Insomniac cut the Ratchet formula down to its core components and give us the best game in the series
adam1808 wrote this review on .
A Crack in Time picks up directly from where the disappointingly short Quest for Booty left off, Clank has been kidnapped by Dr Nefarious, the maniacal robotic villain from Up your Arsenal and crowd favourite, and Ratchet is still on his quest to find his long lost friend. Happily if you haven't played Tools of Destruction or Quest for Booty there is a truly hilarious opening scene that plays while the game installs where the bumbling Captain Qwark summarises the situation in a laugh-worthy interview.
The story itself is probably the best R&C has ever had, although its a testament to the flimsy nature of previous games' plots. The simple rescue premise stretches out into two quite seperate and personal stories, each relating to the two titular heroes, Clank discovers his true purpose while repairing time in the Great Clock and Ratchet similarly connects with his origins. Storytelling has never been something Insomniac have done with much verve or flair, damping down any genuine moments of sentiment or emotion in previous games with a ridiculous mannerism or a thinly disguised joke about bodily functions. In A Crack in Time however, Insomniac has reached a new plateau of maturity, this primarily comes from the introduction of a new Lombax character known as Alistair Azimuth (voiced convincingly by Joey D'Auria) who has connections to Ratchet's family and a strong link to the events hinted at in ToD. Azimuth functions as a strong father figure for Ratchet and lends to tale a personal edge which was over-played in the previous full-length installment. Clank's story is also well told, there are narrative devices usually seen in more serious fare like pseudo-dream sequences where Clank explores his own memory, receives cryptic clues from a plumber in his subconscious and gets to know his supposed father as he learns how to keep the universe in check. Overall its a mature and considered tale which wraps up a lot of loose ends and is pure fan service for those left wanting by the weak stories of previous games.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Ratchet game without humour and this game delivers like the series has never really done since Up Your Arsenal. The writing has taken a step up from ToD, Qwark is used just enough so that his major moments are so unique and unexpected that they're the highlights of the story. The return of Nefarious also adds to the comic tone as his balanced mix of threatening and funny mannerisms are used to good effect, he's an arch villain when he needs to be and comic relief when its been awhile since you had a laugh. A lot of the comedy is based on nostalgia however, there are a huge number of in-jokes relating specifically back to Up Your Arsenal, everything from Qwark's cross-dressing to Nefarious's tendency to spout soap opera recordings during stressful moments appear here. They're still funny after all this time and its obvious that Insomniac want to harken us back to their finest hour but if you haven't played UYA or get annoyed with overt references then you mightn't take to this side of A Crack in Time. In Clank's side of the story the humour is less effective, the main comic character here is Sigmund who is clearly written to appease the younger audiences with his broad physical humour, he is a necessary character for both the story and to make the game more palatable for kids but with all Insomniac's fan service elsewhere in the game he could have been less annoying and childish a character.
Animation is exceptional, its been said that the R&C Future games resemble the best that Pixar has to offer and this is especially true for a Crack in Time. Each character is superbly animated with exaggerated movements, deft camera work and strong graphic design with the games engine although most of the cutscenes are pre-recorded. The verve and elan of the cutscene animation filters into the gameplay. All the enemy types are superbly animated, especially the Agorians with their blood-thirsty chest bumping persona which makes it seem like some of the guys at Insomniac have a bone to pick with the jocks of this world. Insomniac clearly know the aesthetic and style of the Ratchet and Clank universe and it shows here like never before.
Graphically, the level of polish on this game is extraordinary. The only pop-in I have encountered is when you approach a moon and see the orbiting debris fall into focus. The bespoke Insomniac Engine V4 provides a solid framerate which is perfectly stable, I have yet to experience a framerate drop anywhere and as R&C's gameplay is about spreading explosions and destruction, the whole game is an exercise in framerate breaking attempts, all of which fail to phase the engine. Lighting has also been given a small but noticeable upgrade from the first Future game, its strong and saturated, drawing out the vivid colours of each respective world and its inhabitants. Colour is something ACiT does well, especially during the space sections where bright greens, blues and purples tint the sector you are exploring.
Many of the environments and enemies are hand-drawn and cel-shaded which creates a much more vivid experience with more personality than ToD, which relied too heavily on the PS3's processing grunt to render complex shades of colour rather than just make the colours vibrant and static as a Crack in Time does.
Particle effects are also clean and sharp, each weapon has its own unique effects which all look lovely and the explosions are now cel-shaded and more stylised to reduce any blurriness that was present in ToD. There are occasional dips in fidelity however, much of the flora in the world is just simple 2D with muddy colours and jagged edges. You won't notice it unless you zoom in to take a look but it distracts when set against the high standards seen elsewhere in the game.
Artistically the game takes a small step back from ToD, its still a wonderfully realised universe but there are less worlds to explore and not all of them are artistically sound. Nefarious's space station is rather predictable, many of the moons are copy and pasted from either the Lava/Ice/Space age template and just varied in terms of platforms, Axiom City is a striaght rip from Insomniac's own Blackwater City and so on. The levels themselves are more lively, detailed and full of personality than any of the games before it but its a shame that Insomniac seem to be stuck in an admittedly exceptional artistic groove. There are a few gems here and there, like one level which a battle rages in a broad open area which you can explore at your leisure and the entirety of the Great Clock, where Clank spends most of his time is an artistic marvel. Insomniac haven't lost it but they clearly spent more time on these standout moments than the game as a whole.
In the music department, A Crack in Time is decidedly unremarkable. There's plenty of orchestral moments and dramatic music but then we've come to expect this from games, it lacks any individuality or fun. Its not bad by any means but unlike the earlier games which have soundtracks that I can still recall, there is nothing bad but nothing truly impressive here.
Until you turn the radio on that is, while flying through space you have the option to play music from 4 different radio stations which keep playing even when you explore the small moons which act as platforming levels. There's everything from rip-offs of Beethoven to a riff on the Santa Esmeralda's Don't let me be Misunderstood which I'm sure is there because the guys at Insomniac were watching Kill Bill at the time. Also on the menu is smooth jazz and a passing appearance of Cap'n Slag and Rusty Pete as DJ's
Sound effects are as punchy and unique as ever, each weapon, even each weapon mod has a different sound to it. The enemies have their own chuckle-worthy quips and there's a nice impact to each time a shot connects with a baddy. Its quality stuff and what we would expect from a polished title. Even Mr Zurkon's bloodthirsty lines are back and thats good enough to forgive the lack of truly interesting music.
If there's one thing thats immediately evident its that Insomniac has learnt to cut the fat, The first time you play as Ratchet there are no new or wacky mechanics for doing menial tasks, no crazy sixasis based puzzles or sections. Ratchet's on foot gameplay is immediately reminiscent of UYA's mix of combat and platforming where you were rarely had control over Ratchet's normal movement taken away from you. Instead of adding huge numbers of useless gameplay mechanics that were present in ToD, A Crack in Time is better paced and spread out. You will rarely end up slogging through more than two rooms of enemies before coming to a platforming section, as a result this is probably the most combat-lite Ratchet since the first game.
A Crack in Time's Ratchet sections are split into three roughly equal parts: combat, platforming and space travel. The last two are what defines this game. Platforming at first is the classic platform hopping gameplay we've come to know well but early in the game you acquire Ratchet's father's hoverboots. You may think these are the same dull gadgets that they were in the last few games but don't be fooled. These boots turn the platforming into a reaction-based obstacle course requiring expert control and quick reflexes. The hoverboots blend into the traditional grindbooting and swingshotting seamlessly and its welcome new direction for the series' ever so slightly stale platforming gameplay.
Space travel is also a new addition, apart from the arcade shooter sections present in ToD. You travel around a sector, helping out stranded citizens for a bag of well-earned bolts, land on small moons which have rare goodies like gold bolts and upgrade items, provided you brave the fantastic traditional platforming obstacles to acquire them. Space combat is simple but fun and feels like a homage to the Starfox games, you fly around on a 2D plane, barrel-rolling and firing off missiles. The space gameplay isn't remarkable but it allows you to gaze at the gorgeous space vistas and it makes the Ratchet universe feel like a place rather than a collection of planets linked only by a fly-by shot and a quick-save icon.
What may disappointing to Ratchet fans is the lack of new or interesting weapons. There are a few new toys, the explosively burping Sonic Eruptor being a highlight but a lot of ToD's more iconic weapons make a return. This isn't a bad thing per se, the groovitron, the hilarious Mr Zurkon and the buzz blades are all fun but when a series gameplay is more or less the same over several titles we expect facinating new gadgets at every turn, and we don't really get them. Insomniac makes up for this lack of new firepower in two ways. Firstly the enemies and their behaviour is vastly superior to previous games. In earlier games you would be presented with a wave of middling bad guys, followed by some small cannon fodder and rounded off with some big enemies who would actually be a challenge. Now the combat has been changed up so that you have all the variations on the battlefield at once which makes things much more difficult (although the game is still a cakewalk on the normal setting) and consequently much more enjoyable. You'll have to lay electrified traps and ice mines for the charging close-quarter enemies while using your rocket launcher to take out the mortar-type baddy pelting you from a distance.
There will be moments of utter chaos and joyous trigger-happiness where you must juggle taking out immediate threats with removing the heavy duty enemies before they get within range. Secondly Insomniac has listened to us, its fans and finally introduced three customisable weapons who's entire functionality can be altered with upgrade kits scattered about the galaxy, this allows you to basically recreate many of the weapons we've see in past games. It doesn't totally make up for the lack of many new deathsticks, and I honestly don't care, its a fantastic addition and something I've dreamt of for years.
While Ratchet's gameplay is changed slightly, Clank is where the gameplay takes a major departure. As both of the heroes are seperated for most of the game Clank must fend for himself, but happily this doesn't mean the same levels of combat you'd expect while playing as Ratchet. Clank spends his time in the Great Clock, a huge timekeeping machine in the centre of the galaxy (give or take 50 feet) which he is tasked with maintaining.
In practice this means a huge number of wildly inventive time based puzzles. As Clank you record yourself doing certain tasks multiple times and then you play the recordings all at once and your temporal selves go forth like so many mult-colour Clankish minions and re-enact the tasks you have deigned for each of them. By the time Ratchet and his robotic friend reunite you'll have four temporal selves working together to open doors and navigate the world. It's the closest a game has come to the "ohhhh thats it" sensation of the Portal games and as the R&C games have traditionally included dull and easy puzzles sections Clank's gameplay is a delight. There is light combat and platforming included in Clank's gameplay but you have the ability to use time-slowing grenades which are essential to most situations, sadly though they aren't nearly as much fun as the puzzles and there aren't that many truly challenging puzzles which tax the mind like they could have, there are some real head-scratchers here but not nearly enough. For once in a Ratchet and Clank game, Clank is the true star of the show.
Cynically speaking, A Crack in Time brings precisely two new things to the Ratchet formula. But this game has so much more to offer as a package than just Time puzzles and hoverboots. Those of you who have tired of the formula will not be converted. This almost seems like Insomniac wanted to atone for their extravagances of ToD, Gladiator and Quest for Booty. This is the most streamlined, lean and focused a Ratchet game has been in over 6 years. It keeps the best of old, sourced from the universally revered Up Your Arsenal and embraces the new idea of time based puzzles that Insomniac had only flirted with in ToD. The mature narrative, the return of Nefarious and the improved writing make this the best installment since UYA and quite possibly the best game in the series. If this is really the last R&C game as we have come to understand it, then its a fitting end to what is my favourite series of all time.
+ Truly stunning to look at, Pixar worthy animation with a level of polish that puts similar AAA titles to shame
+ Still a artistically well-realised universe
+ Customisable weapons are a wonderful gift for series fans
+ Clank's gameplay is finally up to par with Ratchet's, the time based puzzles come close to Portal-like levels of cogitation and cerebral reward.
+ Sharp writing, occasionally hilarious and still as charming as ever.
+ The hoverboots are great new addition
+ Replayability and plenty of it, new game + and lots of collectibles to keep you going.
+ The most focused and honed a Ratchet title has ever been, there's nothing frivolous or indulgent here, its all been cut down to what Ratchet is all about.
+ Strongest story in the series with the best characters and storytelling. Its reasonably mature, enjoyable and light-hearted.
- This isn't for those of you who are sick of Ratchet and Clank, stick around for All 4 One instead
- Not enough truly challenging time puzzles
- Occasional lapses in graphical polish are more noticeable due to the level of overall fidelity
- Many weapons return from ToD, not much new in the way of boomstick, cue sadface
- Sigmund is childish and annoying
- Game music is nothing special
- Clank's gameplay could do without combat of any kind.
- Space Combat isn't that much fun unless you like 2D plane arcade shooters.
- Still too easy on the normal difficulty setting, you'll have to bump it up to hard if you want a real challenge
Its the best looking, best playing, funniest and most engaging Ratchet and Clank game you will ever play. Take what you will from that statement, filter it through your gaming brain and if things start to fizz then this is the game for you.
This was adam1808, attempting to be objective. Did I succeed? you tell me