A rodent and a robot seemed like an unlikely duo when the first Ratchet & Clank was released back in 2002, but massive explosions have a way of convincing and Insomniac’s obsession with creating polished games landed the franchise as one of the industry’s biggest. After a quick flirtation with DLC in Quest for Booty, the lombax and loveable bucket of bolts are back with the latest—and possibly last—entry in the franchise. Do they go out with a bang?
The last full-fledged Ratchet game, Tools of Destruction, ended with quite a cliffhanger. You’re caught up to speed quickly here with a video that runs while the game is installed, and then you’re thrust into the new plot line that has the tandem separated, attempting to uncover their past and discover their destinies. This facilitates two parallel stories. Ratchet gets much more attention as he tries to find his old pal and the fate of his species, but Clank’s story is far more interesting. The little machine has quite a history that succeeds at humanizing him a great deal. Driving these two threads forward is your typical laundry list of bad guys bent on dominating the universe.
Story is rarely a big component of games like this, but here it reads like a love letter to fans. All the loose ends are tied up and all the questions are answered. Many of the twists are easy to foresee as endless kidnappings give way to rescue missions, but the writing, while not as witty as past entries in the series, carries you through the game as you meet many of the biggest characters from the series’ history.
While other platformers were making players wander around searching high and low for every conceivable doohickey and widget, Ratchet & Clank was always a linear game that shuttled you down a predetermined path. The same holds true here, except now the planets are sewn together with an overworld in outer space. This area acts as a nice homage to the Star Fox series, but it also allows you to roam the cosmos and take on side missions at your leisure or tackle space battles. While you can essentially fly anywhere and go back to any planet at any time, there’s a definitive path you must take to move the game forward.
The name of the game here is upgrading. Virtually everything in the game can be leveled up, either manually, or automatically with use. Even Ratchet’s ship is rewarded with new upgrades as you collect Zoni, little magical creatures that are ferreted away inside levels or the reward for landing on small planets and conquering a gauntlet much like the challenge stages in Super Mario Galaxy. At a couple points in the game you’re required to have a certain number of the Zoni to tackle the next area, but there’s an excellent map system in place that shows you exactly where you need to go.
There are tons of things to collect throughout the game. New weapons and gadgets, upgrades to existing ones, and tons of glorious nuts and bolts that bound forth from every crate or enemy you destroy. Like always, they’re then used to purchase new weapons, armor, and more.
As you might expect, the weapons and gadgets are the real show-stoppers. Some of the classics return along with recent favorites like the negotiator and your flying friend, Mr. Zurkon. New weapons are plentiful as well including a fan-made armament called the spiral of death, a huge bullfrog called the sonic eruptor, and many more that we don’t want to spoil. The pistol, shotgun, and bomb glove can be upgraded in a number of categories with cases you find around the universe.
The number of guns and gadgets is certainly vast, but the imagination seems to have run a little dry this time around. We didn’t feel compelled to spend bolts just to try out some of the weapons like we have in the past, and like prior games in the series, you can find a few that you like and lean on them. This is only exacerbated by the weapons that level as you use them.
A Crack in Time is basically the same length as the last full-fledged release, so expect a little over 10 hours of play. There is an arena-based section in the middle of the game that isn’t technically required, but if you skip the rewards of it the remainder of the game will be very difficult. It basically inflates the length of the game by an hour or so, but varied objectives keep it from becoming a complete grind.
While there are leader boards to compare your skills, there’s no form of coop or competitive multiplayer. Completists will delight in maxing out every weapon and collecting every Zoni, but if you tend to not pick a game back up after you’ve finished the campaign, there’s not much to go back to here.
As you’ve grown to expect at this point, the gameplay in A Crack in Time is a mix of puzzles, platforming, and combat. With basically two different games running in parallel, each character has a specialty. Ratchet’s quest relies heavily on gunplay, while Clank’s stages lean a lot more on puzzles, with combat being primarily an afterthought.
Clank’s puzzles are quite good. They involve cloning his little robotic body and recording the actions of each one to solve switch puzzles. They start out easy, but eventually will have you scratching your head. Ratchet’s puzzles don’t fare quite a well as they basically amount to picking up an item at one place and taking it to another.
Both characters have their fair share of platforming to complete, and in general, there’s a lot more hopping to be done this time around. Clank has a much longer glide distance and his jumping sections tend to be a little more risky, whereas Ratchet is relied upon to tackle the small planets in space that rely more on reflexes and stamina. Ratchet also receives the hoverboots, which allow for high-speed jumps without too much risk thanks to generously wide platforms. In all, it’s a welcomed return to a genre that’s quickly fading into obscurity.
The combat is incredibly hectic, and also incredibly fun. The screen is often flooded with enemies, providing ample fodder for the gadgets and guns to do their thing. The lock-on doesn’t always work like you’d hope and the camera angles can definitely get sticky at points, but all things considered, they’re minor annoyances in a sea of sweet.
With cute characters like these two, it’s no secret that the game needs to have broad appeal. This manifests in a challenge that takes a good 70 percent of the game to really establish itself. A harder difficulty setting does unlock once you finish it, but it won’t matter to most.
You’ve played as Ratchet by himself, and you’ve played as Clank by himself, but usually only for very quick bursts. This is an entire game where the two do their own thing, but it’s not detrimental in any way. The increased emphasis on platforming is welcomed and there are some great puzzles, but don’t expect a departure from what you’ve come to expect from the series.
We’ve went back and forth between A Crack in Time and Tools of Destruction from 2007, and we honestly can’t see much improvement in the visuals. The game still looks great, which is a testament to how far ahead of the times the first game was. The engine also holds up well under severe strain. Nuts, bolts, enemy parts, insane weapons, and massive worlds are displayed with nary a hit to performance. The worlds avoid the typical lava and snow motifs in favor of a more consistent look without appearing redundant.
Strong voice acting is a hallmark of this franchise, and it delivers once again with some great performances. If only the writing were a little better. The dynamic, orchestral soundtrack is also strong while never being overbearing.
If A Crack in Time is indeed the final Ratchet & Clank game, then the series has been finished the right way—with a solid game that doesn’t stray from what fans love while giving them plenty of service in the process. And in this way, it’s also guilty of playing it a bit safe, but when expectations are that high, and are met, it’s a sure sign of a quality game.
Platform Tested: PlayStation 3