November is Awesome Part 1: Ratchet and Clank

22 Nov

Too many amazing things have happened or been released this month – far too many for a single post. This is the first of several November is Awesome essays, and so we’ll go chronologically – first up is the new Ratchet and Clank.

The full name is, of course, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, though I ain’t typing that out again for shit. Let’s call it RACFACIT. I’ve been eagerly awaiting and subsequently playing the code off pretty much every R&C game since the first installment way back in 2002. Back then it was one of several colourful but not overtly childish third-person platform adventure romps on the PS2, and these days – now games consoles are more powerful than brains and games themselves have a positive correlation between how successful they are and how grey the bobbing gun in the bottom-right of the screen is – it’ is, to my knowledge, the only one that’s flourished. Jak and Daxter (Google these) got dropped in favour of the admittedly superior Uncharted series, Sly Cooper wasn’t so great to begin with, and Spyro and Crash Bandicoot – well, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

This is, of course, because nearly every R&C has been a stunner. Why does this one in particular kick so much backside?

Guns That Will Kill the World In The Face

The series staple – weapons that are funny, creative and unnecessarily destructive (or all three) – make their return. The disco ball grenade that forces enemies into uncontrollable fits of dancing is back, as is the rocket launcher that fires three RPGs horizontally, but new gear includes a tethered projectile energy sawblade that swings out and shreds foes both on the initial shot and the return trip, a shotgun that is actually an alien attached to a gun, and the fully automatic missile launcher so gleefully and knowingly overpowered it plays Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as you fire it. They automatically upgrade faster than in previous installments, making it somewhat easier, but in a solely singleplayer experience it’s easy to forgive when balance makes concessions to fun.

The Clank Levels

These rock, basically. Playing as diminutive robot Clank, you’re often faced with a locked door (it’s a game, there are always locked doors) and a few buttons that need to be simultaneously pressed to open it. You can’t be in four places at once, so the game gives you some time-recording powers that allow you to do just that. So using this space-time TiVo you record yourself running over a button and standing on it, stop, then do it again with the other button with a different colour-coded recording, then replay it all and run through the now-open door. It gets more complicated, with buttons that activate lifts that your recorded self needs to ascend with, which leads to another button which..there’s a lot of buttons. It’s complicated, but after a few tries seeing four multicoloured Clanks running around solving the puzzle on opposite sides of a room becomes an extremely satisfying sight. It’s on par with Portal in terms of clever puzzling, and it’s not even the focus of the game.

The Design

The places you can stand on are fairly simple. The places within eyesight are spectacular. A while after escaping a jungle planet – bizarre plantlife and mushrooms that try to murder you and all – I arrived on a dusty junkyard planet, enormous mechanical pillars decaying in the orange vistas. Later I infiltrated a nighttime metropolis as hundreds of hovercars buzzed in the sky above me. Games don’t need to be sandboxes to feel alive.

Meanwhile, Clank toiled away in The Great Clock, the most beautifully designed half-space station-half-time machine ever committed to Playstation. Which isn’t saying much but even the floors are damned pretty.

Most other things

Fighting is a joy – you can side-flip and somersault for eternity – and spot-on autotargeting makes for gloriously simple acrobatic battles. Boss fights add little new – I defeated them, usually with a strong degree of ease, the same way I have done in the last seven games (strafing their projectile attacks, jumping over their wave attacks and lobbing rockets at their head, since you asked) but they’re still tough enough to satisfy. There’s even a neat time travel mechanic that has you jumping between wildly different versions of the same area at different points in time.

It won’t sell by the truckload, which is a shame. The cutesy, Pixar-esque vibe from the character design belies one of the most exciting, comic(ly violent), robust ‘For Everyone’ games on the PS3.



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