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For the first time in their career as saviors of the universe, Ratchet and Clank have been separated. But the time apart has done them good. This is Insomniac’s most confident game to date, bursting with flair and imagination. By dividing the duo they’ve been able to create two boldly different games in one – a free-roaming space adventure and a brilliantly designed time-bending puzzler. But at the same time, they’ve kept intact the elements that made the series so popular in the first place; namely the humor, the platforming and the outlandish weaponry. Tools of Destruction was near-identical to its PS2 predecessors in terms of structure and gameplay, but A Crack in Time feels like a new experience.
For a quick story recap, check out our video:
Central to the new game is the Great Clock, a device built in the exact centre of the universe, designed to control the space time continuum. We learn that Clank’s late father originally built it, so he ends up becoming its caretaker. Not only has Clank been liberated from Ratchet’s back as his sidekick, but his role in the story has become much greater. Guided by friendly robot Sigmund (the junior caretaker), Clank’s sections see you traversing the giant whirring gears of the Great Clock and learning how it works. And this is where A Crack in Time’s puzzle elements come in.
By activating ‘time pads’ you can record yourself for up to a minute. This copy can then be played back independently of itself while you do something else. The simplest example of this is opening a door that’s unlocked by standing on a pressure sensitive switch. You record yourself wandering over to the switch and standing on it, then play it back while your actual self runs through the door. All controls are accessed on the time pad. This brings up a circular menu with options to record, delete a recording, or even skip the puzzle entirely at a cost of several thousand bolts. There are also, mercifully, hints for each one too.
Now, imagine this but with the multi-level complexity of a Portal puzzle. Later levels have you orchestrating four or five copies of yourself, all of which have to be perfectly synchronised. And the satisfaction of completing one is compounded by the shower of bolts you receive – Ratchet & Clank’s ever-present currency, which is spent on buying new armour and weapons, and upgrades.
Clank, however, only has one weapon: the Time Scepter. With this he can kill small enemies, but more importantly fire a ‘time bubble’ that slows down anything that falls inside it. For example, if a platform is spinning rapidly and you can’t jump on it, slow it down and leap across before the time bubble bursts. When it’s about to disintegrate you hear an alarm ringing. You can also repair things on the Great Clock with the scepter, like cracked screens or burst pipes. All you have to do is whack them.
Clank’s final job as caretaker is repairing time anomalies that have started appearing on planets across the universe. This comes in the form of a shoot-‘em-up minigame that sees you blasting the anomalies on a 3D spinning globe with a laser while fending off enemies that are trying to repair them at the same time. It’s a fun distraction, but also serves a greater purpose – it lets Ratchet access things he previously couldn’t while on his space travels.
Here’s a sampling of some of the gameplay we’ve been talking about:
Which leads us nicely on to the other half of the game: Ratchet and Captain Qwark’s continuing search for Clank in the depths of space. Unlike previous games that saw you selecting levels from a menu, A Crack in Time lets you explore the cosmos in real-time in Ratchet’s ship, Aphelion. Aside from the main story, each star system is absolutely packed with things to do. You can ‘hail’ other pilots, some of whom offer side-missions, like protecting them from space pirates, and there are special moons dotted around which offer the most interesting challenge.
Fly over to a moon and land on it. There isn’t any loading pause or transition; Ratchet lands in real-time and exits Aphelion, beginning the level instantly. Each moon offers a different platforming challenge, some of which are brilliantly challenging, and reward you with Zoni, creatures you can use to upgrade your ship. This is all entirely optional, although sometimes you’re forced to upgrade – for instance, unlocking an afterburner so you can boost your way past barriers preventing you from landing on planets essential to story progression.
When you land on a planet, the game becomes a lot more familiar. The incredible vistas that define the series are more glorious than ever, and the linear platforming and action is tightly-designed as always. An early level sees you entering a vast, beautiful city populated by robots. Here you repair some broken machinery for the ‘bots to gain access to Krell Canyon, where you meet the game’s newest hero, Azimuth. He’s the mysterious older Lombax you saw in the trailers and is an old friend of Clank’s father, and you both team up to hunt down Clank and the Great Clock to prevent villain, Dr Nefarious, from taking advantage of its immense power.
New gadgets on offer include a pair of hover boots that let Ratchet speed around the level and float for short periods of time. Weaponry-wise, the Constructo Glove and Constructo Shotgun are the newest additions to Ratchet’s arsenal. To begin with they function as a basic blaster and bomb launcher, but additional bits can be tacked on to improve their functionality, like rapid fire or timed explosives. More ‘traditional’ weapons include the Chimp-o-Matic (which turns enemies into, er, chimps) and the Plasma Striker, the ammo for which automatically homes in on an enemy’s weak spot when fired.
But, surprisingly, the weapons aren’t A Crack in Time’s biggest draw, despite it being the focus of every other game in the series. This is the most varied Ratchet & Clank game to date, and none of it feels half-baked or tacked-on. Even the optional side-missions that you pick up in space are well-designed. But Clank is the real star of the show. The time-recording feature is exceptionally polished, and much more entertaining and unique to tackle than any of Ratchet’s absurd new weapons.
Insomniac have elevated the series to a new high; the script has never been funnier, the level design is at its most challenging and entertaining and the sheer variety of stuff to do and see is overwhelming. With characters you actually care about, a fantastic story to lose yourself in and a vast and unfathomable galaxy to explore, filled with secrets and mystery, there’s no reason you shouldn’t play A Crack in Time. But if you never liked the series before, this won’t change your mind – despite the structural changes, it’s still a Ratchet & Clank game at heart. Which, for the rest of us, is exactly what we hoped it would be. Roll on Ratchet 10.
Oct 27, 2009