Reviews: Anybody got a flux capacitor?
In a sea of gritty, realistic, and oftentimes humorless games that have dominated this generation, Ratchet & Clank almost feels like a throwback to the old days, despite the series being only seven years old and beginning on hardware that's still available in stores, the PlayStation 2. Though Insomniac Games is contributing to this new direction with the Resistance franchise, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time demonstrates that they still know how to deliver the kind of feel-good gaming experience that they're famous for. As the finale of the Future Trilogy (yes, Quest for Booty counts), the question has loomed lately as to whether or not this will be the last R&C game they make before retiring the franchise and moving onto something else. If it is the final Insomniac adventure for Ratchet & Clank, they've gone out with a bang, as ACIT is the most polished and fun game the series has seen since Up Your Arsenal, and another feather in Sony's PS3 first-party camp. Mixing the familiar gameplay and humor the series is known for with new wrinkles to help the game stand out, this latest entry delivers the goods.
When we last saw Ratchet & Clank, things weren't looking good. At the end of Tools of Destruction, the mysterious Zoni ?kidnapped? Clank, leaving Ratchet to his own devices. In Quest for Booty, things got even worse, as it's discovered that Clank was actually taken by Dr. Nefarious, the antagonist of R&C Up Your Arsenal, and Ratchet was left helpless in the quest of reunification. When ACIT begins, Clank is on the run, being chased through the Great Clock, a location that controls the flow of time in the universe. At the same time, Ratchet is on a hunt to find his friend yet also continuing his quest of finding more Lombaxes in an attempt to figure out where they disappared to as per the events of ToD. The game unfolds in two different directions ? you have the Ratchet levels and story, along with the adventures of Clank as he adjusts to his very important new role in the Great Clock, and of course, the two stories ultimately merge. Like Tools of Destruction, the story is slightly more mature than the occasionally juvenile fare in the PS2 R&C games, and though it's fairly predictable (despite the red herring setup that unfolds), it's a fun adventure to follow.
Because Ratchet & Clank are separate, there's a major emphasis on our little robotic hero, and thus his gameplay has to be both different and good. Both are accomplished with the more in-depth concepts at play. There's no more controlling hive-mind robots to solve puzzles, instead they've been replaced by mind-bending time puzzles. As Clank works to reach the all-important Orvus Chamber, there are platforming and action segments, but they're usually just obstacles on the way to the real deal ? those time puzzles. And what puzzles they are. Initially, they're easy enough; you merely record yourself doing something, and then play it back while going about your business. By the time you reach the more difficult puzzles, which require multiple steps with four different recordings, they're enough to make your head hurt. Yet at the same time, the moment you go ?ah ha!? and solve them, is oh-so-satisfying. Of course, you can skip these puzzles if they're too difficult for you, but at the cost of a huge bolt reward and potential skill points. Upon finishing the game, you can access three even more brutal time puzzles to earn some gold bolts.
On the other hand, Ratchet's gameplay will be extremely familiar, as it's a highly polished form of traditional R&C gameplay, just without Clank to help. Like always, Ratchet's trusty wrench can kick some butt and bust open boxes, but it's the crazy weaponry that has always stood out. Alas, the new weapons are kind of dull, and there's even a few retreads from Tools of Destruction, such as the Groovitron... though that's a good thing. Still, they're serviceable and they can get pretty awesome when you upgrade them to level 5. The new wrinkle are the ?Contstructo? weapons ? a shotgun, a pistol, and a bomb glove can all be customized with numerous parts if you find all 21 mods for these weapons. It's pretty neat how you can change a standard pistol into a gun that shoots lasers and the ammo bounces off walls for added impact. Ratchet also gets some new tools, such as hoverboots to add speed and use the numerous pads in almost every stage after you acquire them, and the Omnisoaker, which can be used to cool off hot platforms if you suck up water, oil down rusty machines or in a few cases, suck up a ?nectar? to keep the Ratchet-eating ?things? that pop up in some levels. Also, in a couple stages Ratchet can use time to his advantage, by going back into the past to accomplish something that helps him in the future.
Otherwise, Ratchet plays like Ratchet, and the gameplay is very, very polished. There's an added emphasis on platforming, especially after you get the hoverboots, since without Clank you have no way to hover otherwise. The shooting segments can be extremely intense, especially later in the game when you're really being hunted. What's amazing is that despite this being the same basic gameplay and control elements from Going Commando - a game that released in 2003 ? it's still fun and there are few, if any games out there that come close to being anything like it. Perhaps no better place shows this than the Arena, where you ultimately encounter a challenge of twenty straight enemy waves, culminating in an epic pair of boss battles. And it's just insanely fun. It's hard to explain, but there's just something about these games that continues to persevere despite a slight lack of ambition on the part of Insomniac. There's something that must be said about sticking with what works and that's what's at play here. If you're tired of how Ratchet plays, there's not much to change your mind, but fans of the series will find this to be the most well-balanced and enjoyable combat yet.
That said, there is a new wrinkle to the Ratchet gameplay; space exploration. In the past, you just picked your destination and you went there, with the occasional space battle to spice things up. Now, you can manually fly to each level and take part in an open-world environment. Within this open space, Ratchet can accept side-missions from characters and fellow pilots, though a few depend on upgrades that Ratchet earns by collecting loose Zoni that inhabit every area. Even better, there's numerous ?mini-planets? that are like platforming challenges; almost all of them have a Zoni, many of them have the Constructo mods or gold bolts that are well-hidden or require going off the beaten path. Though we're not talking Grand Theft Auto here, the addition of these sandbox-style adventures really helps to separate the action sequences, and because of their small size, it becomes addictive to complete them all before moving on with the story. Of course, there are space battles, though most of them are optional. Collecting those Zoni let you upgrade shields, boosters, and weaponry, so collecting those tiny guys really comes in handy.
For A Crack in Time, Insomniac took a bit of a risk with the graphics and added a slight bit of cel-shading to the engine. The result is a game that looks very colorful and cartoon-like, though it does lack some of the lushness of the last two R&C games. That said, it looks quite good, and runs at 60fps with a few moments where it drags a bit, mostly during the huge firefights. The Clank levels especially have a very pastel look that almost could be considered washed out, but with some brightness adjustment it looks fine. Ratchet's levels take place in jungles, cities, and space stations, to name a few. For the most part Tools of Destruction looked better, but if only due to the choice of colors and visual effects. The familiar voice actors return to continue the legacy of fantastic acting in the series, and it pretty much blew my mind that Nolan North ? you know, the guy who voices Nathan Drake, is the voice of Sigmund, the ?junior caretaker? of the Great Clock. The credits show amazing things sometimes. Anyway, the familiar sound effects (such as the lovely sound of bolt collecting) are here, as is the usual solid, but not great soundtrack that serves as good background noise.