to humor me hit home, some of them did indeed rip a chuckle or two out (Using the Groovitron on certain bosses, and Mr. Zurkon, for example)

As excellent as the gameplay is, I can’t help but feel that it’s begun to wear thin.  It’s amazing that Insomniac has gotten away with just building on the same formula for eight years now, but I don’t think another console entry in the franchise will do well without major innovation.  If you never liked Ratchet and Clank before, I severely doubt this game’s going to change your mind.  But when you look at the attention to detail, both big and small (space radio, the fan-made weapon, Challenge mode, etc), you’d be blind to not see that this was a labor of love, and designed as a present for the fans.  And for that, this game gets a 9/10.

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