It seems action games are defined by the amount of ass-kickery stuffed into each move. Games like Devil May Cry seem to be completely about the "cool" factor and how stylish different weapons can look. Ratchet & Clank, on the other hand, takes a much more enjoyable approach. The game has a much larger focus on platforming and making the worlds you visit feel alive rather than dark and mature, but ultimately flat and static. As you travel numerous worlds looking for a way into the Universe's "Great Clock", you'll find scores of enemies to fight and puzzles to solve, with an ever increasing arsenal of weapons with which to do it.
What's more, Ratchet's weapons feel different.
With only Ratchet's Omniwrench at your disposal from the beginning, you'll find yourself buying and using the extra weapons constantly, which is what the game is all about. You select a weapon as a tool for the situation, rather than one that looks the coolest or that you haven't used in a while. I found myself playing differently depending on what I had equipped. It was great fun walking into a room, seeing a challenge, and thinking, "The disco-ball glove would be perfect for this." Complimenting that, many of the weapons can be strung together in different ways to carve your path through invading hordes and enemy garrisons.
The magic of this is they're not just keys, but representations of how you want to play; it's possible to get through the game without more than a couple of the weapons, but needlessly difficult. Fans of RPGs will know status effect-inflicting weapons don't ever work on bosses, but in this title, even the final boss can be forced to dance, trapped by nets, or frozen in place. A very logical and welcome addition. One last note on the weapons: though every game has a rocket launcher, I can count on one hand how many actually feel like one. This is one of those few.
What stood out to me most was the funny. The designers clearly have a couple different styles of humor and incorporate everything they can to get a laugh out of the Player. Some tend to fall flat, like Orvus and Sigmund's puns and quips, while some made me actually laugh out loud, like the taunts and laments of your assisting weapon, Mr. Zurkon. The game never takes itself too seriously. From the Ren & Stimpy-esque cartoons instructing you in the use of each weapon to the casting of two women and a man as the three Valkyries, the game is a welcome change from the testosterone-fueled action games the kids all talk about these days.
To be honest, the game was so riddled with comedy, I was somewhat disappointed to hear Ratchet & Clank's voices and dialogue; I had imagined them to be a lot more in line with the humorous parts of the game, and not so normal and straightforward. Overall the voice acting is extremely well done, with Dr. Nefarious sounding like he's about to blow a gasket every moment while Captain Qwark is always so arrogant and contradictable. Unfortunately, the Player is required to listen to all of it. One option missing is the ability to skip dialogue without cancelling the conversation. This works fine for story events where the conversation has only one outcome: progression. Where it began to grate on me was as I was talking to the junker at the local storage depot. Sure, he had a lot to say that made him stand out from other characters, but not so much that helped me understand just what he wanted me to do to get that 6000 bolt reward.
Overall the balance is good, making me feel like those extra boxes I smashed were helpful in obtaining the newest weapon from GrummelNet. A level-up and increase in health is like a deus ex machina in a battle that sometimes tips the favor your way, though a room or two later, it may feel like you haven't leveled up at all. Furthermore, even though the gameplay mechanics and challenges are straightforward, mastery of the weapons and controls will be required to escape even some ordinary rooms, much less some of the harder boss battles. This game isn't afraid to play rough with the player every now and then, especially near the end; expect to enjoy the infinite lives and the benefits of dying (refill on life, sometimes ammo).
The game falls apart a little when playing as Clank (the two are separated for most of the game), as he has only two scenarios that play out: running through the Great Clock area fighting with two weapons (one of which doesn't really count as a weapon), and solving "time puzzles" which are somewhat like puzzles from Blinx: The Time Sweeper on Xbox. Essentially, it involves pads where you can record yourself doing something, pressing a switch to open a door for example, then going back to re-record a different action on another pad, say going through that door as it's opened by your past self. There are a handful of these puzzles throughout the game, which are kind of fun as an idea, but quickly become tedious.
The problem is that when you see one, there's virtually no way to even hope that you can solve it before a massive input of trial, and inevitably just as much error. Small changes need to be made in ghosts, which involves re-recording yourself, sometimes up to twenty seconds' worth, interacting with other ghosts you've made, up to three at a time. Since these ghosts are recordings of you, and have no mind of their own, if some small thing goes wrong, you may have to go back and record over it, and possibly another one at that. Rather than accomplishment as I walked through the final door, I usually felt relieved from frustration. This was easily my biggest complaint with the game.
An irrational amount of time is spent on these puzzles compared to how quickly the rest of the game can be shot through, but overall they don't detract too much. Between switching weapons, hoverbooting, and exploring new planets and enemies, this is a good example of taking a path I knew and letting me enjoy the ride.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Genre: Shooter, Platformer, Action-Adventure
Release: October 27, 2009
Available On: PlayStation 3
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