Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time

   23/11/2009 at 01:46       NewYork       5 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Ratchet and Clank, crack in time, PS3, review
This game makes it ten for the series, and is the third Ratchet and Clank game for the PS3. Considering that Quest for Booty was criticised for being "more of the same", "devoid of ambition", and "vanilla", A Crack in Time must prove that after seven long years, there's still a fire burning underneath all that cold gaming polish.

As a platformer-dash-shooter, Ratchet and Clank has long proven itself to be a genre master, praised equally alongside Jak and Daxter on the PS2, and dropping jaws when it arrived on the PS3. The latest entry in the series loses nothing from its predecessors' sharp platforming, sweet gunplay, and sizzling graphics. If you've played the previous two titles in the Future trilogy, you'll know exactly what to expect.

But it is indeed more of the same, and it's easy to see how players who aren't newcomers or diehards may be experiencing burnout. You could justify returning for the plot, though the game's story is a mere background rumbling that gives an excuse for planet-hopping adventure, but never truly grips. Granted, this is a family game designed to appeal to both kids and adults, but it's a shame that the Pixar formula doesn't seem to apply when it comes to storyline. Ratchet and Clank, now separated, must stop Dr. Nefarious from using the Great Clock for his evil purposes: that's about the gist of it. Frequently it feels as though you are playing from mission-to-mission rather than with some overarching goal in mind. That you keep switching back and forth between different characters and situations does a lot to kill any momentum the plot may have had.

Once again, however, Ratchet and Clank excels in the humour department, with snappy well-acted dialogue both during gameplay and in the game's many cinematic cutscenes. The leader of the funnies is Captain Qwark, who will have you laughing and cringing in equal measures at his larger-than-Zapp-Brannigan ego and incompetence. There's cute humour (see the adorable Orvus attempting to operate a video camera and explaining his own corny jokes) and clever Hitchhiker's Guide type stuff, too.

Gameplay remains hyper-smooth and fast paced, as you hack through multiple enemies against a busy futuristic backdrop, all in silky animation. New hoverboots speed up exploration and open up new sections of the environment through ramps and wall-jumps, though they make Ratchet slightly cumbersome to manoeuvre. New weapons are added to an already eclectic mix, though the trusty standard pistol works just fine for most situations, leaving the rest merely fancy indulgences. Additions include the sonic eruptor, an alien gun which damages multiple enemies with a well timed burp, and tesla spikes, which you throw on the ground to electrocute enemies. Liberal use of strafing and auto-aim will make mincemeat of any enemy.

Clank's separate adventure sees the tiny robot armed and ready to fight enemies with melee attacks, though the majority of his levels are dedicated to time-based puzzles. Clank can create bubbles of slow-motion which allow him to traverse fast-moving platforms; he can fix time rifts in an elegant shooting minigame; and he must also solve puzzles involving recording and playing back multiple instances of himself so that he is essentially co-operating with his own ghost data to execute increasingly complex button combinations (anyone remember Time Slip on the PSone's Net Yaroze program? It's that). It may sound mind-bending, but most puzzles can be beaten with some try-everything brute force.

With Clank and Rachet's separate levels, activities stay pretty mixed up. Not to mention the game's open inter-level hub, which sees Rachet flying between planets in an easily-piloted spaceship. You are stuck in a single horizontal plane, but moving around is satisfying, if slightly slow. Between planets you are treated to space combat, which is easy and soon a chore, and Mario Galaxy-ish mini-planets, which are simple and soon tedious.

The first game in the trilogy arrived with a trail of hype, and now that things have quietened down, it's pleasing to see that the latest game packs the same punch, regardless. There's no denying Ratchet and Clank remains a quality platformer, and all the right pieces are present for a good game. All the while, it can feel like an empty experience, as though the entire game washes over you without you noticing that there was anything to care about. As though there is no soul behind all the futuristic shine. It's button to button, door to door, cutscene to cutscene, objective to objective, planet to planet. Mechanical.

Gamers who are new to Ratchet and Clank (and if you own a PS3 already, you really shouldn't be) and those who are hungry for more are unlikely to be disappointed. There's nothing wrong with more of the same, really. Gamers who are entering the decline phase of their R&C enthusiasm may or may not be saved by this game. The characters are darling, and their comedy is spot on. That could be enough.

What did I expect? This game is for young and old alike (meaning just "young") and is quite rightly similar to the other games in the trilogy. You already know if that's what you want. I'm ready to see what the Future holds.
Stars
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