Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: October 23, 2007
It says so, right there in the title, even before the subtitle: Ratchet & Clank Future; and surely the Insomniac Games' renowned PlayStation 2 platforming franchise in its PlayStation 3 debut does represent the future of this popular series. On the back of the box, Sony's marketers have pulled a particular quotation from The New York Times, the ultimate compliment for a title in this genre, "… the first game to truly deliver the long-sought 'You are playing a Pixar movie' experience." The Times is not kidding, and Sony isn't overreaching in promoting the newspaper's declaration about Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.
Certainly, the "just like a movie" ambition is more readily achieved in a title like Ratchet & Clank than in military shooters or labyrinthine third-person adventures titles. Just as in Pixar's computer-animated films, "real" here is a relative term; the movies aren't real, and games that can be fairly compared to the quality of Pixar's movies are essentially playable cartoons. Fortunately, this detracts not at all from pure enjoyability of playing with and interacting in a world much like the ones we've heretofore only marveled over in a theater or on a home video release.
The original Ratchet & Clank game for PS2 spawned an impressive three sequels. Ultimately, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters was released as an edition of the franchise for Sony's PSP portable console (another is planned), and despite the huge success of the PS2 games, some critics labeled the portable title the finest in the collective series. That's all well and good for the property, but it's a bit of a sour note for Insomniac in ending the previous generation's Ratchet & Clank success on the high note of a portable title again published by Sony, but developed by High Impact Games, not Insomniac. The paramount status of Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is arguable, but even if it were not, Insomniac would have fully redeemed itself with Ratchet & Clank Future.
The PS3 debut follows the tried-and-true Ratchet & Clank formula: enhanced platforming action outfitted sequences more than the typical jump-jump-jump-doublejump-jump script, and numerous wacky weapons and gadgets for dispatching enemies and accomplishing goals of getting from one place to the next, almost all of them upgradeable over the course of the game for more firepower — and wackiness. The game may be better-looking that previous versions and the environments may always seem more open, but it's still Ratchet & Clank so if you don't like Ratchet & Clank cartoonish platformers in general, there's nothing here that will make you embrace the genre. You can't help but be impressed by the stunning looks of the game, but although the PS3 will likely spawn a few, if not many, revolutionary games in its life cycle, Ratchet & Clank Future is strictly an evolutionary title.
Covering graphics and audio for this game here feels rather redundant, as I've gone at length about the Pixar-quality of the whole production. The fact is that it's not Pixar quality. Not even PS3 is there yet. Doing what you can do with "render farms" and days, weeks or months of rendering time, is inherently superior to what you can do with a real-time graphics platform. If the former technology continues to advance and never sits pat on its achievements, you probably won't see, perfectly, the quality of a computer-animated film on a real-time console for a decade, perhaps far longer, depending on advancements in the movie business. The point is that it's perceptively the quality of a Pixar or Dreamworks Animation film, and that's all that matters while you play. It's what you feel, not the actual textures, shaders and specialized software for modeling individually every single hair on a creature's head.
In the Ratchet & Clank arsenal, it's enough to say some old favorites are back and some new weapons sure to become favorites are included, but to list by name and detail the function of even half of them is the purview of strategy guides. It would also spoil the surprise of using each one as you purchase them using the game's systems of weapons and gadget vendors — who sell upgrades, too, although with some weapons, you earn upgrades for in-game triumphs with that particular weapon. My favorite is perhaps the best known in advance, the Groovatron, which is more of a gadget, not a gun and most like a musical grenade. The Groovatron, I kid you not, is a disco ball that, when Ratchet hurls it into the air, suspends itself at about the height disco balls belong, revolving with a pulsating light show and thumping a solid dance track, causes lethal enemies and mere annoyances to stop coming after you and, well, dance to the disco beat until the single-use Groovatron "bomb" expires. You can get a lot done while the game's various nasty creatures get down and get funky; you'd be surprised.
Camerawork, both manual and automated, and control are sublime and immediately responsive. In fact, controller actions are so responsive it may lead hardcore, self-flagellating platformer addicts, the kind who enjoy repeatedly falling to their deaths from a far ledge because the doublejump works about half the time, may complain that Future is too easy. It's not easy per se; it's rather that the difficulty level is fixed and the controls just work, so you're only forced to repeat from checkpoints when you intentionally push yourself to get to places you know you can reach — although they're not objectives required to progress — but Insomniac has made them a bit of a challenge to land on, above or what have you.
Present in the last two versions of Ratchet & Clank titles (three, if you count the PSP's Size Matters) is any kind of competitive or cooperative online play — any kind of multiplayer at all, even local. I'm not sure this represents a step backward in the series; I'm not sure it represents anything. In PS2's Up Your Arsenal, the first title in the series to feature online competitive multiplayer modes, it was almost entirely to see that sort of game in online competition. It was also far more online bedlam and amusement than belligerence and aggression. Traditionally, platformers are single-player games or local multiplayer games at best, and Future loses nothing in losing its online modes on PS3. For those who do miss them, I'm sure there will be something in Future's future sequels or spin-offs to make you happy.
At worst, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction will seem a bit short for a die-hard platform franchise chronicled in such famous past editions. But the hours there are hardly too few, and each hour you play is an hour of pure enjoyment in which the current-generation production values are stellar. Future is a great game in its own right, despite its positioning to show off the power of its publisher's platform, despite the fact it does very well show off the PS3's capabilities. Future is only to be missed if you can't ever step outside yourself in video games to be goofy, to toss Groovatrons, to interact with a cartoon, to do things other than perpetrate ultra-violence on splinter cells or alien invaders — in which case you'd be wise to consider what sort of harm your gaming hobby might be doing to you.
More articles about Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction