Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time PS3
The Ratchet and Clank franchise hasn’t been around long, but since 2002 there have been six full length titles, two PSP spin-offs and last year’s Quest for Booty. In between this all they’ve fitted in the excellent Resistance series, so calling developers Insomniac prolific would be a bit of an understatement.
Churning them out annually it’s unsurprising that the core gameplay of the titles hasn’t really changed much over the years, and as remarkable as that gameplay is, by the time 2007’s Tools of Destruction rolled out the series was getting far too formulaic and a little bit dull. That’s why A Crack In Time is so refreshing; it’s not so much that they’ve changed everything, but they’ve gone and proved how much life can be put into what should be an over-worked concept.
Firstly, forget Tools. A Crack in Time returns to the lofty heights of Going Commando and Up your Arsenal. The plot begins exactly where Quest For Booty left off with Ratchet still searching for the kidnapped Clank, but if you didn’t play the previous games don’t worry an update on the story is provided as the game installs.
The game focuses on the theme of time, with Clank becoming the guardian of the Great Clock, an installation that stabilises time within the universe and Ratchet trying to track him down while trying to trace the routes of his lost civilisation. The plot is told as well as any great film and focuses on really building up the separate origins of the duo (and if you don’t care trust me the game will make you). Without saying too much, it’s all held together with strong character ties and conflicting motives and it all plays out with such professionalism that it’ll have you gripped. The zany, goofy, ‘lovably camp’ humour the game provides is exactly the sort that grows on you.
So as you might have guessed the gameplay is split up into two main styles, Ratchet’s missions and Clank’s. Clank finds himself harnessing the power of time, and this is no mere throwaway power, in fact it finds itself entwined into every element of the game. There’s more than enough variety to the gameplay and pacing in these shortish segments but the most interesting mechanic is the time pad puzzles.
Here Clank needs to re-record his actions multiple times to manipulate switches and elevators in order to escape a room. At its most basic you’ve got to record yourself pressing a switch that opens a door, then playback your double while you wait for your former self to reopen that door. At its most complex you’ve got four versions of yourself to record multiple times in order to leave. Escaping a room will trigger a shower of bolts, a nice little reward for doing a nice little puzzle.
As for Ratchet’s levels? They have the same tight, responsive and urgent controls Insomniac perfected years ago, but there’s a refreshing feel here. The enemies are particularly inventive, as are the new weapons: such as a titanic, rolling ball of energy that gets so big it engulfs the entire screen and the room-clearing Fred, a hideous tentacled alien (think that toothy sand monster from Return of the Jedi) who pulls enemies back through his black hole for feeding time.
Three of the weapons: the pistol, shotgun and bomb glove are fully customisable throughout the game and all those majorly change how the weapon behaves. It’s also nice to see some more tactical weapons among them. The new sniper rifle allows you to home in on weak spots for added damage but never to the extent that the fast paced flow of the game is disrupted. The combat style of fixing the enemy with fire and then jumping around dodging, all whilst returning fire, allows Insomniac to mix platforming with shooting in a way that’s totally unique to this franchise and as usual it’s as tight as ever.
From a series that brought grind rails and swing shots to the common place it’s nice to see Insomniac throwing down another innovative idea that’s sure to catch on. Hover boots change the way Ratchet navigates the landscape and the game relishes on giving you lots of interesting locations and new ways to use them. The device fits over the main gameplay in total harmony and turns some areas into a skate park. The Hover boots control effortlessly and you’ll never find them a source of frustration.
Space combat has once again been overhauled and even though I thought those levels were of merit in Tools of Destruction this is a definite improvement. The space sections now form a hub that allow you to explore the galaxy and travel between the planets. It’s basically a flat plain to navigate with some points of interest, the most interesting of these being moons.
With a nod to Super Mario Galaxy as well as previous Ratchet games, these are optional standalone platforming challenges with a reward waiting at the end, a definite stand out point of the game is exploring these varied and interesting spherical gauntlets. Also in space is the starship combat which tends to involve the player being circled by enemies and having to strafe to avoid fire which is fun enough but nothing to get excited about.
Lastly are the space missions, these are tiny filler tasks like driving from A to B which succeed in giving you something else to do, but fall a little flat compared to the rest of the game. Overall, space in A Crack in Time is no Great Sea (from Wind Waker), but merely a loosely implemented hub-world and the brunt of the few things I find wrong with this otherwise outstanding game.
The Ratchet series has always been known for outstanding presentation. The earlier games boasted incredibly designed and imaginative locations that other developers could never hope to emulate. The PS3’s added wallop helps push that creative vision even further, allowing for some gorgeous lighting that really gives a new depth of mood to the environments and expertly captures a particular time of day, thus bringing the player right into this gloriously made world.
The cut scenes are engaging, funny and superbly animated. Pixar-like is a term that’s been thrown around and it’s got some truth in it, the graphics are no Up but they certainly look better than Toy Story. I normally don’t put such emphasis on the graphics, but Insomniac clearly do not design the graphical flourishes and level design separately.
The levels are masterfully artistic, both visually and as an entertaining level to play through. The work of inspired level designers given a free reign over their creations and this just makes exploring them all the more compelling. The levels are now packed with life, with some having their own race of characters talking amongst themselves and interacting with the player. This small but significant change really closes the fourth wall.
I’m laying on so much praise on this game that I actually feel quite guilty, but the faults really are few and far between. The camera is actually irksome at times, which is surprising as it never happened in the previous games. The game also feels quite short, but I’m convinced it was the perfect length for such a well-paced story driven game and there is far more to collect and complete than in any of the previous titles. As I’ve already discussed, the space overworld doesn’t feel much more than a glorified in-game hub with some points of interest. More weapons would be nice, the Playstation 2 games had too many in comparison.
It’s so rare to play a game with such imagination and as many good ideas as A Crack In Time. It’s even rarer to play one that pulls it off in a manner that never resorts to dragging or frustration. You simply cannot do better than keeping what works, fixing what didn’t and adding a few new neat ideas that are implemented in such a deep way. If this is truly the last Ratchet and Clank release then rest assured that the series goes out with a bang. It’s one of the games of the year and an outstanding exclusive for the Playstation 3.