Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time Review
Once a staple of PlayStation players' diets, critter-starring action/platformers have largely gone the way of wired controllers this generation. With the advent of near-photo realistic visuals and technology limited only by the imagination, game developers are now able to create worlds that more closely mirror our own. So, why have some fantasy-world furball star in your game when a motion-captured Nathan Drake can deliver an adventure rivaling what we're accustomed to seeing on the silver screen?
Speaking of the spelunking star of the moment, Drake's handlers, Naughty Dog, offer a prime example of this shift from anthropomorphic to human game protagonists; since focusing on the Uncharted series, Jak and Daxter's keepers have abandoned their reliable PS2-era duo. Sure, the long-eared hero and his ottsel pal have a new game arriving this holiday, but it's a PSP title developed by High Impact Games. Similarly, Sucker Punch has traded in their cute, cel-shaded thieving raccoon series Sly Cooper for the much darker exploits of electricity-controlling Cole McGrath of inFAMOUS.
Thankfully, Insomniac Games is here to take the air out of my argument. The developer, who has also toyed with a more realistic, polygon-pushing franchise, the alternate history shooter Resistance, has also found time to catapult their Lombax mascot into the current generation. In fact, following Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and the PSN entry Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time marks the dynamic duo's third outing on the PS3. Living up to their namesake, Insomniac apparently doesn't sleep—I'd like to see their Starbucks and Red Bull budget! In addition to two Resistance entries, they've given us these incredibly polished and, excluding the bite-sized Booty, massive Ratchet and Clank epics.
Furthermore, despite releasing seven titles in as many years (the two PSP spin-offs were handled by High Impact), Insomniac's amazing action/platfomer somehow manages to get better with each entry. In fact, this latest effort just may be the franchise's crowning achievement. A Crack in Time retains the absolute best elements that have defined the series over the years, while adding new ideas and gameplay innovations that'll surprise even the most faithful fan. The size and scope of series' environments and storylines have grown to fit the powerful PS3, but Insomniac does a great job of evolving the gameplay so it's always right in step with the epic presentation. Of course, Ratchet is still all about kicking alien butt with inventive weapons, so players can expect some old favorites to return as well as be introduced to a bunch of brand new over-the-top armaments. Most guns and gadgets, old and new, are still based on a variety of familiar gear such as shotguns and grappling hooks, but are injected with so much creativity and fun that they're unrecognizable from similar items in other games. The ability to upgrade and customize has been further refined as well, so you can even add your own flair to Ratchet's brimming bag of goodies.
One of the more notable additions in A Crack in Time is the hover boots. Sure, the board-riding, magnetic boot-wearing Lombax is no stranger to creative transportation, but his new kicks are quite the upgrade even for the technology-savvy hero. The boots not only prove invaluable during some of the more complex platforming segments, but also add some juice to Ratchet's battling skills. They're also brilliantly integrated in such a way that you'll have to use them at some moments, and simply want to at others; they are required to navigate some areas, but given the larger worlds—and what a literal blast they are to tool around in—you'll find yourself utilizing them in your own creative ways.
Of course, Ratchet isn't the only one with new toys. His robo-buddy takes on a much larger role this time out and, as the subtitle suggests, it has some time-twisting effects. In addition to action and platforming, this series has always delivered some fantastic puzzles, and A Crack in Time gives you plenty of new mind-twisters. Clank's segments—he spends much of the game away from Ratchet—see him playing with time in an addictive new mechanic that's an absolute highlight of this adventure. You see, with the ability to record versions of himself, then play, rewind, and fast-forward them, he's able to solve problems that could only be cracked by multiple Clanks. So, after toying with this futuristic VCR of sorts, you may unleash more than one Clank to progress through blocked passages or thwart enemies. This ingenious gameplay mechanic is—no surprise—all about timing, so your mind and reflexes will get an equal workout as they find themselves keeping track of Clanks crossing bridges, activating switches, and riding elevators near simultaneously. Clank's somewhat separate, brain-bending role brilliantly mixes up the pacing with Ratchet's more action-fueled antics.
As anyone who's enjoyed any of the recent Ratchet and Clank titles will tell you, puzzling, platforming, and action is only the tip of the epic sci-fi iceberg; mixed among those staples are arena battles, spaceship segments, loot collecting, and exploration. While some elements, such as the space travel, are a bit weaker than others, they all come together beautifully for an experience unlike anything else currently available on any console. And that's without even hitting on the visual presentation and storytelling; many games boast impressive, cartoon style graphics, but few attain the level of polish achieved here. A Crack in Time is a pop-off-the-screen visual treat that consistently evokes the quality and production values of a Pixar film. Complemented by wonderful storytelling, buoyed by witty dialog and top-notch performances, A Crack in Time rivals just about any of those critter-starring vehicles Hollywood loves to churns out. When is Quark getting his own game?!
While Ratchet and Clank's latest outing would serve as a great starting point for those just discovering the franchise, it's an even wilder ride for longtime fans. The story is packed with surprises, including some shockers about the duo's origins, as well as answers to some longstanding questions. And, again, there's the wickedly creative gadgets and gear; anyone who's played even a single series' entry knows half the fun is discovering Ratchet's new toys and, while I won't spoil that fun for you here, I'll reveal that Insomniac has saved some of their coolest goodies for A Crack in Time. It always surprises me that Tools of Destruction is usually left off the list when PS3 must-play games are being discussed. That one has easily earned a spot among system-sellers such as Uncharted 1 &2, KIllzone 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4. And now, A Crack in Time, can also sit side by side with that elite group.