The upcoming Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction brings the dynamic duo to the PlayStation 3 in flashy, epic adventure courtesy of longtime developer Insomniac Games. Having been teased via a tech demo of the hardware before the PlayStation 3 launched, the game was officially announced to the world earlier this year. The months that have ensued have offered brief looks and a hands-on, all of which have left us wanting more of the promising adventure. Thankfully, a recent media day at Insomniac allowed us to take a bite out of a bigger chunk of the game via several playable levels from the latest work-in-progress version of the game. Though not quite done yet, it most definitely impressed us with a fun, varied experience that appears to be just what we were looking for.
The media day began with an introduction from creative director Brian Allgeier, who gave the assembled press an overview of how development has been going, and then ran through the game's story. The team focused on four key pillars during development: mystery, adventure, variety, and spectacle. The mystery element comes in two big plot points for the game: TOD delves into Ratchet's background and that of his race, the Lombax. The game will also toss some mystery at Clank in the form of a new race called the Zonie, which only he can see. Adventure comes courtesy of the whole new galaxy the pair will explore, and the new weapons, gadgets, and abilities. Variety will come from the meaty chunk of gameplay Insomniac is cooking up, which offers a return to the game's platforming roots, as well as minigames, space combat, and unique uses for the Sixaxis controller. Finally, the spectacle will roll Jerry Bruckheimer-style with a bevy of special effects, detailed visuals, and rich animation that the team hopes will match the quality found in CG movies.
Of course, all of the above doesn't amount to much if there isn't a good story to wrap it all together. Fortunately, it looks like Insomniac has that covered. We meet up with the heroic duo shortly after their recent adventure on the quite excellent PSP game Size Matters. This time out, galactic trouble is brewing in a different galaxy. The pair are alerted by the mighty Captain Quark, who, in typical fashion, is screeching for some help like a teen in a horror flick. Once he's sorted, the captain sends the pair in search of clues to find out what's going on, which leads to shenanigans including space pirates, Ratchet's origins, Clank seeing invisible robots, new faces, new places, new weapons, space travel, and even some friction between the adventuring buds. The big baddie this time out? A cragmite tyrant named Emperor Percival Tachyon who has serious beef with the Lombax. In fact, he's determined to wipe out the last of them: namely, Ratchet. Tachyon's "scorched earth" approach threatens the duo's home galaxy, which forces them to bring the fight to him in the Polaris Galaxy. As always, the story will play out in a mix of in-game stuff and cinematics, all of which come packing the humor that's become a staple of the series.
Following Allgeier's presentation, we broke off into groups that focused on different aspects of the game: weapons, animation, art, and gameplay. The weapons session, led by gameplay lead Anthony Yu, showed off another sampling of the 23 awesome toys you'll have to play with. The gear on parade ranged from cool to goofy and all the space in-between. The cool stuff included the negotiator, a powerful single-shot rocket launcher, and the predator rockets, aka multitargeting homing rockets. Yu also showed off the alpha disruptor, a powerful laser you can charge up for maximum damage. On the goofy side, we had the death springs, essentially explosive Slinkys of doom that you'll release and which will home in on enemies, with explosive results.
However, the best new toy had to be Mr. Zurkon, a crabby yet lovable killbot that Ratchet can call to help him take out foes. Besides being armed with a powerful blaster, Mr. Zurkon comes packing an arsenal of one-liners to menace his foes. An added bonus is that one of the unlockables in the game is a new skin for the surly bot that's based on James Westbrook, a young boy that Insomniac put in the game after hearing he was paralyzed. The weapons system has been refined to allow you to spend cash to level up your weapons via a Final Fantasy X-style sphere grid, which you'll use to enhance your standard weapons with improved ammo, damage, etc. Certain combat devices, such as the death springs, are smart-bomb-style uber-weapons (albeit, really happy-looking ones) that cause insane amounts of damage.
Outside of the combat stuff, we also got a look at funky gadgets later in the day, which included the gelanator, the geo-laser, and robo-wings. The gelanator was a funky shooter that spewed out green, blobby cubes that you'll jump from to reach new areas. Though you'll be able to plop them anywhere, allowing you to explore wherever you'd like, you're limited by your supply of gelatonium ammunition. The other two gadgets are new and make use of the PS3's Sixaxis controller. The geo-laser is a Clank-powered laser you'll use to carve new paths through certain obstacles. You'll use the controller's motion-sensing feature to direct the powerful beam of energy minigame-style. Robo-wings are a new Clank-powered way to get around, and they're basically glider wings. You'll use the Sixaxis to steer and adjust your height while airborne.
The later sessions on animation with animation director Chris Nicholls and art director Chad Dezern shed light on the environments, characters, and animation in the game. The two focused on all the elements that end up delivering the game's impressive, polished look, even in its unfinished state. While some elements stand out more than others--such as the higher polygon count, which produces better-looking character models and environments--the more subtle ones definitely deserve some scrutiny. The biggie is obviously animation. Not only are Ratchet and Clank moving more smoothly than they ever have before, they come packing a host of very cool animations for when they're in motion, hit, or even idling. We also appreciate little touches like the pair getting their groove on and bobbing their heads in time when the groovinator is in action. The groovinator also offers a funky testament to the animation team's insanity, because every enemy in the game has its own dance, even the goldfish that you can knock loose from the giant mechs they control. Though they'll lie on the ground helplessly after being knocked free, they're up and doing a jig after one groovitron.
As far as the levels go, we got a good sampling of several locales and a sense of the variety of gameplay in each. The most striking was a space level, which is a subgame you'll hit a few times over the course of the adventure. The game has you tearing through space and blowing stuff to bits using blasters and lock-on rockets, making for a tight little retro experience. The other stages showed off the nice mix of platforming going on in the game. Challenges include icy interiors swarming with pirates, which you'll need to get past by wearing a rockin' pirate disguise and engaging in dancing minigames (because why shouldn't pirates dance?). Another takes place in a lush, Jurassic Park-style (well, Jurassic Planet) area chock-full of dinosaurs and assorted hazards. In addition to facing off against giant dinos (which yield souls you can trade to the locals for goods), you'll deal with various puzzles and end up hopping around some of the bigger critters, who are minilevels unto themselves. Other areas, such as the sprawling Coruscant-esque Metropolis or the dark Zordoom Prison, all have their own unique looks and gameplay. It all feels good so far.
Control in the game is as tight as it's ever been, and should be a snap to ease into for newcomers or longtime fans. The Sixaxis support isn't too intrusive. Besides the new stuff we saw, other gadgets include the visicopter and tornado gun, both of which also require some movement on your part while playing.
The visuals make good use of the PlayStation 3 hardware. As we've seen in our previous looks at the game, Insomniac chose not to give the series a crazy photorealistic makeover or cram all manner of eye candy into the adventure. As Nintendo has done with the subsequent iterations of the Mario games, TOD just enhances the series' original style with a truckload of subtle touches. The end result is a gorgeous look that's overflowing with personality and little details for you to notice as you play. There's the expected expansion of the game's overall polygon count, which results in massive, detailed locales that are busy with activity and enhanced special effects, but the real standout in our play-through was animation. The PlayStation 3's added processing power and memory act as a candy store that Insomniac's art and animation teams have raided like a pack of kids on a sugar binge.
The game's audio serves as a comfortable complement to the lunacy, with a good mix of effects, voice, and music. The sound effects range from the familiar, such as bolt sounds, to the all-new weapons and explosions. Of the various gear in the duo's arsenal, two have already won our hearts: the groovinator and Mr. Zurkon. Though we'll admit to being a bit bummed that the groovinator no longer compels your foes to shake their groove thing to "Stayin' Alive," the non-licensed tunes that now play are still catchy. As far as Mr. Zurkon goes, how could you not love a ranting robotic sidekick who packs heavy ordinance? Voice is sounding stellar thanks to the talented voice cast, which includes the original actors from the previous games, as well as newcomers who fit in snugly with the veterans. The game's soundtrack does a good job of complementing the action without overwhelming it.
Based on what we played, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is poised to bring the series to the PS3 in style. The adventure offers the rock-solid gameplay, boatloads of gadgets, and humor that have been staples of the series. The visuals make smart use of the PS3 hardware, showcasing an imaginative art style and a healthy dose of personality. With the platformer genre currently almost nonexistent on the PlayStation 3, Ratchet and Clank should be just what the doctor ordered for fans of the series and those hungering for some imaginative platforming action. Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is slated to hit the PS3 this October. Look for more on the game in the weeks to come.