Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time User Review
Not the most immediately obvious, but by the far the biggest improvement comes through the space exploration. Whereas before it was limited to only a few linear areas while travelling between planets, it has here been fleshed out into a fully featured set of galaxies through which you can roam freely in the starship Aphelion. Each galaxy has a couple of planets, where the story segments and most of the action takes place, along with numerous planetoids, which are usually platforming based and where you will find most of the collectibles of the game. In addition to this, you can find denizens of the galaxies in trouble who will require your assistance, either through a tow, or by protecting them from enemies. It’s surprisingly engrossing, and you can easily spend a happy hour travelling from place to place before resuming the storyline.
This element certainly became the third core tenet of the game. The other two, combat and platforming, have both seen changes and improvements that are unlocked as you progress. The main change comes from, with a few exceptions, an entirely new arsenal of weaponry with which to wreak havoc. Some of these are reminiscent of those found in Tools of Destruction, such as the Dynamo of Doom with its similarities to the Tornado Launcher, while others are entirely fresh. A balance is struck between diversionary and mid-range weapons, while close range and melee weapons are frightfully restricted. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a little disappointing. Almost making up for this is the inclusion of a sniper rifle that illuminates the weak points of an enemy, resulting in them usually being killed in only a single shot, provided you manage to hit that spot. As always, it is immense fun to see the creativity of the Insomniac team on show by simply sitting back and reigning all manner of hell down on adversaries.
The weapon customisation system has been changed around a bit too. No longer can you buy upgrades, as they are instead built entirely around the experience system with only the Constructo weapons bucking this trend. There are three of these; a pistol, a grenade and a shotgun. Like everything else, they are affected by the experience system, but they also have a set of features that you can upgrade once you nab the Constructo Mods, which allows you to tailor them to the specific scenario. It adds an extra layer to the game, but it would have been a more effective inclusion if the total number of weapons were lessened, so that the player is more likely to rely on these in particular. Alas that this is not the case.
The platforming actually plays a larger role in the game thanks to the aforementioned planetoids. A few of them are combat based, but most of them have you traversing a series of platforms, with the assistance of the gadgets that you’ll unlock throughout the course of the game, and this actually allows for a rather considerable amount of variation, including some delightfully devilish designs that can catch you off guard with their surprising difficulty. The end result is almost always the same: capture the Zoni, or the Gold Bolt, but this doesn’t detract from the experience, and actually makes it feel somewhat worthwhile as the creatures will continually upgrade Aphelion as you find more of them. The story levels are a delightful mix of combat and platforming, which ensures gameplay diversity, even should you choose not to explore.
There are a few minor complaints to be had with the controls, ranging from a difficulty in aiming certain weapons, to certain platforming segments being too fast, or inaccurately crafted, but in general it is a top notch production all around.
I’ve already mentioned that, again, there is a large number of different planets to visit as you progress and these have a unified visual structure, avoiding anything particularly realistic. That being said, each of them manages to feel unique, with a certain tone and atmosphere being achieved, whether it be the sterility of a spaceship, the dusty barrenness of a desert, the lush vegetation of a forest or the quaint surroundings of a small village. The environments are usually quite large while managing to avoid reusing assets too often. In short, the backdrops are gorgeous, whether they be interstellar or planetside. The only real complaint comes from the bold lines and colourful designs that naturally lend themselves to the art style of the game necessarily lacking intricate detail.
The character models are all nicely done, particularly those of the four main characters, with each of them managing to consistently convey the emotions that they are striving for. It appears that there is an emphasis on silhouette here, not dissimilar from Bioshock. No matter what is going on, you can always easily tell what enemy is in front of you and accordingly alter your combat strategy, based only on the rough outline. That being said, there isn’t a huge number of specific enemy types, but the variations found within is where the design philosophy of Insomniac shines. The cutscenes are a different visual beast entirely, with a stunning filter overlaid them to allow for a truly cinematic appearance. In their turn, they are comedic, poignant and action packed, but always entertaining which is essential for a game of this type.
From a technical perspective, the only issues that I found stemmed from the camera occasionally wigging out, or not offering the best perspective on occurrences, though that is mitigated somewhat by the player having near complete control. It is still problematic in tight areas, or fast sequences, but not as much as it could be. Aside from that, there were no frame rate drops, screen tearing and very, very few antialiasing issues, though there were some points where clipping cropped up, or character ended up floating weirdly a few inches above the ground. These were slightly disturbing, but not enough to break attention from the game.
Even better than the magnificent graphical presentation is a auditory experience that truly immerses the player in the action. Each world is occupied by a soundtrack befitting the nature of it, playing over the subtle natural sounds of the environment. The music is also segmented into different patterns, based on the activity in the level. It is usually calmer when there is no immediate threat, but picks up magnificently in scenarios of high action. This latter fact is most highly emphasised in the game’s Arena mode, which plays a rousing war march as you take on the swarms of enemies. The sound effects are spot on, though they often seem too loud to naturally fit. This ranges from the various sounds of the weapons to the explosions of crates, and even the traversal mechanics in some instances.
When it comes to the voice acting, this is perhaps even more of a standout than the rest of the production. The game has a very cartoony style, as the entire series has had. This allows for certain liberties to be taken with the voice work, just as The Sly Trilogy and Brutal Legend could. Ratchet sounds delightfully heroic, while Captain Qwark is comically so. Clank has an understandably mechanical tone of voice, but has as much personality as any character from just about any game. The antagonists are usually threateningly humorous, while NPCs each fit their archetype. As mentioned though, it’s slightly overdone, and some people won’t appreciate it, but it comes with the territory in a game like this.
When you first start the game, it presents an interview with the incomparable Captain Qwark and it is from this that you will learn the events of the series leading up to this point in case you didn’t play the earlier games. To skip to the beginning of this one: Clank is missing after being abducted by the mysterious Zoni. A year has passed since his kidnapping and Ratchet remains as frustrated and as desperate as ever to find his best friend. He found a nugget of information in Quest For Booty, but this has proven supremely unhelpful thus far. He crash lands on a planet deep in space, which happens to be the home of the Fongoids, a race with a curious connection with the Zoni. Predictably, all hell breaks loose before too long, and Ratchet, who had previously thought himself the last surviving Lombax finds himself in search of another. From there it’s a race against time itself to find Clank.
As mentioned earlier, the game spans several galaxies, and Insomniac have taken the opportunity to break up the gameplay a bit through the use of the warping mechanic. As Ratchet travels from one galaxy to the other, the player is handed over control of Clank in some classic platforming, interspersed with time based puzzles that are simply delicious. And yes, I do mean that. They are a perfect balance between accessibility and difficulty, and serve to become more difficult as you perform more of them, allowing you to acclimatise to the concept and lateral thinking required to get past them.
All in all, the story is brilliant. It has moments that will touch anyone sensitive enough to appreciate them, some fantastic humour and just the right amount of randomness. Yes, it does get a little bit convoluted, but as with most games, it needs to in order to allow a greater length to the game. I’m not going to give away the ending, but I’ll admit this (and hand over another ‘man card’ if it’s asked for), I teared up a little. Just a little… Yes, I was emotionally affected by a cartoon fuzz ball and a talking lunchbox. What of it?
The game took me just short of fifteen and a half hours to complete on Normal difficulty, but my completionist instinct kicked in to achieve that as I sought to collect all of the Zoni, Gold Bolts and Schematics, as well as the post-credits objectives. I didn’t manage to get all of the Bolts, but the rest I did. That being sad, it can probably be beaten in half of that amount of time, if you choose to concern yourself solely with the campaign. You then gain access to Challenge Mode which is, in essence, a more difficult version of New Game +. Alternately, you can always start a new game from scratch with a higher difficulty level (there are three to choose from. As mentioned, I played on Normal.). There are also a huge number of Skill Points to attain from accomplishing set goals, and these unlock concept art and cheats for anyone interested.
It’s hard not to admire and recommend this game. Its flaws are minor; its achievements, glorious. There are so many things that Insomniac have managed to get right with this that I’m actually somewhat fearful of the upcoming All 4 One somehow tarnishing the legacy of the series. Perhaps this is unnecessary worrying on my part, as the team is only getting better as they go on, with Resistance 3 looking amazing, and Overstrike intriguing. There are better, more innovative games out there than A Crack in Time, but it isn’t often that you’ll find something that is so entertaining and endearing. Unlike it’s direct prequel, it is a labour of love and for that I offer a toast to the Insomniac team. They may no longer be exclusive developers, but everyone needs to experience their games, so I see it as a necessary step for them.
As always, thank you for reading. May you find Peace, Happiness and Contentedness going forward in your lives. Until next time, PSXE.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.