Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time ReviewBy Adam Sessler - Posted Oct 22, 2009
For seven years now, the Ratchet and Clank series has moved from being a hallmark of a ubiquitous genre to being, like its Lombax hero, among the last of its kind; the action-platformer. The style of game, which dates back to the arcades of the eighties, has always been about immediate accessibility and satisfaction, plus variety in environment and weapons, initially to keep the player dumping quarters but now to keep them rooted in their seat.
- Exceptional controls that suck you in
- Wonderful writing and story
- Platforming to dream about
- Space Battles become redundant
- Could be more top challenge platforming
- Bolt economy a little too favorable
For seven years now, the Ratchet and Clank series has moved from being a hallmark of a ubiquitous genre to being, like its Lombax hero, among the last of its kind; the action-platformer. The style of game, which dates back to the arcades of the eighties, has always been about immediate accessibility and satisfaction, plus variety in environment and weapons, initially to keep the player dumping quarters, but now to keep them rooted in their seat. Insomniac Games’ steadfast adherence to this formula has brought cries of stubbornness from some quarters and heralds of traditionalism from others. As Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time should prove, they do it, most likely, because it a ridiculous amount of fun to play.
A Tale of Two Things
A Crack in Time concludes the trilogy of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty, with the titular characters separated from one another. Clank, spirited away by the Zoni at the end of Tools, is now in the clutches of Dr. Nefarious at the Great Clock a…really big clock that controls time in the galaxy. Ratchet, on the other hand, is diligently pursuing his friend alongside the giant green buffoon Captain Qwark. While the overall story is about their inevitable reunion to stop Nefarious from destroying the universe by misusing the clock, ACiT manages to tell some much smaller and remarkably effective stories inside the overall narrative. Matters of familial duty and friendship, the fear of loneliness and loss permeate the story and present some surprisingly touching moments, particularly through the character of Melvin, an assistant caretaker robot at the Great Clock. Not to say that the game isn’t funny either; in fact, this is one of the funniest tales, boasting some of the sharpest dialogue in the series yet, especially from Captain Qwark’s mouth. Looking at the games as a whole, from Going Commando’s balls-to-the-wall inanity to ACiT, one can say that the biggest maturation for the series is the storytelling, which now far exceeds family-friendly fare in most media.
What does make the story of ACiT so effective is the application of the technology in the game. The massive environments perfectly capture the tone and character of its inhabitants and more importantly, the animations offer subtle nuances and broad strokes that convey all the emotions and humor with confidence that the audience can read them without overstatement. When you’re playing the game, these touches provide one of the most visually vibrant experiences you can have, the screen is awash in color and physically insensible movement that recalls the best work of the great Warner Brothers animators.
Things that go Boom
These achievements all facilitate the enthusiasm of the gameplay which is as rock solid as ever. While ToD felt somewhat narrow in its gameplay focus, ACiT returns to the variety, strategy and challenge of Up Your Arsenal. The weapons roll out more thoughtfully in the game and they are a stronger mixture of straight-up offensive implements and those designed to keep throngs of bad guys at bay. I found myself frequently going to the weapon select screen and thinking through my next decision, a key element that set the series apart from its brethren, and finding the results all the more satisfying. Another wise decision that contributes to the better strategic elements is that the “honeycomb” upgrading tree of Tools and Deadlocked have been discarded, replaced with three basic weapons, the bombs, blaster and shotgun that have upgrades scattered around the game world to be collected (although weapons do still improve with use). This implementation prevents players from manipulating upgrades to make just a handful of weapons necessary to get through the combat scenarios. Instead, it encourages exploration, which is never a bad thing. Where the game is still a little wonky is in its economy, the bolts -- used to purchase weapons and ammo -- are plentiful enough to never cause the tough decision of what to buy, a small effect on the overall game but something that did add a nice touch to previous installments.
…Spice of Life
Variety is truly the hallmark of ACiT, as, even with combat scenarios, every setting presents a unique twist on familiar tropes: the new hover boots make traversing the massive levels a new challenge and the return of devices like the grindrails can prove devious in their layout. The big twists in this installment, though, are Time and Space. Clank is possessed with the ability to manipulate time in the Great Clock, which adds a whole new level to some platforming sequences and offers up some wonderful puzzles where you record multiple Clank movements in order to proceed through particular rooms. These puzzle sequences may seem daunting at first, but they are not so much based on figuring out the secret as solved through experimentation, making the trial and error more hopeful and the end results far more satisfying. For younger players and those uninterested in thinking, they can be skipped altogether, at the cost of a nice chunk of bolts. For those who enjoy the cerebral workout, special challenge options also awaits those heading for completion.
The Space elements of the game are a real joy. The universe is divided into smaller galaxies that you explore with your spacecraft, each dotted with planets that provide smaller, optional objectives such as eliminating a certain number of enemies or engaging in straight-up platforming sequences to collect a missing Zoni at the end. These segments break up the overall story and provide worthwhile rewards but, for those hungering for some quality jumping after Super Mario Galaxy, this is the real treat. Floating platforms, the use of hoverboots and fire spouts, among other things, recall the great platforming challenges of yore and really take advantage of the precise movement controls that are such a standout of the Ratchet series and are a welcome treat. Towards the end of the game, they become ridiculously challenging, although it would have been nice to see the difficulty in the sequences arrive a little earlier, especially once you realize the potential for the diversions. Unfortunately, the space combat has been simplified, to avoid the issues with the Z–Axis from previous games, the results are much easier to handle but they come with such frequency that redundancy sets in early.
Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time is a remarkable achievement that makes the case for the series’ longevity and determined adherence to form. The game’s basics work so well and the improvements and changes are brought in to take advantage of one of the most solid gameplay foundations available. Similar to the mathematical properties that find infinite potential in a finite space, Insomniac continues to mine the genre for more and more while always making the experience feel like your favorite well-worn pajamas on a lazy Saturday morning. Once you throw them on, you know they’re not coming off all day.