Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is the follow-up to Insomniac Games' original Ratchet & Clank titles on the PS3 from a couple of years ago, Tools of Destruction. If you were paying attention at the end of that game, you'll remember that Clank, longtime robotic buddy of the Lombax Ratchet, was swept away by the Zoni. These little mysterious alien guys had been helping the duo on their adventure up to that point, so their sudden turn at the end of Tools of Destruction definitely came as a surprise to most fans. A short PSN game, Quest for Booty, followed up a bit on Tools of Destruction, but A Crack in Time is the first full follow-up to the prior title. It starts off quickly, leading us right to the current whereabouts of Clank, who has been captured by the evil Dr. Nefarious, longtime arch-nemesis of the bumbling superhero known as Qwark. The Zoni have entered into a bit of a contract with Nefarious in an effort to gain access to some hidden information, but things go wrong with this alliance, and it's not long before players are put in control of Clank as he unveils a lot of the secrets about his personal history.
If the plot sounds a little convoluted from the get-go, that's because it's definitely geared more toward fans of the series. Story-wise, it's not a great entry point to the franchise, but as a fan of the series, I appreciated that it didn't bother to rehash a bunch of information that I already knew.
You'd do well to refresh yourself with Tools of Destruction prior to playing this game, or else you'll get pretty lost on who the Zoni, Qwark and Dr. Nefarious are, with the latter two having previous entries in the Ratchet franchise prior to the PS3 release. It's a better entry than Tools was, with some far more inventive and entertaining level design, including some really cool puzzle-solving elements for the Clank levels and a more entertaining take on the Saturday morning cartoon formula seen in Tools. All around, A Crack in Time is definitely the superior game between the two, and I think fans will really enjoy it.
Once you're reintroduced to Clank, you're plopped into the world where he'll spend the majority of his time, the Great Clock. This is a huge, sprawling mechanical world meant to be at the center of the universe, and it serves as a temporal stability structure. Without giving away too much of the plot, we learn that Clank has a particular destiny and role to fulfill, and it's entirely possible he's been there before — without actually remembering it. The Great Clock sections are a lot of fun to check out, and while the Ratchet sections tend to be more focused on combat and gunplay, the Clank levels mostly involve puzzles and platforming. Clank gets the ability through the tech of the Great Clock to create virtual clones of himself at certain points and make recordings of his actions. Using the recorded clone data, which can be up to a minute in length, you'll need to hit switches, raise elevators, etc., to get through various chambers and rooms and advance to the next section. Some of these puzzles are pretty difficult, but the challenge never feels unfair or excessive. There's even some optional stuff tossed into the backend of the game if you really enjoy these bits, and it's one of the title's best new features.
After we get through the initial Clank section, you're brought up to speed with what Ratchet and Qwark have been doing. They're shot down, forced to crash on a planet, run into more Zoni, and learn that Nefarious has kidnapped Clank. This puts them on the right path to be reunited with the diminutive robot, but Qwark doesn't turn out to be much help. Once again, it's up to Ratchet to save the day, and you'll spend a good chunk of time controlling him as he hops from planet and galaxy in an effort to track down his buddy and the location of the Great Clock. At the same time, Ratchet has his own set of revelations to go through, including meeting the new character, Alister Azimuth, the first Lombax that Ratchet has seen in quite some time. It's a little convenient for the story that Alister and Ratchet's father used to be good friends, and there's a familial connection there, but I didn't mind too much. Alister isn't really fleshed out beyond what I'd expect from an animated character arc; he's a bit of a fallen hero archetype that's caused some trouble for bad guys before, but now he helps Ratchet in his quest, and he wants to use the Great Clock to atone for previous sins.
As far as gameplay goes, A Crack in Time doesn't deviate a great deal from the formula the games have used up to this point. As Ratchet and Clank, you'll have basic melee attacks: a wrench for the Lombax and a staff for Clank. You can generally hit a variety of foes with this basic attack, and you'll be busting open tons of crates and other devices to let loose the bolts that act as the in-game currency for upgrades and weapons. As with previous games, Ratchet also gains access to a variety of weapons. This time, you'll have a few that can be upgraded over time by finding special items spread out across the main story worlds (and the optional moons). These upgrades are interchangeable, allowing for things like rapid fire, burst shots and proximity explosions. If you don't care for a particular function, you can go into the options menu and change it to something else. It adds a little variety to Ratchet's arsenal and prolongs the usefulness of some weapons.
Some weapons are non-upgradeable beyond the leveling system, which was already present in the prior title, Tools of Destruction. Basically every time you use a weapon, you'll gain experience toward leveling up that weapon, and when it hits the level cap, it'll upgrade four different fields, like rate of fire and power. The other weapons that Ratchet can gain are pretty inventive, such as the Tesla Spikes that you can toss down to create an electrical field that acts as a barrier and offensive weapon at the same time. There's also the Ominsoaker, which has a pretty limited capability for a specific area of the game; it can be used to soak up water to make plants grow or suck up sticky sap that attracts the bug equivalent of piranhas. There's a pretty solid variety in weapons, and they're handed out throughout the entire run of the game.
It isn't particularly important to have a variety of weapons, though; I was able to stick to three specific weapons — the starting pistol being the primary of those three — and had no issues making my way through the game. I suppose they are there for variety, and while they can be useful, it's hardly necessary to utilize them all. There are also a few armor upgrades for Ratchet, but this seems like a throwaway concept for the most part. There are about three suits that you can buy, but they're unavailable through most of the story. They're doled out at specific points, so you can't break the developers' intentions and save up enough bolts for the third suit before you buy the first two. I'd have liked the option to buy items when I have the funds for it, as opposed to entering the in-game storefront and being told that I need to wait for it to become available.
Along with the new weapons, Ratchet gets a pretty snazzy upgrade with hover boots, which can be used to quickly access specific ramps that are strewn around the various worlds. They make for a pretty fun upgrade and addition to the basic gameplay; some of the obstacle-like courses you'll encounter are a lot of fun to navigate, and the controls feel really great in these sections. There are some open-ended areas to explore that make use of the boots, along with regular on-foot sections, so you'll get quite a bit of use out of them by the end of the game. They even give Ratchet a prolonged jump by letting you slow down and hover after a leap.
Altogether, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is easily the best of the three Ratchet and Clank entries on the PS3, and it does a great job of tying up any loose ends established by the Future trilogy. The game is just as gorgeous to look at as the previous two, and it really nails the CGI cartoon look, unlike any other mascot game I've played in this console generation. The music is really solid, and the voice acting is absolutely top-notch. The story is really good, and while I think it's a little too predictable by the time you get to the end, the characters are so well realized within the game that you'll easily want to see it through from start to finish. If you've enjoyed the others titles in the Future series, you'll also like this one, and if you've missed out on them until now, this is a great time to pick up all three and see the story arc in its entirety.
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