Developer: High Impact Games
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Before I put Secret Agent Clank under anesthetic and start dissecting every part of it like the surgeon of cynicism that I am, I think it may be necessary to admit that I have never played a game in the Ratchet and Clank series because from what I gathered, it was quite childish and bordered on the generic in its level design and gameplay. These presumptions were cathartically purged as soon as I started playing Secret Agent Clank, and assuming that this is not a massive leap from the previous titles in the series, it made me regret never having given the series a chance.
Secret Agent Clank for the PSP follows the titular clank through a single-player game in which he, as part of a futuristic James Bond-style secret agency, has to prove the innocence of his partner Ratchet, who has been accused of stealing a rare jewel from a museum. I initially pegged the plot as secondary to the overall game experience, but I was proved wrong once again by Clank's witty remarks and a truly hilarious section near the beginning of the game that featured Captain Quark.
The title feels like a cartoon that has been expertly engineered to fit gameplay elements. The scenes are well thought-out, and the pacing of the story feels like it could have been ripped straight from the television. Any cartoon fan will tell you that the dry humor and sarcasm are akin to the best written comedies; similarly, Secret Agent Clank captures the best of these aspects and makes the game a real joy to play.
The branching story follows Clank as he tries to vindicate his friend, Ratchet's time in prison, and Captain Quark's embellished adventures, which prove to be some of the most genuinely funny moments in the game. Each branch gives the developers an excuse to add different gameplay elements, which prevents the main story from getting stale, although it seems there has been an almost frantic effort to incorporate every form of gameplay devised by man in the single-player campaign, from stealth to button-mashing and even racing. Each character has his own abilities, and while Clank gets the main stage and the most varieties of gameplay, they all pose their own challenges and attractions. Ratchet's adventures involve arena-based combat, focusing on blasting away a number of inmates, who seem more interested in killing Ratchet than finding out who dropped the soap in the shower. There are also sections involving the use of Gadgebots, Clank's three helper droids who have to use their own special abilities and numbers to solve a variety of simple puzzles.
The controls all seem well implemented, except for the irritation caused by the fixed camera and the oversensitive shoulder buttons, which can lead to numerous camera issues. Additionally, the button that cycles through your weapons is not as well thought-out as it could be. This problem is most prevalent when you're playing as Ratchet, when it seems to only want to switch to the most useless tool for the job, giving the unfriendly inmates a chance to shank you with the plasma rifles they've inexplicably acquired. All of the action feels fluid and designed with simplicity in mind, but the poor weapon selection screen sometimes takes minutes to select the right tool for the job, which somewhat breaks the game's flow.
There seems to be a recent trend with platformer games trying to be a jack of all trades, which can sometimes lead to confusing and unimaginative gameplay that attempts to please everyone but winds up yielding a mediocre experience. This is the polar opposite of Secret Agent Clank's gameplay: Although everything that is in the game has been done before, it is rare to see it all in one place and executed with this level of proficiency. Secret Agent Clank benefits from the standalone single-player missions, and it's one of the few titles where multiplayer would have been a hindrance.
As enjoyable as it is, however, there is a distinct lack of innovation inSecret Agent Clank. It feels as though it may have been made with a younger gamer in mind, for section so of the game are appallingly easy, and the stealth sections play a tad like "My First Metal Gear." It's difficult to criticize Secret Agent Clank on these points, however, since the game is so well thought-out and simply fun to play. If you want innovation, try Ico, but if you want variety and a good laugh, pick up Secret Agent Clank.
Visually Secret Agent Clank suffers slightly. The levels are well articulated, and the character models are obviously focused on a more basic cartoon animation, which suits the game's aesthetic better than frame rate-destroying detail. The set pieces are incredibly varied, from the prisons that Ratchet must fight through, to futuristic cityscapes and snowcapped mountains, the palette of arenas is enough to keep up with the copious amounts of gameplay options. This is important in order to make the obvious effort put into mixing and matching the gameplay seem tangible, rather than just falling back to the same backdrops for every gameplay event.
All of these positives mask the glaring negative that this is a very bland-looking game. Variety aside, the backdrops and character models are still quite blocky, there are issues with rough edges and a useless fixed camera position, which almost rules out the multileveled aspect of platform gaming by not allowing you to look up. Although this did not lead to many "leaps of faith" to see if I could reach the next level without being blasted into small metallic chunks, it occurred often enough to drag down the game flow a bit.
The audio is passable, and even though the music is obviously parodying the cheesy Bond movies of the '70s, it very rarely changes and fails to capture your imagination as much as the gameplay. The voice acting, on the other hand, is inspired. Witty dialogue and comical delivery make it a real selling point of the game, despite some repetition of Clank's idioms, since he thinks that every action warrants a comment.
Overall, Secret Agent Clank is mired by its graphical inadequacies and presentation, and by playing devil's advocate, I can see that what I view as funny cartoon narrative may be viewed as childish humor, not to be considered as real comedy. As much as I would like to thumb my nose at these people, I have to agree that Secret Agent Clank may not be for everyone, even though it tries to appeal to a larger customer base by offering varied gameplay. If you enjoy varied gameplay, then it doesn't come better executed than Secret Agent Clank, but if you need the focus on a single gaming genre with more variety within a narrower frame, then this may not be the right match for you. If you can appreciate it as a pastiche of multiple gaming genres that's to be taken lightly, then you will get hours of gameplay out of Secret Agent Clank.
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