The last time we checked in on Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank, things had gone all Empire Strikes Back for the heroic duo. Clank had been nabbed and taken to parts unknown by a mysterious alien race known as the Zoni, leaving Ratchet to mount a rescue. The upcoming Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time aims to tie up the loose ends left by Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty. We got our hands on a work-in-progress preview version of the game, which let us play a decent chunk of the first few levels. Although the game isn't quite done, there was already a lot to like, and it definitely left us wanting more.
The first thing to call out about the game is its sense of humor, which, while always a staple of the series, is in fine form. The game starts out with some good laughs courtesy of everyone's favorite galactic loser, Captain Qwark. A short video interview with the blowhard runs while the game installs files to your PlayStation 3 and offers a quick run through current events for new players. Once that finishes, a cinematic shows how Clank is faring under the "care" of Dr. Nefarious, who, surprise, hasn't gotten any saner or quieter. True to form, Nefarious double-crosses the Zoni, and Clank makes a hasty escape, which is where you'll get control of the tiny bot. For the most part, Clank handles as he always has: you'll punch to attack enemies and be able to do hovering jumps that you can chain three times now for added distance and altitude. Clank's escape is aided by a robot named Sigmund, who appears via holographic projectors throughout the space station, a massive clockwork installation we've seen before, on his path to freedom. During the escape, there are moments of time weirdness that are obvious signs that things aren't quite right. Unfortunately, the escape run isn't a success, and Clank is caught.
The game then shifts focus to Ratchet, who is tearing through space with Captain Qwark to Clank's location. A mysterious energy surge rocks Ratchet's ship, Aphelion, and Qwark and Ratchet crash-land but survive thanks to a weird time anomaly. The level has you guiding Ratchet, with Qwark following along, as they explore the planet and meet the locals, who are called Fungoids. Along the way the two stomp on some wildlife, and Ratchet shops for some weapons. When the pair does find the locals, they're a needy lot with children to be saved and escorted to the main village. To be fair, their payback is good, and they set Ratchet up with a Zoni container, which is key to harvesting the mysterious creatures that not only repair Aphelion but yield some upgrades. Unfortunately, Nefarious' forces attack and nab Qwark along with some locals--making you wonder if hanging with Ratchet isn't just a really bad idea--and this sends Ratchet on a mini rescue mission into space.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time looks like one of the best additions to the series. Unlike the space sections in the last game, A Crack in Time's space segments mix up space shooting with planet and moon exploration--with smooth transitions. It looks like each section of space will have a variety of different places to explore, each with something to collect, in addition to waves of fighters to take out. For this first section of space fighting, going after and infiltrating the enemy ship where Qwark is being held is central to the action. After dispatching enemy fighters to clear a path to the ship, the goal is to find Qwark and the natives, which entails exploring the ship's interior and solving puzzles. In addition, we were able to collect the first piece of the holo plan for the R.Y.N.O. V and pick up some additional weapons for Ratchet’s personal arsenal: the newly minted sonic eruptor and Mr. Zurkon, the surly killbot. The rescue is successful and leads to a boss battle against a high-ranking Nefarious henchman named Lord Vorselon. Once all the work was done, the next destination was the Breegus system, which shifted gameplay back to Clank on the space station and introduced us to his time powers.
The early levels teased quite a bit about the story, which is actually pretty intriguing. The talk about Clank's creator Orvis, the time anomalies, Alister Azimuth, the new mystery Lombax, and the impression given that elements from the previous games are all coming together in A Crack in Time's story definitely keeps things interesting. The dialogue between characters and all the snippets of overheard material give the story a bigger scope.
As far as the visuals go, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time outshines its predecessor thanks to an impressive array of subtle improvements that really make the visuals pop. The game's brighter color palette and new environmental effects really bring the alien worlds we've seen so far to life. Subtle touches, such as character and environmental animation, show an impressive attention to detail that makes the game as fun to watch as it is to play. We also have to call out the sense of scale in the environments, which gives the game an epic, expansive feel that suits the story well. The only blemish we've seen so far is the occasionally quirky camera, which can hitch in certain places, but given the camera work in the previous games, we expect it to be tightened up before release.
The visuals are complemented by the typically strong audio we've come to expect from the serious that's anchored by top-notch voice acting. Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, Nefarious, and newcomer Alister Azimuth all have voices that are easily on par with anything you'll hear in animated or CG movies. The effects for explosions and the various weapons are satisfying as always and suit the onscreen action well. The game's score is also very strong and helps frame the action and story nicely.
Based on what we've played, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time finds the series in the zone on the PlayStation 3. The core gameplay the series is known for is being tightened up in all the right places, and the new additions to the action have a good feel to them. However, equally important, the game's story and humor are nailing it in these early levels. It's great to see Qwark back and to see that, despite the genuinely funny stuff, there's some character development for both Ratchet and Clank. Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is slated to ship in late October for the PlayStation 3. Look for more on the game in the coming months.