Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PS3 Look - Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Here we have another game in a long-running series. I'm really not sure what else to say here as I haven't the faintest idea on how to give this review a proper intro. I mean somebody help me out here. I don't know what the heck Ratchet is even supposed to be. Yes, yes he is a Lombax that much is certain but what's the deal? Is he a cat? A rat? A rat-cat? I'll never understand aliens. Somehow this didn't stop me from playing through a flawed but enjoyable game.

The game starts off from an emergency message from one Captain Quark. He's one of those Super Zero types who tends to be all talk but every now and then he comes through and does something heroic. Anyway it turns out the city is getting pretty well wrecked by some little jerk named Tachyon who despite being puny and just all around terrible he managed to put together a vast army to take over and/or destroy the universe. It's up to Ratchet and his robo-backpack Clank to figure out what he's after and then shoot him with a bunch of guns.

One of the selling points of this game is the animation and characters. It's like Insomniac was inspired by the works of Pixar and wanted to do something in a similar vein. For the most part it works because even when the jokes are unoriginal the delivery is great and the characters tend to be really well-designed. Quark for example is perhaps my favorite character, dunno why he isn't playable. It probably wouldn't be the same if he was just a reskin or something and didn't have any of his own lines. Although with Ratchet I guess I should have played some of the PS2 games because this game seems to play it like I'm already a fan of his and don't need much of anything in terms of background to gain any sort of attachment to him. Maybe he's just supposed to play straight-man or furball to all of the weirdness going on in this universe.

The game itself is an interesting blend of shooter & platformer. There's lots of the jumping around and using special tools to traverse stages and then there is the finding and buying of many weapons that are used to kill things in many different ways. For the most part it's a solid blend though I think more of an effort could have been made to create encounters that mix the shooting & platforming aspects. Most of the time when it comes to fights they're in these open arena-like areas and while it's still fun it feels like more could have been done to create something really memorable.

Weapons and armor are required for Lombax survival and Insomniac did a heck of job providing them. There are many weapons to collect and they all offer different methods of attack and level-up with use. It's a really good system as it gives incentive for players to try everything. As a bonus there are special skill-points that are unlocked by getting kills in different ways and these can unlock bonuses. Where the weapons falter however is that they all have their own damage output and as the game progresses this number can climb quite high. This is unfortunate because late-game weapons are essentially the only ones that are viable as the early weapons are just far too weak to do much of anything. As far as the armor is concerned it's nice to have and all but I question if it actually works. This game uses some sort of scaling/rank system as Ratchet takes more damage over time but if he dies the damage lessens a bit. Unfortunately it gets to a point where towards the end of the game even with the best armor I could still die in maybe three or four hits. This is especially odd considering there's an experience system that raises maximum hit-points.

The pacing is broken up pretty poorly by a number of mini-games and repeated sections that lose their appeal before long. For example hacking gets incredibly old after awhile as it's all about using the sixaxis-support to lead a ball around that connects circuits and unlock a door or something. There are also these pirate-doors which require doing a little jig to open. It's cute the first time but it really feels like they had nowhere to go with it so it's just a waste of time. And then there are these parts of the game where Ratchet free-falls while dodging rockets. This is the sort of thing that's great in the first level but it's used maybe every few levels and again it's just tiring. All in all it's content that feels padded and just doesn't work out.

In fact just about every section where Ratchet isn't shooting or jumping on something didn't gel with me. Some areas involve Clank going solo and they involve finding these strange creatures called Zoni and having them move objects around to progress. I'd say these stages were more puzzle-oriented if there was anything in terms of actual puzzles. Instead it's more leading these guys around, occasionally punching a creature, and using way too much of a slow-time mechanic to get past obstacles. There are some sections that I really enjoyed as they all involve flying a ship and blasting enemies. It's similar to the likes of Starfox and Panzer Dragoon and I really enjoy them. Unfortunately there are only a few of them and I guess that's because they required the most effort to design.

Thankfully these flaws aren't too detrimental to the game. I guess it's because in the end it's still a fun title that doesn't take itself too seriously or pushes things so much that the flaws have a very negative effect on my enjoyment. Still there is room for improvement and the direct sequel Crack in Time does just about everything better.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5
My Rating - 3.5 out of 5

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