Hands-On Preview: Ten hours with the game and I still have no idea what type of animal Ratchet is supposed to be...
Over the past several years, SCEA has established itself as a company that produces all types of game genres through the release of RPG, survival/horror, and action/adventure titles. Platform is just another area the company has begun to touch on. This fall, you'll be able to see a lot more running and jumping from Sony than in past years with the release of games such as Ratchet and Clank. Being developed by Insomniac Games, the same team that created the Spyro the Dragon series on PlayStation One, Ratchet and Clank is sprouting headway for a holiday release date later this year.
The premise that follows Ratchet and Clank is the story about a duo comprised of an orange haired creature that excels in mechanics named Ratchet, and a defective robot known as Clank that now wishes to defeat the threat of his pursuers. Both Ratchet and Clank have teamed up by coincidence after Clank escaped the distant planet of Orxon, where an evil alien species seek to align all planets around the solar system into one giant nest for their over crowding species known as the Blarg. Clank, created by the Blarg, originates from a robot factory where this alien race manufactures killer robots. On each planet these alien creatures encounter, a robot factory is setup to eliminate any threat of retaliation the planet's inhabitants might materialize. It's now destined that together, a furry creature that has always dreamed of adventure, and a small robot that hopes to end the killing the Blarg are amassing, must join forces to stop the senseless fatalities of innocent life throughout their adventures.
Conveyed with the theme of having two different characters teamed together, Ratchet and Clank's gameplay direction is much like Sony's Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. However, one major difference is that while the characters Jak and Daxter went everywhere together (possibly even to the bathroom stall), Jak was the only asset to the gameplay. Daxter's single function was to point out to the player tips on what was the next step to each level. Ratchet and Clank are slightly different. Even though Clank is strapped to Ratchet's back like Daxter had perched atop Jak's shoulders, both characters in Ratchet and Clank operate simultaneously. They perform together as one major gear to complete a stage, rather than being dependent solely on the hero, and ignorant of the sidekick.
Within the expansive levels I was able to pilot Ratchet, just about everywhere you turn your head you will find crates -- whether they be hidden or not -- full of bolts. The bolts serve a greater purpose than just your ordinary pick up item that refuel your health meter. They're actually essential to most of the gameplay, as they are used in an item depot positioned within every game level. From these merchant stands, you can trade in the collected bolts for both ammo and new artillery to add to your list. While ammo doesn't cost that much, the weapons on the other hand will force the player to take on much exploration of the levels in order to upgrade your offensive pile up.
Another of the essential key areas to item hunting is in the progression of the level's adventure. You will not be able to reach the end of each stage until you are able to collect a required amount of bolts for the game's story intervals. From time to time, I've encountered a NPC (Non Playable Character), which held in their possession a special object or upgrade. In order to obtain either, I'd be prompted to spend 1,000 bolts in return for the favor. The item I received in one scenario was a zip line gun used to target specific colorful points in midair that followed in the transition from Ratchet's current spot to the next. The second scenario included an upgrade to Clank, which is where Clank's usefulness sets into motion. Having the ability to now unleash propellers from his arms and top, Clank was able to give Ratchet the ability to perform both a long jump, high jump, and glide across the skyways to avoiding enemy interaction.
Other moves Ratchet can perform include the ability to run, duck, jump, look, bust open crates by activating his wrench attack, and even leap off the side of a risen ledge and immediately latch himself onto the side of it to climb back up. Ratchet's bounce back maneuver will allow players to jump into the air and connect himself to a wall where he will spring right off of it. This is helpful in completing a stage with a scalable set of parallel walls in between the characters. With this they can hop from one to the next in order to reach an upper platform. However, this move is tough to amount to some of the time. In one situation, I was required to jump a gap, and by doing so Ratchet would touch up against a wall on the opposite side. Because of this, he would bound backwards right into the gap behind him, so it took a few ties just to get the hang of veering Ratchet away from the wall.
In an attempt to drive the game in a completely different direction, Ratchet and Clank is not being designed to accustom to your usual run and jump gig. Ratchet is able equip a number of weaponry tools to destroy all sorts of mechanical devices. Although, enemies do differ in both size amount and attack pattern. This is where a strategy aspect comes into play. From the start of the game, I had what seemed to be some kind of blaster device, as well as a futuristic flamethrower. Both of the weapons were accessible by pressing the triangle button for an easy, right at your fingertip menu. The blaster seemed to work better, much better, than the flamethrower did. Whether I was firing at robot guard dogs, lumbering robot guards, or mechanical, machinegun equipped, flying choppers within the first person target view, the blaster shot quick and affected any of the enemies from a distant range, as opposed to the flamethrower, which only worked up close. Seeing as how the weapons had different attributes, and the blaster being the more powerful of the two, each of the weapons you'll come across throughout the game will affect enemy characters more to your advantage, and sometimes to theirs, depending on if you're interested in pummeling them from a further location or not.
Instantly amazing, from gazing upon Ratchet and Clank in action, I was taken by surprise. The level of the game I was able to endeavor upon was a futuristic scaled setting. Imagine any movie you've seen with flying cars soaring through the air and speeding and turning like any normal traffic routine would direct them to do so, that then went right by towering buildings that were so high, you'd have to enter a first person perspective just to catch a glimpse of their tops halves. And just like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank are pushed into a colorful world of charismatic characters. Especially during the scene of an in-game clip, the character facial expressions and motions convey an outstanding job of just how imaginative Insomniac Games' creative level can surpass.
Then there was the inner areas, the ones Ratchet would interact with during the gameplay. While some of the game still features small spots that appear pixilated, like most of the gameplay areas, nicely executed shadows and lighting effects shine. Elsewhere, there's sparks flickering off a wall after cracking it with the wrench and explosive and fiery bursts after the destruction of an enemy robot. Most of all, the best thing I've noticed about characters is their animations. While Ratchet's control scheme is a little awkward at points, when he dishes out a wrench attack, he's able to stretch out his arms and legs, twisting and turning around in martial art stances with it in such a fluent motion. Even the patrolling enemies move around and appear naturally as if they're waiting for something to happen, as if they're looking for someone: namely Ratchet.
Once you do approach an enemy's location, the noise kicks in, and sounds sweet. The giant guard robot orders electronic dogs to attack in a realistically activated synthesized voice. In return, the clanking dog barks away and heads straight for the hero. Then with a little firepower to stop their advance, listening to the detailed sound effects certainly didn't disappoint me any. Whether I was using Ratchet to tread across grass, stacks of crates (even ones you touch and commence a countdown to explode), or just flat out spread open Clank's propellers to hear their flapping noise as I dived into the abysmal depth off an edge, each of the sound effects appeared to be accurately correct.
While exploring the vast gameplay world, music follows Ratchet's tale in the form of an electronic quirky tune. Though the music is forgettable, the tune fits right into the picture. I was surprised to hear how well the casts of speaking characters were close to being perfect for each of their roles in the game. Ratchet of course, is portrayed with an attitude and spunk. Clank on the other hand has a more mellow and machine driven voice that really injected life into him. The few other interactive characters I ran into featured a stereotypical voice stream that kind of didn't make me care about their speaking actions.
For the moment, it's a little too early to tell how Ratchet and Clank is going to turn out. Whether it will be next best thing to duplicate the amazing experience of last year's Jak and Daxter or become another average platform experience remains to be seen. As of this point however, Ratchet and Clank is fun to play. As long as it doesn't hold back on a few areas that could further be developed, Insomniac will be able to fulfill their vision of creating a truly original platform title that's absolute best in today's gaming mainstream.