Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time Comic-Con PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jul 22, 2009
Insomniac Games has developed a recent reputation for letting gamers shoot six-eyed mutants (and each other) online, but at the end of the day, millions of PlayStation owners know the developer for its intergalactic adventures involving a tiny robot and a man cannon-toting bobcat- er, Lombax. This fall, PS3 owners will get another dose of over-the-top weapons tech, wacky misadventures, and...Captain Qwark in Insomniac’s latest installment of the Ratchet & Clank series, A Crack in Time. I tagged along with X-Play’s Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb for a first hands-on with some of the new game’s levels. I’d like to make some analogy about tagging along a la Clank, but I’d probably kill Sessler if he gave me a piggyback ride.
A Crack in Time, according to creative director Brian Allgeier, will complete the arc of the Ratchet & Clank Future series, which started two years ago with Tools of Destruction and continued with last year’s downloadable Quest for Booty. From what I know so far, this new installment finds the duo embattled with old villain Dr. Nefarious, first seen in 2004’s Up Your Arsenal. And of course, underneath the trademark double entendre, time manipulation is a big theme of this new game.
That’s where things kicked off during my brief demo with ACiT’s four time puzzles. Allgeier indicated that the team has worked hard to give players a more unique and in-depth Clank than they’ve played before. As much as I enjoyed Tools of Destruction, the Clank-only moments sagged -- the game shone when the duo was paired up. It’s too early to see how much the team has fully addressed the issue, but these time puzzles offer some good times.
The puzzles have a uniform layout, and plenty of unconventional approaches to reach the end goal. To initiate one, Clank steps onto a Time Plate, which records his progress for up to 40 seconds. Whatever he does can be “played back,” plus it affects the environment. In a simpler puzzle, the time clone steps onto a switch, which opens a chamber housing another switch designed to exit the room. Clank starts another recording of himself stepping on the chamber switch -- you can manipulate up to four Clanks, says Insomniac -- to open up the exit. With that, the initial puzzle is solved.
In another puzzle, Clank must traverse two gigantic hamster wheel-like contraptions (rotating over a perilous pit, of course) reach the exit switch. It’s here that one of Clank’s secondary lines of defense, the Time Bomb, comes into effect. With this contraption, he can slow down time, be it to affect enemies or make rapid-fire peril more manageable. In the case of this puzzle, the Time Bomb has a similar effect to the “Zuni time” in Tools of Destruction. Clank steps onto the Time Plate, starts recording, tosses out a Time Bomb to slow the wheels, then steps onto the exit switch.
After a few more seconds of leaving the door open, the recording stops, and the action moves back to the Time Plate. Just before reaching the exit, two enemies pop up, and I sample the combat, which feels a little heftier than before. Clank is now armed with the Chronoscepter -- it sounds like a device that’ll come into play in the storyline -- and it’s rather hefty. Insomniac seems to be aiming to make Clank’s segments play more like Ratchet’s standalone adventures, but uniquely enough that they don’t seem like a palette swap.
The final demo puzzle hints at some of the more complex segments of ACiT. It takes some very careful planning to hit the timing. Clank must step on a switch to activate an elevator that leads to the exit switch, which naturally, is across another hamster-wheel contraption over a deadly chasm. Of course, if you don’t plan the timing correctly, you bounce back to square one. It took me a few tries to get used to the pacing and make cloned Clank step on the elevator switch slower. When I did it too quickly, the clone would activate the lift before I could reach it. With that, Clank hurdled across the chasm to the wheel, and the switch. It was here that I discovered another nuanced gameplay feature: Clank has a triple jump. It’s quite handy, especially when you mistime a jump. In other Ratchet games, it would be a death sentence. Here, it’s simply a stumbling block.
And that seems to be key to Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. The time elements seem to borrow proven formulas from other games -- Braid and Timeshift come to mind -- while using the best segments of the last two Ratchet titles. ACiT marks a return to the Tools of Destruction-sized full release, but it seems to have the accessibility of Quest for Booty. It could be a winning formula. These temporal brain-teasers are only part of the bigger puzzle. Hopefully, we’ll see a bigger piece soon.