Fun Times With Ratchet and Clank

by Nick Dinicola

28 January 2011

In its controls, combat, and characters, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time never forgets how to be fun.

Ratchet and Clank know how to have a good time. Over the past few weeks, many of the big games that I have played have been disappointing in one way or another, but never Ratchet and Clank. Even after six console games and even more for the portable systems, the Ratchet and Clank games have proven to be consistently entertaining and innovative, and the most recent entry in the series (which I’ve only now gotten around to playing) is no different. In its controls, combat, and characters, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time never forgets how to be fun.
Most of the guns lock on to enemies automatically, and those that don’t are either grenades that are thrown or unique weapons that simply don’t have to lock on to hit enemies. Regardless of the type of gun being used, a big target appears over the enemy or place where your bullets or grenades are going to land, so your target is always obvious even in the colorful chaos of battle. You’ll go through ammo fast, but instead of being frustrating, running out of ammo encourages you to switch weapons. Thus, you will use your full arsenal and not simply relying on one or two guns the whole game. There are also plenty of ammo boxes scattered around to ensure that you always have at least one gun fully loaded. Weapons level up when you use them, again encouraging you to put your full arsenal to use, and they gain levels at an addictive rate. The stronger the enemy killed, the faster the gun levels up, so using a weak weapon against a strong bad guy is a guaranteed way to gain levels fast. There’s no long, frustrating grind to the top. You can easily max out most guns by the end of the game, which then gives the ending a stronger sense of closure.

But most importantly, the weapons are just fun to use. Bizarre guns have always been a staple of the Ratchet games and for good reason. There’s the now standard Groovitron, a disco ball grenade that makes every baddie dance; the Rift Inducer 5000, which opens up a portal to another dimension inhabited by Fred, a tentacled monster that snatches up anyone nearby; and the Sonic Eruptor, which turns a space frog’s mating burp into a powerful blast of energy. Mixing humor into the combat keeps the lighthearted spirit of the game intact—even during challenging battles. It’s hard to get angry with a game as whimsical as A Crack in Time, even on higher difficulties.

Platforming is not a major part of the game, but it’s well implemented when it does appear and the general movements of Ratchet and Clank feel good. Ratchet’s running speed and the height and length of his jumps feel right for someone his size, and since you can control him in the air, you always know exactly where he’s going to land. Clank has his own distinctive feel. He is less nimble with no ability to strafe, but his levels are designed around these limitations, so his relative lack of combat prowess is never an issue. His levels mostly involve solving complex time puzzles, which also reinforces his status as “the smart one” of the pair. Which is not to say that Ratchet is stupid, as both characters are refreshingly intelligent and avoid clichés throughout the story. For example, when Ratchet is torn between Clank and the arguments of a fellow lombax as to whether he should put the universe at risk in order to bring back his family, Ratchet sides with Clank, avoiding the clichéd friend-fights-friend-until-friend-learns-his-lesson climax. But that still doesn’t change the fact that Ratchet mostly hits things with a giant wrench while Clank does all the “smart guy” support like hacking doors. They’re a pair that works well together.

That bond is also the basis for the entire story, which begins with Ratchet already searching for his lost friend after the pair was forcibly separated in the previous game. It’s an awkward beginning for someone new to the franchise, and throughout most of the game, we see little to justify Ratchet’s dedication since the two are never together. We never see these supposed friends acting as friends but that makes Ratchet’s decision at the end all the more important. He heeds Clank’s warning, thereby putting his friend above a selfish (though admittedly noble) goal of bringing back his family. This moment shows us what the game has been telling us all along—that these are good friends who trust each other. For a game so reliant on its serial mythology (Clank is kidnapped in Tools of Destruction and the villain is introduced in Quest for Booty), A Crack in Time still manages to work as a stand-alone adventure specifically because the ending reinforces the character traits that we’ve been hearing about the whole time. The game comes full circle.

Ratchet and Clank games always feel good to play. Combat is satisfying, so much so that it’s become the central focus of the series. Even still, the platforming and puzzles are challenging without feeling forced or frustrating. A Crack in Time also introduces more exploration, allowing you to fly through various solar systems and land on individual planets with no load screen in between. And the characters bring it all together with their charm, wit, inside jokes, and the lighthearted, goofy humor of the supporting cast. Above all else, Insomniac knows how to make fun games.

And how can you not love Fred:

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