I've always been a big fan of Ratchet & Clank. This Insomniac developed action series managed to combine the very best elements from a standard 3D platformer with the explosive weaponry of a third-person shooter. This lethal combination not only gave us two of the most interesting characters in an over-populated pool of mascots, but also introduced us to a 3D platformer that didn't feel like a Super Mario clone. Now comes the second full game for the PlayStation 3, and as a long-time fan of the duo I'm happy to say that this is another must-own entry in an already great franchise.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time doesn't attempt to break any new ground, it's goal is to add a few new gameplay mechanics and refine the already stellar presentation. This game picks up soon after the events of the first PlayStation 3 adventure, Tools of Destruction. Thanks to an entertaining "interview" with Captain Quark, we learn that the duo has been split up. Clank has been kidnapped by aliens and is being held in what appears to be a giant clock. Ratchet, on the other hand, is searching the solar system for clues of the whereabouts of his robotic guy Friday.
Because of the split, we spend most of the game playing either Ratchet or Clank. As is to be expected, most of the gameplay revolves around Ratchet going from planet to planet collecting items, killing bad guys, rail surfing, buying new guns and battling giant bosses. These sections will no doubt feel familiar to anybody who played any of the six other Ratchet & Clank games. The levels are a combination of traditional platforming puzzles and action-packed third-person shooting. You have both a large wrench weapon for melee combos and a series of guns we'll talk about in a little bit.
These sections with Ratchet are fun, they represent the very best of traditional Ratchet & Clank gameplay. But no matter how entertaining they are, they certainly aren't very original. Thankfully Insomniac decided to flesh out Clank's adventure in the giant clock world. It's here that he's befriended by another robot, a goofy character that ends up teaching Clank how to manipulate time in order to solve a series of complex puzzles. Never mind that from a story point of view this doesn't make a lot of sense, it was nice to see the developers give something clever for Clank to do instead of just sitting and waiting for Ratchet to show up.
There are a few different ways for Clank to manipulate time. Early on you are given a time bomb, a grenade-type device you throw at something to make it slow down. This is useful for slowing down enemies and jumping on to speeding platforms. Before long you are introduced to special items that allow you to record a version of yourself. The reason you would want to do this is so that you can have your recorded duplicate hold down a button to open the door while you exit the room. It's puzzles like this that make up most of Clank's tasks. Each time you come back to a Clank level you'll find that the puzzles are a little harder and the enemies are a little less forgiving. By the end of the game you are having to record multiple copies and then re-record over those copies. You'll really need to think in a whole new way in order to beat some of these games.
But don't think that just because Clank gets all of these cool new moves that Ratchet is left out of the fun. As you play through Ratchet's lengthy storyline you will earn special moves and items that will allow you to kick butt like never before. At the start of the game you have control over a slingshot that allows you to swing over large gaps. As you progress through the game you'll pick up a few other special abilities, including hover shoes. These special shoes allow him to quickly traverse large areas and even float in the air (something you needed Clank for in previous games). By the end of game it's hard to tell if you're playing Ratchet or a cartoony version of Iron Man.
The nice thing about this game is that you are constantly learning new techniques. These new gameplay techniques are used to solve puzzles and keep you out of trouble as you progress through the game. But they do more than that. These special abilities can also be used on planets you've already been to, allowing you to reach new areas you normally couldn't get to and collect items that you didn't even know existed. It's little touches like this that keep you replaying past levels, even when you know that there are more pressing matters to deal with (such as finding your little buddy, Clank).
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