2002 saw the birth of a new platforming team on the PlayStation 2 with Ratchet & Clank--the former being an alien that looks like a strange cross between a cat and a rabbit; the latter his slightly erratic robot chum. The duo has since gone on to star in several titles on both the PS2 and the PlayStation 3. Their latest adventure, A Crack in Time, is set to launch on the PS3 this November and will conclude the story from the previous games, Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a Clank preview level from the new game to see how his new time manipulation powers work.
The Great Clock Tower level acts as a tutorial for the little robot's skills. It's a giant space station, complete with aging electronics, broken platforms to leap from, and a crazed robot caretaker called Sigmund who acts as your guide around the station. Initially, Sigmund gives a simple refresher in Clank's basic skills: running, jumping, and using his helicopter head to reach high-up or far-away platforms. However, it's with Clank's new time manipulation skills that the game gets really get interesting, stirring up a whole new level of puzzle-solving.
As Sigmund guided us into the first room, we immediately noticed two nodes on the floor that he explained were time pads. These pads can be used to create past versions of Clank and record actions for up to a minute while in present time, Clank can carry out other tasks. The first puzzle to use these pads was pretty simple. The exit to the room was locked, and while there was a button in the room to open the door, it required someone to stand on it to remain activated. We stood on the first time pad, hit the record button, and recorded ourselves running over to the button. And then presto--our current time self could exit the room.
Later puzzles became more involved with one puzzle requiring two separate time recordings of Clank. In order to exit the room, two buttons had to be pressed. One button opened a chamber that contained another button to open the exit to the room. We had to record Clank pushing the first button to open the chamber and then record another version of the robot walking into the chamber and pushing the exit button. We then recorded over the first version of Clank walking over to the chamber button, pushing it to let his past-self in to push the exit button, and then walking of the room. It sounds complicated, but it's a great concept that could lead to some interesting puzzles later in the game, especially when combined with another new item, called the chronoscepter.
Sigmund led us to another part of the map where we entered Clank's subconscious. Here, we encountered Clank's creator Orvis or at least a replica of him locked inside Clank's head. Orvis handed us something called a chronoscepter, which allowed Clank to repair broken objects and throw quantum energy bombs that could slow a fast-moving object for a short period of time, much like the stasis did in Dead Space. The first few puzzles for this were pretty simple and required Clank to jump to another area, albeit via some fast-revolving platforms. The platforms could be slowed down, though, by throwing bombs at them, which allowed us to jump on the platforms. Orvis also trained Clank in the art of "hitting things with large stick" and encouraged the robot to "lay the smack down" on some test enemies by waving the chronoscepter about. The combination of the chronoscepter and time pads made for more difficult puzzles later in the level, involving multiple buttons, elevators, and bombs that had to be combined in order to exit a room.
Throughout all the time manipulation madness, the game looks great with a Pixar-like look to the characters and backgrounds. The levels had lots going on with meteors and spaceships flying past, as well as wavelike block platforms in Clank's subconscious. The voice acting was good too, with Sigmund, in particular, capturing that zany senile robot role perfectly. It will be interesting to see where developer Insomniac takes the puzzles with the combination of the quantum energy bombs and time pads. The game is due out this November, so keep your eyes on GameSpot for more in the run-up to release.