Secret Agent Clank Review
In last year’s Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the crate-breaking duo landed on the PS3 with an amazing action platformer; polished to perfection and overflowing with the series’ trademark comedic style, it was like a playable Pixar movie. But despite delivering one of last year’s best, replayable efforts, some fickle folks complained it was just more of the same, sticking too close to its tried and true formula. Well, with Secret Agent Clank, High Impact Games’ follow-up to the excellent Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters on the PSP, it seems the request for change has been met. While the metallic sidekick’s solo outing definitely retains the franchise’s signature style, it also introduces enough new gameplay elements to satisfy even the most short attention spanned gamer. The results, while not producing the series’ best outing, are incredible, wedging another must-have into the PSP’s library.
As the title states, Clank is now a debonair spy; he possesses the moves of Bourne, the gadgets of Bond and the silliness of Austin Powers. What makes Clank so enjoyable, in fact, is its spoofing of the spy movie genre. Sneaking through security-crawling casinos, wooing a lady on the dance floor, racing down a snowy cliff side, playing in a high stakes poker game—it’s all here. If you’ve seen it in a Bond flick, you’ll play it in Clank. And that’s the best part; the developers really could’ve phoned this one in, delivering a Ratchet rip-off with some pretty spy-themed environments, gadgets and cutscenes. But instead, they went above and beyond, deeply injecting the spy vibe into the gameplay. During that high stakes card game, for example, players control the outcome by playing a button matching game similar to Guitar Hero without the music. Players frantically attempt to make matches as prompts fly by the bottom of the screen. This alone would make for a cool little mini-game, but Clank ups the espionage immersion even further by trailing this into a sub-mini-game; well into the card game it’s determined the other players are receiving some “help” from under-the-table menaces. The camera quickly zooms to the floor where you’re now controlling a four-bot army of mini-Clanks, working to foil the cheaters.
Not every mission oozes with such originality, as similar button-matching challenges are also presented during Clank’s time on the dance floor and while performing stealthy “take-downs". This, however, doesn’t make them any less fun, and there’s still plenty of gameplay variety on offer; Clank’s breathless snowboard trek down a mountain side is filled with new challenges —bridges can be destroyed with mines, henchmen knocked off their skis and obstacles jumped. Another mission, brilliantly blending the spy vibe with innovative mechanics finds our tuxedoed hero using a slick monocle to jump from one disguise to another; the magic eyepiece allows Clank to capture another character’s likeness and become them for a short period of time. But the trick—and the fun—comes in acquiring specific disguises to access specific areas, while not letting the person you’re impersonating see you (they’re the only ones who’ll see through your facade.) These amazing sequences are equal amounts fun and strategy, offering a great sense of accomplishment upon completing them, while also keeping you guessing as to what the next mission will hold.
While the word “fun” goes hand-in-hand with this franchise, “strategy” generally isn’t used to describe the partners-in-platforming’s antics. There’s still plenty of action and crate-busting in Clank, but the experience is a long way off from the duo’s usual arsenal-focused, rapid-fire pace. That said, Clank does kick some metallic butt with a bevy of cool gadgets. On the projectiles front, he’s got a boutonniere that transforms into a people-eating plant, boomerang-like bow ties, an electro-bolt-shooting umbrella, and some explosive cuff links. Other goodies include a lock pick (which gives way to a fun lock-cracking Tetris-like challenge), a goop-spurting pen for disabling security devices, and that aforementioned eye wear. All gear can be upgraded with use, and sometimes outfitted with new enhancements. Of course, when the mini metal spy isn't getting his gadget on, he can let loose with a flurry of kicks and punches appropriately dubbed Clank-Fu. Those with a twitchy trigger finger, looking for a bit more gunplay, will love the handful of Ratchet-based arena missions; while Clank’s doing some spying, his Lombax pal is doing some unjustified time in the big house, but manages to pass the time by doing what he does best—blasting baddies with crazy-ass weapons. These segments are more diverting challenges than actual missions, but like the mini-Clank moments, they offer a nice change of pace.
The pace is further switched up with the occasional Qwark chapters. These hilarious boss battles see the big guy taking credit for Clank’s work by telling a biographer his version of how things went down. From facing-down a Godzilla-looking beasty to performing in a musical, these mini missions prove the superhero-wannabe deserves the next spinoff. Qwark and the rest of the Clank clan are in top form in terms of delivering laugh-out-loud moments. A spy spoof provided the perfect fodder, and High Impact didn’t miss an opportunity to send-up the genre. From one-liners—Clank refers to an enemy as being “tied up” after pinning him to the wall with razor-sharp bow ties—and silly caricatures— Pussy Galore and Alotta Fagina, meet Ivana Lottabolts—to globe-trotting locales and super villains (in an homage to Bond’s Odd Job, Qwark battles the bowler hat-wearing Jack of all Trades) the skewering is in full effect. And, like previous entries in the series, it’s all supported by candy-colored visuals and quality sound work.
Clank is not without it's faults, though. As much as we enjoy seeing the series evolve, it does try a bit too hard to offer a variety-filled experience. The result sometimes breaks the pacing, leaving you feeling like you're playing through a collection of mini-games rather than a cohesive story. And as with many PSP titles, the camera can be a bear. Unfortunately, Clank's occasional focus on stealth and strategy--where you really need to see everything--allow these issues to stick out more than usual. These flaws won’t spoil the fun for most, but those expecting the familiar Ratchet and Clank formula may be left disappointed. For us, Clank's starring turn marks yet another great effort in a series that’s been satisfying fans since 2002. While its many tweaks send the series in new directions, they’re still drenched in the franchise’s unmistakable style, and rarely pull you from the fun. We look forward to the next evolution of the series—perhaps it’s time Qwark get his name on the front of a box.