Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
For the uninitiated, Ratchet & Clank is one of the most strikingly bold and colourful platform franchises currently available exclusively on PS3's across the land. Starring a Lombax (a cat-like alien creature) named Ratchet and his faithful mechanical sidekick, Clank, the series sees you planet-hopping on a quest to rid the galaxy of evil or some such.
Following hot on the heels of Tools Of Destruction and downloadable companion piece, Quest For Booty, A Crack In Time almost seamlessly links to the previous games narrative wise, immediately picking up the action with Clank who must escape the malevolent clutches of the cackling Doctor Nefarious.
Cue another game of intertwining stories where once again, Ratchet must venture onwards without Clank, and vice-versa. Again, the game takes you on a freewheeling journey of adventure to far-flung, exotic planets where you get to smack around the indigenous wildlife and other nasties with the business end of your wrench.
As Ratchet, your search for Clank who was unexpectedly snatched away by the mysterious Zoni in the previous game continues unabated, taking you all over the galaxy with the ubiquitous Captain Qwark in tow. Inevitably, Qwark ends up being whisked away and you're left alone only to discover bizarre rips - or cracks if you will - in time.
These anomalies caused by tears in the very fabric of time itself, freeze anything caught within its radius or make objects switch back and forth between varying states. Ingeniously, this tidy conceit has allowed developer Insomniac to chuck in a few time-based puzzles wherever possible, injecting a much-needed dose of variety into the usual platforming shenanigans.
This time around, Insomniac has also decided to split the narrative almost fifty-fifty between Ratchet and Clank now that their stories have been irrevocably divided for the majority off the game. Where Ratchet now serves up the more action-packed, gun-toting portion, much as you'd expect, Clank's sections are by contrast remarkably cerebral, featuring some truly mind-bending chronological conundrums that border exactly on the right side of challenging.
Using his newly acquired time manipulating chronoscepter, Clank can control time to aid him in completing various puzzles that crop up throughout his levels. In addition, he can also interact with time pads that allow him to record time and create multiple versions of himself in order to solve some of the more fiendishly complicated puzzles. Doing so often clears the way for Ratchet to progress later on, which incidentally highlights the typically excellent level design.
Insomniac has excelled in making Clank's once comparatively dull segments interesting and involving. While Ratchet's half of the game is the same fun and frenetic blasting that has come to characterize the series, albeit with a little added depth (more on which in a bit), Clank is now every bit as appealing a character to play, his new abilities adding immeasurably to the puzzling and platforming madness.
Wielding the chronoscepter and using quantum bombs to isolate certain objects in temporary stasis, Clank's ultimate goal is to stitch time back together through mending the Great Clock, while Ratchet aids his robo-buddy with overblown gunplay elsewhere. The perfect balance has been struck between all-out action and more thoughtful, puzzle-oriented moments it seems.
As enjoyable as Clank's sections succeed in being thanks to Insomniac's sterling efforts, for us the crux of Ratchet & Clank is still the manic, cartoon gun violence. As ever, the action is fluid and entertaining, but it's the weapons themselves that take centre stage. Whether it's the incendiary belches of the 'frog-on-a-stick gun' or the comforting companionship of Mister Zurkon, every blaster has a personality of its own.
Weaponry now comes from new supplier Constructo, whose eclectic range of guns can be customised with different colours, new functions and upgrades to create your very own bespoke tool of destruction. Throw funky hover boots and the usual array of gadgetry into the mix, and you have possibly the most extensive box of tricks featured in a Ratchet & Clank title yet.
Space combat makes a comeback at certain intervals during the game too, which may or may not come as good news, but then they never outstay their welcome and, well, we like them anyway. Capturing Zoni in a big jar acts as currency enabling you to upgrade your craft, so you can purchase better shields, ammunition and other enhancements to make interstellar dogfighting that little bit more pleasurable (or bearable, depending upon you point of view).
Staying on the collection theme, rounding up errant Zoni is yet another facet to achieving completion. The nuts and bolts of collecting are still the thousands upon thousands of nuts and bolts littered throughout R&C's vast worlds (that makes sense, doesn't it?), but there're a host of other trinkets to gather with holographic blueprints, golden bolts and diamante monkey testicles all making a return in a bid to sate your most obsessive hoarding lusts. Okay, maybe not that last one.
A Crack In Time is a hefty chunk of gorgeous, neon tinged, Pixar-esque, day-glo, sci-fi loveliness. The core narrative will keep you occupied for hours on end, but you'll stay for the collectibles simply because the unlockable rewards are worth the extra effort. More of the same it might essentially be, but Ratchet & Clank's latest retains the high standards set by the rest of the always-excellent series.
Savour it though folks, because Insomniac are touting this as the final chapter and if it is, then the duo can hold their heads high as they go out with a fittingly raucous bang. Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time is a great game marred only by a pervading sense of dj vu, then. But when the quality bar is raised this high, deja vu be damned - we couldn't care less. We just sincerely hope that Insomniac see reason and postpone killing off their strongest franchise for a some time yet.