It’s surprising how many Ratchet and Clank games there have been over the years. To my count this is the seventh Ratchet and Clank game, eighth if you count the shorter PSN title. A series that grows that long in the tooth can have a tough time keeping things fresh and fun for newcomers, while at the same time pleasing long time fans, so how did Insomniac do?
At the end of the last game *spoiler* you may remember that Clank was seemingly kidnapped by Zoni. *spoiler done* You start out A Crack in Time with the two partners separated. Ratchet is on a quest with Captain Qwark to find and rescue Clank, while Clank finds himself the caretaker of the Great Clock which helps protect the integrity of time itself all across the universe. Both of our heroes are the target of Dr. Nefarious’ evil scheming. He plans to take control of the Great Clock in order to go back in time and make the world more to his liking.
The story of A Crack in Time is pretty enjoyable, but I didn't find myself laughing as often or as hard as I did while playing Tools of Destruction. This might be because the story was meant to include a lot of exposition on the two characters, which it succeeded in doing admirably, but it left me wishing they had not spent so much time being serious. However, Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark were great counters to the straight men that Ratchet and Clank seem to play most of the time and both brought plenty of much needed laughs. I don’t think of the story as a failure overall - it was still a good driving force, as I often found myself continuing just to see what would happen next, but it could’ve done with less serious exposition and more funny.
Gameplay in A Crack in Time is mostly the same as in previous entries of the series, with the addition of more Clank gameplay which focuses on puzzle solving. When you play as Ratchet the game is basically a platformer combined with a shooter. Sure, you have the ability to just smack enemies with your wrench using the Square button, but who would do that when you have such a varied arsenal of weapons at your disposal. As usual you have 16 different weapons that you will slowly gain throughout the game, with some fun new additions such as a fan designed saw gun that can hit enemies twice for each shot as it shoots out and then returns and Cryomines which instantly freeze your enemies solid. There are also some returning fan favorites such as Mr. Zurkon and the Groovitron. New to the series are Constructo weapons which come with multiple parts that you can mix and match, as well as a customizable paint job. I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of options for the Contructo weapons since you only have 3 different parts to switch out with 3 different options for each one. For something that was touted from the beginning I admit I was expecting more, though it is nice having a gun that you can somewhat tailor to your desires.
Your time with Clank is focused more on puzzle solving than combat. You have a staff that you can whack enemies with but more useful is your ability to throw time bombs which slow the passage of time for everything but you in a small area. After some weaker than hoped combat you will be treated to the meatier potion of Clank’s gameplay in the form of puzzles. By standing on a button you can record your actions and then have a time clone repeat them for you. The puzzles start off simple such as having a clone hold a door open for you with a button while you walk through the now open door, but obviously they quickly become more elaborate. These puzzles are an interesting break from the constant gunfighting action in the Ratchet half of the game, but I feel like they should have upped the difficulty near the end. Even the final Clank puzzle did not stump me for very long, though I admit it took some trial and error initially to get in the correct mindset for solving these time puzzles.
Another new type of gameplay comes from the addition of free space travel. Sure there were always space travel minigames in Ratchet and Clank, but now you can travel around space at your leisure (on a 2D plane). This acts as the game’s hub world which you can play around in doing side missions for bolts or going to tiny challenge worlds that will reward you with something upon completion. I really liked the idea of adding more freedom and exploration to the series as a whole, but felt the combat while flying was weak and not deep enough to be worth any real effort. Your ship does increase in capabilities as you collect Zonis from around the universe, but the combat while flying is so simplistic that the upgrades are rarely needed except for instances in which the story makes them obligatory.
As with all entries in the Ratchet and Clank series the platforming is the weakest part. Most of the platforming involves easy jumps or timing challenges that would make any veteran of the genre scoff in disdain. The addition of Hover Boots helps to give the platforming more of a challenge as you zip across the ground from platform to platform, but even these are fairly easy tasks. One platforming genre norm that Ratchet and Clank has down to a tee is collectibles. Every enemy you defeat or box you destroy showers you in a plethora of bolts which are then used as general currency throughout the universe (why exactly everyone in the universe is cool with using machine parts as currency is beyond me). Defeating enemies also gets you experience which will increase your weapons up to level five, at which point they gain a new name and visual, as well as increased effectiveness. These range from increasing the damage your Buzz Blades do by making them explode on every bouncing impact or changing Mr. Zurkon to Zurkon the Destroyer. Leveling your weapons is a nice way to increase your damage abilities over time, but what really makes it enjoyable are the differences that occur at level five. I find myself wishing they had gone further with the idea and made a level 10 where the gun gets even crazier.
Try as hard as I might I really can’t tell the difference between the visuals of Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time. Sure, these were amazing visuals when the first PS3 Ratchet came out, but it has lost a lot of its luster over time. It is impressive that the engine can handle all of the crazy happenings and bolts on screen without slowing down for a single moment, but this impressive technical achievement only goes so far. Voice acting was good overall, particularly for the main cast, but there were a few annoying voices among the side characters that were painful to listen to. Music was largely understated but I did enjoy the ability to switch between four different radio stations while flying around in the space ship.
Value pretty much matches the previous title as well. I finished my playthrough on normal difficulty in 12 hours, and this included at least an hour of playing in the arenas which was completely optional, as well as a few other side missions and planets, so you could probably complete the game in 10 hours or less. Once you complete the storyline you have the option of restarting the game in challenge mode or continuing just before the final boss fight so you can finish collecting all of the Zoni and other collectables around the universe. The only multiplayer option comes in the form of a cooperative minigame that can be found in the Algorian Arena, but it will only serve as amusement for a short period of time.
Ratchet and Clank is definitely a fun game, and I certainly encourage fans of the series (as well as newcomers) to try out this latest iteration, but it feels like there is something missing. The new additions to gameplay are welcome, and Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark are hilarious, but the visuals just don’t impress like they used to and the laughs are not as plentiful as I had hoped. If this turns out to be the final Ratchet and Clank game for a while as some have theorized then it was a worthy finale to the series, but I hope they give it another go relatively soon in order to perfect the formula.