Sony and Playstation have had their share of great platforming mascots- Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Jak and Daxter- and on the PS2 arrived a new duo, a lombax named Ratchet and a robot named Clank. With its send up of sci-fi themes, Ratchet & Clank proved to be a great franchise, packing wild action with even wilder weapons, all delivered with a great sense of humor. The series had a few entries on the PS3, the best of them being A Crack in Time. But it would be two years into the current gen until the duo would make their appearance, timed along with the release of a big screen movie. So how does the franchise hold up?
The answer is quite well. Insomniac delivers with a gorgeous looking game that serves as both a reboot and a remake of sorts of the first game in the series as well as being a sort of movie tie in. That said, you don’t need to see the movie to enjoy this game. Insomniac even cleverly weaves this into the game’s story, as the tale is told by Captain Qwark, who has been disgraced by his actions, to a fellow prisoner named Shiv.
The tale begins with Ratchet, a lombax with mechanical aptitude and a powerful wrench, working in a garage with Grim on the planet Veldin. He longs to join the Galactic Rangers, a team of heroes headed by Captain Qwark, and goes off to participate in try outs. Despite doing well, Ratchet is denied membership. Meanwhile, a small robot escapes a facility on the planet Quartu. The robot crash lands on Veldin and is rescued by Ratchet, who names him Clank. Clank bears a warning for the Galactic Rangers that Chairman Drek has teamed up with Dr. Nefarious and they have a dastardly plan for the galaxy. Off the duo go and naturally have adventures, join the Galactic Rangers, and pursue the bad guys. The story’s plot is nothing new but is nicely done, has plenty of likeable characters and a fair amount of humor.
But story in a Ratchet & Clank game is nothing without its action packed gameplay, and its here the game delivers in spades. The platforming elements have been toned down from earlier entries, but they’re still here and nicely done. Clank has his own sections where puzzle solving comes into play, using various gadgebots to make his way through areas or solve a crisis. To navigate the environments, which are all nicely detailed and colorful, Ratchet himself has a wide array of gadgets, many of which will be familiar to franchise veterans. His Omniwrench 8000 can be swung as a melee weapon or flung at enemies and explosive crates, as well as distant switches. The swingshot is back, enabling Ratchet to swing over chasms, along with the grindboots that enable him to travel on the rails. The Trespasser lets him hack security doors (putting you into a mini puzzle game, or you can forfeit bolts and a trophy is you wish to use the Autohack feature), and the Hydrodisplacer can raise or lower water levels to aid in passing through areas. All are fun to use, especially the Hoverboard, which is used in races.
Of course, this series is not only known for its fun gadgets but for its crazy weapons as well, and they make a strong return in the game. There are old favorites like the Combustor and Mr. Zurkon. The Sheepinator does just what its name implies (though it doesn’t become available until late in the game). The Groovitron puts up a flashing disco ball, setting enemies to dancing, making them easier targets. Buzz Blades bounce sharp weapons about the room, doing plenty of damage, and the Warmonger serves as your missile launcher. One of the more interesting is the Pixelizer, which reduces your enemies to 8 bit representations of themselves. All of the weapons can be upgraded by collecting and spending raritanium at the Gadgetron vendor kiosks found throughout the game. Bolts, as they have in the past, serve as the game’s currency and come from enemies and smashing crates. You still need to run around to get close for the bolts to fly to you, though in heavier combat sections the screen becomes crazy with enemy shots to dodge, explosions, and flying bolts. There’s never a drop in frame rate despite all of the activity on screen, and combat generally remains fun for the 8-10 hours you’ll spend in the game.
The only place where combat can feel a bit tedious and the camera can come into play is during the game’s boss battles. Bosses have a large vertical health bar on the right side of the screen and often combine with minions and multiple attacks. They’re also bullet sponges, but thankfully plenty of ammo can be found on the battlefield. One thing that is in shorter supply during boss battles is the nanotech crates that provide you with health. This can make the boss fights tense affairs, as there is a lot for you to keep track of on screen. The camera sometimes does not provide the best angle, and, especially in the final fight, can lead to some cheap deaths. They make for big scenes but the boss fights bring nothing new to the table and sometimes feel as if they go on for too long. This especially applies to the final boss, which at times felt cheap. Instead of a feeling of satisfaction at beating these bosses it’s more of a feeling of relief that it’s over, as they feel more exhausting than fun.
But despite this (and a couple of sequences with Clank towards the end of the game that also go on entirely too long), Ratchet & Clank is a lot of fun overall, and a welcome return of the franchise. The game is often funny and has its share of references, and the voice acting is nicely done. Plus, the environments are beautiful to look at, and the animation approaches Pixar levels in quality for he cut scenes. To a point, the game plays it safe and doesn’t mess with the formula that has worked so well in the past. The gadgets are fun to use and the guns are entertaining and varied. Fans would do well to purchase this for their collections, and at the reduced price of $39.99 (USD) and the challenge mode that opens up once you complete the game means you’ll easily get your money’s worth. Insomniac’s dynamic duo is back, and that’s a fun time for their fans.
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