Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time

I feel like I'm in a somewhat awkward position in regard to this game's place in the series. I think in some ways, it's an improvement on the last full release, Tools of Destruction. But that's true of almost every sequel they've done, and this is now the fourth console game to use pretty much the exact same formula, which was created in Going Commando six years ago. I still had a ton of fun with it, but it doesn't feel as fresh anymore. It's not exactly a knock on the game, because it's not that easy to make significant strides over some of my favorite games of all time. I can't really say what I'd want a sequel to do differently, either. They could keep churning out the same thing every couple years ad infinitum and I'd probably be satisfied, I just wouldn't consider it the peak of fun in gaming anymore.

A Crack in Time continues the story that began in Tools of Destruction and was touched on in Quest for Booty, about the origins of both the titular heroes. Ratchet and Clank are separated for most of the game, and each have their own type of thing to do. Ratchet does his typical thing of trotting from globe to globe, smashing every object in sight, fighting a bunch of increasingly difficult (and disappointingly repetitive) enemies with a multitude of bizarre weaponry, upgrading both his arsenal and his own abilities as he progresses. There's the return of space combat, using a more simplistic control scheme, and now instead of directly traveling to each planet they're grouped into small sectors that can be flown through. These sectors are also packed with the return of tiny, spherical worlds he can go to and explore, mostly to collect one of the game's many hidden items that unlock something or other. One thing these games do as well as anything on the market is incite the player to keep playing and searching for everything he can find. The carrot-on-a-stick of leveling up weapons and finding every last hidden crevice is pretty powerful, and encapsulated by the cathartic way nearby ammo and cash just magnetically flows into his body instead of having to be directly run over. There are some new elements to the always present yet mildly neglected platforming, and some light puzzle-solving, although that's more Clank's angle.

Clank has several levels of his own, which feature a bunch of time-based running, jumping and puzzling. He has a couple interesting bits of equipment at his disposal like a supply of bombs that slow down the flow of time in a small area and a sceptre that can undo damage to the environment and deflect projectiles. In one area there's a simple mini-game to heal temporal damage to various worlds that I didn't understand the point of, but the main draw of playing Clank are the rooms where he has to make use of various pads that can record and play back his actions to get to the other side, and eventually there are four copies of him running around at the same time, stepping on buttons and jumping over gaps. They escalate in difficulty naturally, and I was really having a lot of fun figuring them out. They're the right level of challenge to where they make you feel smart but aren't overly frustrating, and unfortunately they stop right as I thought they were really getting good. But all good things must come to an end, and they provided a good portion of the dozen hours of fun I had with the game.

I enjoyed the story pretty well for the most part. Some elements that the Future games have brought up are still unresolved like the ultimate fate of the Lombax race, though others like Clank's true origins are revealed. The emotional core of the plot was surprisingly strong in places, especially Ratchet's relationship with an old General from his people's military. There was a decent amount of humor, a lot of it coming as expected from Captain Qwark, and while it continued to be a tad childish for my tastes I did laugh in a couple places. The game looks pretty fantastic and has some good voice work, such as Nolan North showing with Sigmund that he has a lot more range than just sarcastic leading man (see: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune/Prince of Persia/Assassin's Creed/Shadow Complex). I'm not sure quite what's next for Ratchet and Clank, but I'll probably be interested. And maybe they'll bring back the online this time.

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