Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: October 23, 2007
After the wildly impressive demonstration of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction at Sony's Gamers Day event in May, we looked forward to the day that we could wrap our hands around a SixAxis and guide the beloved duo through this uncanny vision of Pixar-like proportions. While we were able to do just that at the E3 Media & Business Summit in July, the pre-packaged demo prepared for the event felt a bit safe, not yet showing the expansive roster of weapons and gameplay innovations expected from the revered series' PlayStation 3 debut.
Luckily (and thankfully), Insomniac didn't keep us waiting for long, inviting us into its Burbank lair for an extensive hands-on session with the game at a recent media event, which exposed many of the elements we found to be conspicuously missing at E3. Along the way, we were able to take in high-resolution concept sketches (dated as early as mid-2005) thanks to a demonstration from Art Director Chad Dezern, as well as scope out galactic pirates Captain Slag and Rusty Pete during a cut scene building discussion with Chris Nicholls, animation director at Insomniac Games.
But most compelling of the meetings was that with Anthony "Moo" Yu, who introduced us to several more of the game's 23 all-new weapons. Though some are still being held close to the chest, we got our hands on firearms and tossed items that range from the hilarious to the hardcore, and picked up insight into the process of designing — and potentially discarding — the weapons of mass amusement in each Ratchet & Clank game.
Though 23 weapons represent a considerable tally, the original pre-production count was staggeringly higher. "I believe, in pre-production, the list was somewhere around 170 [weapons]," said Yu, explaining that some ideas were simply too absurd to be considered for digital inclusion. One that (sadly) fell by the wayside was the Rainbow Afronator, which, when fired, would apply a rainbow afro to nearby enemies. The idea had apparently been chucked from several previous Ratchet games, but we're still hoping to see it pop up in the future.
The Death Springs join the Groovinator and the Tornado Launcher in the ranks of Combat Items, which are super-powered projectiles available in very limited quantities. Inspired by an Insomniac programmer who would play with a Slinky during bouts of frustration, the Death Springs consists of roughly a dozen such coiled objects, which slink around and attack all enemies in their periphery. Though the item did not yet appear to be optimized (nearby enemies would occasionally survive, unscathed), Yu noted that the extreme (potential) power of the Death Springs forced the team to confront the idea of the Combat Items category.
"We'd throw [the Death Springs] out and we'd realize, 'Oh, it's clearing the entire room every single time,'" said Yu. "Eventually, [Creative Director] Brian Algeier came up with the concept of Combat Items, which are basically horrendously overpowered items. Like, it's things that players would love for us to put in the game, things that we would love to put in the game, but in reality we usually can't." To block players from abusing the Combat Items, the developers limited the availability of ammunition and removed the upgrade path so that they can never be more powerful than initially intended.
Standard weapons can be upgraded and enhanced in several ways using both collected bolts and Raritanium. The upgrade path uses a series of interconnected hexagons (think Hexic HD) that allow players to progress toward a special upgrade by collecting all the lesser ones along the way. Standard upgrades include ones that increase a weapon's ammo, rate of fire, and capacity, and players will have to utilize the vast majority of the upgrades on the grid to get their grubby mitts on the singular special enhancement.
Also revealed on the weapon front was the Alpha Disruptor, which Yu described as being "by far the most powerful weapon in the game." When charged, the Alpha Disruptor displays fluttery effects before launching a massive laser shot at the intended target. The Predator Launcher comes close with its collective destruction, but the damage comes via a multiple lock-on feature that allows players to attack several enemies at once — or multiple spots on a single, massive opponent. The lock-on spots link together to form a grid of intended chaos, at which point players can release the trigger and unleash the miniature rockets.
For a more direct shot, consider the Negotiator. "For all the rocket whores out there — if you just want an easy kill on almost anything, the Negotiator is here to negotiate for you," said Yu, pausing to acknowledge the intentionally asinine nature of his comment. "Sorry about that."
Rounding out the weapon introductions was Mr. Zurkon, a trash-talking robot that hovers nearby and seeks out all enemies within view. Yu was able to transform Mr. Zurkon into a hovercraft piloted by James Westbrook, a paralyzed child from Lawton, Okla., whom the Insomniac crew met while shooting an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in April. What role he will play in the final release was unclear, but it was interesting to see the compelling story come to life through the game.
Following a catch-all gameplay presentation from Algeier, we were finally let loose upon the sea of demo stations, where we were able to explore through the on-foot worlds of Iris and Sargasso and blast scads of foes in one of the Star Fox-inspired space shooter stages. Iris is a snow-covered wasteland, complete with winding, icy paths and pirates huddled around a campfire for heat. To the right of the campfire, which appears early on in the stage, is a door that can only be entered by the pirate inhabitants, which poses a serious problem for our dual protagonists. The solution? Don a pirate holo-costume, which casts a peg-legged holographic shell over the vertically challenged pair. Not only does the costume let Ratchet approach the door, but it also allows him to avoid conflict with the nearby aggressors.
Ratchet must complete a simplistic follow-the-leader-style dance routine to enter the metallic compound, further demonstrating Tools of Destruction's amusing fixation on disco balls and colored lights. After a quick ascent and a few moments spent on a grind rail, the heroes eventually find themselves challenged by a massive block of ice that impedes their forward progression through the stage. Luckily, Clank is armed with a Geo-Laser, which shoots out of his arm and allows him to cut through walls and the like. Players will have to rotate the SixAxis to follow the outline indicated by the computer, thus breaking through the ice and continuing the on-foot adventure.
By contrast, the romp around Sargasso shifts things to a much warmer climate, presenting a rocky, prehistoric playground that sported a bit of lush greenery. However, Sargasso is not meant to be explored solely from a bipedal perspective, as the pair can now take to the sky via the Robo-Wings, which sprout from Clank (mounted on Ratchet's back) via one of the many launching pads found on the surface. As with the Geo-Laser, the Robo-Wings are controlled entirely via the SixAxis motion controls, though such responsibilities can be shifted to the analog sticks for balance-deficient gamers. We scoped a Pilotwings-style challenge in which the pair had to follow a mythical species of flying robots through a series of floating rings.
Much of the early action in Sargasso was centered on the elimination of Leviathans, massive beasts that resemble the ancient Tyrannosaurus Rex (albeit with massive horns), but are just as susceptible to the whims of the Groovinator as any other creature. Collecting a trio of Leviathan Souls allowed Ratchet to obtain a Decryptor from a local smuggler. Later in the stage, we caught our first glimpse at the Gelanator, a gadget that fires massive blocks of gelatin for Ratchet to launch off of. Three shots can be layered atop each other to create a massive cube of green goo that gives Ratchet an impressive vertical leap. The Gelanator is something of a context-sensitive device, as fill-up stations seem to be positioned right near where the device could best be utilized.
We took to the air — or rather, the atmosphere — again in the space shooter level, which seemed similar in structure to the one seen in the High Impact Studios-developed Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters for PSP. The controls, which mapped movement and aiming to separate analog sticks, were a bit trickier than expected, but with lasers, rockets, and barrel rolls, it was hard not to note the Star Fox influence. After skimming close to the surface of a planet for a Star Wars-style experience, we entered a black hole for a mind-numbing Technicolor light show similar to that of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The stage then culminated with a boss battle against a skull-shaped creature flanked by a sextet of missile launchers. Intense? Sure. Amusing? Definitely.
Aside from a handful of technical issues (weapon tweaking and frame rate optimization), Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction looks undeniably fantastic and plays nearly as well. We're not looking at a significant shift away from what made the series a hit in the first place, but such a move would be entirely unnecessary. Among PlayStation 3 holiday exclusives, it's hard to think of a title that's more feverishly anticipated than Tools of Destruction, and there's no indication that the game won't deliver on its immense promise. As with its launch release of Resistance: Fall of Man, it appears as though Insomniac has the holiday season wrapped up yet again.
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