Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is certainly not the shortest game title, although fans of the series will already be used to their over inflated names and tongue in cheek references. On these terms the PS3 game seems to have ended up with a rather muted name when you compare it to the original series: Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Deadlocked and Size Matters. A veritable diatribe of double entendre... perhaps this is what happens when the corporation gets their mitts on a developer. Have Insomniac sold out to the Man and toned it down a little for the sake of the kids, or is there still a pulsing gyrating heart at the centre of all things Ratchet.
For those not already in the know, Ratchet is a lombax - a fury eared tech happy bi-ped who has a habit of getting into intergalactic scrapes of one kind and another. Along with his butler-styled sidekick Clank, he manages to come through most things unscathed and unflustered, always ready to deliver a quick quip or canny line that is sure to get his enemies monologue-ing for long enough to escape. Think of him as the fury feisty Han Solo of video game heroes.
The game itself, like the others in the series, takes the form of an action platform adventure. You progress your way through a fantastical world of immense proportions by blasting, puzzling and leveling-up weaponry. The genius of what Insomniac have achieved is to deliver a Ratchet and Clank experience that is genuinely "HD". Rather than a re-rendering of an existing outing, or a reworking of an old idea, this is really it: Ratchet and Clank meets the next-generation of consoles. Along the way they seem to have upped the pace to fit the higher frame rates and definition, as there is barely a moment when the action is not calling you forward to your next task.
Before we go any further, we wouldn't be doing the game justice without mentioning how it looks. Now, I am pretty used to next-generation graphics, and I've seen my fair share of CGI films, but Ratchet and Clank really pushes the limits. It has been said elsewhere, but it really does look like you are playing the latest Pixar movie. Not only is the main gameplay enveloped in this imagination drenched reality, but the cut scenes manage to pull off the timing and lip syncing usually reserved for Hollywood cartoons. The whole visual package pulls you forward as much as any gameplay mechanic. There is just such an easy desire about proceedings to watch the next scene and see the story unfold. Although this should be common place in video games, playing Ratchet and Clank makes you realise how rare it is.
All this design work is lavished across every aspect of the game, with particular attention paid to our hero and side kick duo. Whilst this certainly establishes Insomniac as a studio capable of cinematic production, the game can't quite hide the real stars of the show. It's the weapons and the environments in the game, rather than the heroes and enemies that make this such a compelling play. As you progress through the game there is an ever increasing arsenal of imaginative and varied weapons at your disposal. As you use these and collect tokens you can power up each one from its pea-shooter origins to something much meatier. There is a real joy in playing with each different fire arm; the self explanatory aiming system really makes targeting a dream. Simply wander up to an enemy and once you are in range an auto target site is placed on them, press fire and away you go, it really is as simple as that. The different weapons require you to get different distances from your target as you would expect, although you can always fire off a pot shot by jumping and shooting.
One weapon that can't go unmentioned is the Jell-O gun. This funky little shooter produced blocks of green jelly (or Jell-O for those of you in the US). These blocks can then be put to a variety of uses, either placed strategically to bounce-jump off, or to encase your enemies. It really is a blast to see your foe suspended in jelly, and their comrades trying to eat them out. The weapon is obviously pretty powerful in a platform situation as it gives you access to pretty much any area of the screen, it is therefore restricted to certain levels where you have particular tasks that requires its use.
The cinematic quality visuals are backed up by some solid background music and pretty impressive voice work. You can tell that time has been spent here, not just getting the lines right but in casting the right voice talent in the right roles. There is such a fine line between comic timing and embarrassing corpsing, and Ratchet and Clank gets it just right. Again this gives you all the more reason to get through a stage and enjoy the next cut scene.
Whilst Ratchet and Clank wears its platforming credentials on its sleeve, it has plenty more to bring to the table. In addition to the expected jumping and shooting there are a variety of other mechanics that at times can feel like a bit of a hotch potch; but hey, if variety is the spice of life then who are we to argue. At times Ratchet will grind his way along rails, roll around in a gyro ball, do some pirate dancing, swim through mine-laden underwater tunnels and even do his share of spaceship flying to reach other planets. Quite a line-up we're sure you'll agree.
The variety is taken up a further notch by the addition of some Sixaxis action. The motion sensing features are brought to bear in numerous situations. Clank sprout wings and needs to be guided through the traffic, or when using Ratchet's laser to tilt-control your waycutting through doors. Although most of the implementations work well, there is still the sense that the game isn't any the richer for them.
Even with this various fare, you will still progress through the main game at quite a pace and should see the end within 12 hours or so. The game provides side quests and collectables to hunt down that extend the experience beyond the initial play through. Collect enough bolts and you can skin Ratchet as a variety of other characters and play through the game as them. This certainly scores highly for novelty but doesn't really add much substantial re-playability.
The whole experience certainly delivers on expectations from the previous games, although without ever really breaking the mould. This is a new Ratchet and Clank, but it is thoroughly the tried and tested action that we are experiencing, be it dressed in some impressive new garb. Whilst many had hoped that this would represent a new dawn for the series, it is more simply another new day, much the same as yesterday. Nothing wrong with that and plenty of fun to be had, but like Bill Murray discovered in Groundhog Day, the same day over and over can become wearing. Insomniac have literally thrown everything into the pot, it is just that maybe a bit more discretion and imagination was needed if they were to truly re-invent their most famous franchise. This is a great looking game that delivers a truly next generation experience; it's just one that will remind you of those older, fuzzier times had with Ratchet and Clank of old.