Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time Review
So here it is, the conclusion to the "Future" arc for the Ratchet & Clank series. Mind you, this is not the conclusion of the franchise, just this particular story. Marking its first entry into the current generation, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction amazed us all with its visuals, scale, and charm. It's "sequel", Quest for Booty, continued onward with the storyline directly following the events of Tools of Destruction. Quest for Booty was a first-of-its kind offering, boasting a full fledged experience, in a three hour downloadable package that cost a mere $15. It was the steal of the year, no doubt about it. But, a proper sequel is finally here and, as expected, Insomniac's latest does not disappoint.
First off, if you're up to date with your R&C happenings, then you should be well aware that Clank was kidnapped by Doctor Nefarious. This, of course, means it's up to Ratchet, and Captain Quark (what! what!), to rescue Clank. As the game opens up, a lengthy cinematic eventually leads to Clank awakening to discover he's been kidnapped to, what Nefarious calls, his birthplace in the very center of the universe (give or take 50 feet). Heavy. So Ratchet and Quark embark on their adventure, and immediately something goes wrong. The duo finds themselves in an odd, and very beautiful, tropical environment, home to the Fongoids, which later befriend the duo and help them get back on course. That is essentially the first 20-30 minutes or so of the game, and what a fantastic way it is to open up a game that has no problem telling you, off the bat, that there's an epic scale in store.
The scenery around you extends as far as your eye can see, and gorgeous objects tower way, way, way over you. It's truly stunning to see just how expansive the environments are, and moreover, most of them continue the tradition of feeling alive and full of presence, as there's a lot of miscellaneous animations going on all around you. Now experiencing the action all throughout these fantastic levels feels even better than before, as the addition of new weapons and a few new abilities helps enhance the enjoyment.
For starters, Ratchet can now throw his wrench while he's running, so no longer do you have to stop to do it. While it may not seem like anything special, it's a nice ability to have, allowing you to damage enemies from afar while you're on the move, and especially pick off crates even quicker than before. Next up is the whole element of time manipulation. There are numerous areas of stages in the game where time has been disturbed and cannot be put back on track. In these segments/portions of a stage, you'll see various scenarios unfold and then watch as time reverses itself and everything rewinds itself - and this repeats non-stop, creating opportunities for some puzzles, as well. If you're confused, think of it this way, in certain parts of the game time is a broken record constantly repeating itself.
Now, with Clank you are given a special staff that grants him the ability to activate time pods, allowing Clank to record four holographic versions of himself and play those recordings back in order to complete numerous puzzles, usually relating to unlocking a door. Admittedly, solving these puzzles and utilizing the recordings of Clank can be rather complicated and will surely frustrate some. But at the same time, they sure are quite creative, and strangely enough, remind me of Portal. Allow me to explain with a bit more detail about this feature. You know how in a lot of adventure games, you'll eventually encounter a door and multiple floor switches that'll open the door? Well, in those games, you need to either take an object and move it over the floor switch to press it down, or if you have a partner with you, tell your partner to step on the switch. In Ratchet, you create physical recordings of Clank running to the switches. When you're ready, trigger all of the recordings so that the recorded Clanks run and enable every switch, allowing you to move on to the next section.
Moving along, space exploration becomes a slightly larger focus, but not being able to travel freely while you're piloting Ratchet's ship feels a bit limited. As far as movement, you're basically locked to either left or right, you can perform a few evasive maneuvers, such as a barrel roll or a 180, but that's about it. More freedom would've surely been nice, but wait until I tell you about the space exploration. You see, in the game there are a whole bunch of moons scattered around the galaxy, which is yours to explore. Each one of these moons is unique in its setup and the reward will be a Zoni (yes, the magical creatures we've been looking for). Traveling from one moon to the next requires absolutely no loading screens or times, as it's all done seamlessly. You hop into your ship, fly to where you wish, land, quickly explore, hop back into the ship and move on to the next moon. And no, these moons are not actually full fledged stages, but rather quick little bursts of action that do not replace the full fledged experience of a massive Ratchet and Clank stage.
Weapon selection continues to be vast, and customization aids gameplay quite well. You can customize the weapons you find or buy in a variety of ways, altering their damage and function to your liking. It's not an extremely deep aspect of customization, but it's solid enough for a game like this, so it's still very welcome. Additionally, the hover boots you'll earn a little further down the line will prove themselves to be an extremely worthy accessory, as utilizing them for the awesome speed boost they give Ratchet when running around really rocks. The hover boots will also be used for some other really exciting and high-flying purposes, as well, those which I'd rather not spoil. But trust me, expect some fun stuff with them.
Unfortunately, we're still finding ourselves disappointed that Insomniac has yet again chose against a multiplayer mode for Ratchet & Clank. We figured perhaps it was because the first PS3 game was still early into the console's life that Insomniac didn't have enough time. And clearly it wasn't possible with the downloadable Quest For Booty. But alas, the third game in the story arc still has no online. We're holding out hope for whatever the next follow-up will be.
As far as the graphics go, this game engine provides the smoothest Ratchet experience to date. Virtually no screen tearing with a silky smooth framerate ensures that the complaints gamers had with the first two games are gone. Granted, the frame rates have always been extraordinarily smooth in the PS3 games, but a small few dips were not unheard of. On top of that, that same signature look with the polished edges demonstrating virtually no jaggies, the clean cartoon-like textures, and the absolutely astonishing texture work on the characters continues to make this a stand-out franchise in the aesthetic department. Two things worth mentioning also is the animation. Well, that is to say, the facial animation (lip-syncing, facial expressions, etc.), and the actual animation of the characters - it is seriously astonishing stuff. Sure, some may argue that the overall look of the game hasn't been enhanced enough, but the fact remains that this is a great looking title.
Audio is every bit as good as it has been in the past two games. Voice work continues to be simply superb, as the actors demonstrate solid chemistry, so there's no forced or awkward moments to be heard. The soundtrack is pretty much the standard Ratchet affair we've come to know from the franchise, and it continues to be enjoyable. And lastly, because big guns are a staple of the series, big explosions and sound effects are too - and with the volume up, A Crack in Time does a good job of shaking walls, especially during some of the cut-scenes.
Even though the formula of this series hasn't seen a dramatic overhaul, the gameplay does continue to offer a very solid experience, complete with enough new features to keep it feeling fresh. The game will run you a total of 12 hours or so, and unless you're the perfectionist type who likes to replay games, there isn't much else to do after you're done. Still, it's worth experiencing the end of the story, and worth witnessing the new locations the game takes you through. Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is a great way to end a trilogy.
10/28/2009 Arnold Katayev