Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time
The Ratchet & Clank franchise has always been somewhat of an underdog in the line-up of Playstation exclusive titles. Although critically acclaimed, you never see the crazy hype for a _R&C_ game like you do with _Uncharted_ or _Killzone_. Most likely this is to do with the subject matter, the majority of gamers like to kill real, or at least virtual, people rather than weird bugs or comedic looking robots. It’s a shame really as _A Crack In Time_ is a great game that people of all ages can enjoy.
Ratchet, some sort of cat-like creature called a Lombax, and Clank, a rather small, well-spoken robot, make up the game’s hero and sidekick duo who always seem to be in the right place and at the right time to save the Universe. As opposed to other duos such as Banjo and Kazooie, their influence isn’t limited to one planet but to an entire galaxy, instantly increasing the scope of the game and the variety of places to visit. This time they’re tasked with stopping the evil Dr. Nefarious from activating the “Great Clock”, a device that can turn back time throughout the Universe, wronging every right Ratchet and Clank have ever had a hand in making.
The game starts with our couple separated, following the events of the previous game. While Ratchet is searching the galaxy for Clank, Clank is simply exploring the interior of the Great Clock itself. The separation of the characters, not only necessary for the narrative, also leads to two very distinct types of gameplay. While playing Ratchet you have access to a number of different weapons, each one as entertaining and kooky as the last, which leads to a considerable amount of third-person combat and platforming. You wouldn’t expect a game of this type to have such an in-depth combat system, but it does; with weapons ranging from a standard pistol to a disco ball that causes all the enemies to start dancing, there’s a considerable amount of room for tactics. In addition, the ability to customise a selection of the weapons with upgrades means that you can approach a battle from which ever avenue of attack suits you.
While playing as Clank, the game changes from heavily combat orientated to what is effectively a puzzle game. Although there are still some slight combat elements, the focus is primarily on altering time to continue along a certain path. Very early on, you obtain a staff that can alter time, helping to traverse the extremely linear levels, and also encounter recording pads that lead to the, rather complex, puzzles. These pads allow you to record multiple selves of Clank which is very handy if you need to get through a door that can only be opened by standing on a push pad some distance away. The concept is pretty hard to get your head round but, luckily, there are some rather well-done tutorials (cleverly masked as story elements) that help you get down the basics.
All of the above leads to gameplay that is fundamentally interesting and never gets repetitive or boring. It does put _A Crack In Time_ in a strange place though; artistically the game is styled toward a younger audience (bear in mind that you play as a furry cat for the majority of the game) but the time-based puzzles as well as the combat require a considerable amount of skill. Considering that I died on numerous occasions and it took me a while to figure out each of the puzzles, I would have thought the game is very challenging for a seven year old. Saying that, seven year olds do seem to be ridiculously good at games these days, so maybe I’m not giving them enough credit…
In terms of presentation, the in-game graphics are vibrant, beautifully styled and are somewhat cel-shaded; at points it distinctly reminded me of _The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker_. However, everything does seem a little fuzzy throughout; for example, the majority of object edges aren’t sharp , which made me check I was still playing the game in HD. More positively this means it runs silky smooth no matter what’s going on on-screen; tens of explosions at a time don’t phase the game in the slightest. While the in-game graphics may lack the technical excellence found in the likes of _Uncharted 2_ or _Metal Gear Solid_, the game’s pre-rendered cut-scenes are verging on Pixar quality both in terms of their visual fidelity as well as the animation found within.
This high quality animation combined with superbly written dialogue makes _A Crack in Time’s_ story entertaining as well as actually funny. The game has a range of interesting characters which, although a little shallow and predictable, each have their own identifiable traits. This causes _A Crack In Time_ to have something very few games have, characters with personalities. This is also a testament of how good the voice acting is. Dynamic and engaging, the voice acting puts _A Crack In Time_ up there with games of the highest production quality and is one of the main reasons this game is so enjoyable from the story-side alone.
However, although the story is implemented perfectly, it’s the story itself that lets the game down slightly. The twists can be seen from a mile off and you know that everything will be alright in the end, in the same way that you know every Pixar or Disney film will always have a “happily ever after”. Maybe I’m asking too much for a game aimed at a younger audience but after finishing _Modern Warfare 2’s_ main campaign, I can’t help but feel the games industry is saturated with happily ever after endings.
The game also assumes that you’ve played the previous Ratchet & Clank, including the downloadable content for the last PS3 game, and played them recently. Having played _Tools of Destruction_, I thought I’d be fine with _A Crack In Time_. Once I started playing, I realised I couldn’t remember _Tools_ at all, meaning I had no idea what was going on. This game could have done with a “previously on Ratchet & Clank” video just to set the scene, instead I had to play the game for a couple of hours before I’d figured out what had happened to the characters the last time we saw them.
When I first threw _A Crack In Time_ into my Playstation, I thought this was going to be a carbon copy of _Tools of Destruction_, luckily this wasn’t the case. The game is different enough to warrant a purchase if you’ve enjoyed any of the previous games and it truly is one of the best action-platformers currently available on any console. With excellent combat, thought provoking puzzles and superb animation and voice work, _A Crack In Time_ is simply some light-hearted fun. Just don’t expect any mind-blowing story twists or revelations.