Seven years ago, developer Insomniac Games released an as-yet-unproven platformer called Ratchet and Clank on the PlayStation 2. It’s now 2009, and the franchise has spawned eight sequels, including this year’s Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time. Some people may be quick to write off the series as childish, but they’re missing out on one of the truly great franchises of the last ten years. I doubt many developers could deliver the same amount of quality and fun by releasing 9 games with the same characters, in the same universe, building off one another’s stories in 7 years like Insomniac did. Thankfully, it seems that they’ve saved the best for last, as Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time is the pinnacle of the franchise.
Crack in Time picks up immediately after the conclusion of Quest for Booty, a downloadable sequel to 2007’s Tools of Destruction, as Ratchet is searching for his missing partner Clank across the vast expanses of space. Clank, meanwhile, has fallen into the hands of Dr. Nefarious, one of the duo's more memorable villains. If you’re worried about not being up to date, don’t fret. Crack in Time plays a recap movie while the game installs on your PS3 hard drive. This time around, the main plot revolves around Dr. Nefarious trying to gain control of time by unlocking the secrets of the Great Clock, with only Ratchet and Clank standing in his way. Along the way, we’re introduced to Alister Azimuth, a Lombax living in exile on a remote planet, and find out just what Clank’s true purpose in the universe is. Nearly every plot thread covered in the history of the franchise is touched upon, providing longtime fans with a great farewell, and newcomers reason to go back and see how the duo came this far. The relationship between the two title characters has always been a strong point for the series, and even though Ratchet and Clank are hardly ever on screen together, there’s still a tremendous amount of camaraderie on display. While there are times you may groan at a few one-liners that fall a bit short, Insomniac Games has proven yet again that their storytelling can go toe to toe with just about any other medium.
If you’ve ever played one of the Ratchet and Clank games before, you’ll notice that there’s not much different about the gameplay when you’re playing as Ratchet. The combined styles of platformer and third-person shooter have been a series hallmark for years, and virtually nothing has changed. That’s not such a bad thing. One of the reasons this franchise has been so successful is because of the way Insomiac is able to blend the two genres into a cohesive manner that’s both fun and interesting to play. Story-centric missions will have Ratchet exploring cities on various planets or infiltrating giant space ships, and beating the crap out of anything that looks at you funny. Once again, there’s a massive amount of insane weaponry, ranging from returning favorites like Mr. Zurkon, a flying robot that attacks surrounding enemies, to new armaments like the Sonic Eruptor, a frog-like creature that belches sonic waves, or the Tesla Spikes, which are miniature Tesla coils that fire energy at nearby foes. Weapons level up the more you use them, enabling them to cause more damage, hold more ammunition, or have a bigger area of effect.
There’s actually a great new aspect to the game when playing as Ratchet, which involves exploring space in between actual story missions. Taking more than a little inspiration from Super Mario Galaxy (or not, depending on who you ask), each of the quadrants of space you travel to has a handful of mini-planets for you to explore. Some planets have Zoni to capture, which will enable you to upgrade your spaceship, while others require you to defeat a predetermined amount of enemies to earn a Constructo Mod, which allows you to modify certain weapons like your blaster or grenades. There are also a bunch of new flying missions, ranging from destroying Dr. Nefarious’ satellites to towing ships with damaged engines, all of which will earn you more bolts. Heck, there’s even a giant space combat arena on a huge ship parked out in one of the sectors you investigate where you have the chance to gain weapons, Zoni, and bolts. Collecting bolts is still a huge part of the game, and as the series’ monetary equivalent, bolts are what you’ll be using to purchase weapons and armor. Breaking crates, defeating enemies, or finding the ever elusive gold bolts will add some cold hard screws to your tally, as will solving any of the time puzzles when playing as Clank.
When taking the role of Clank, the game still shares the action-platforming elements of the Ratchet sequences, but relies more on puzzle solving than anything else. Since Clank is stranded on the Great Clock, he’s able to learn how to manipulate time to his advantage. One of those ways is with time grenades, which create a limited area of slowed time. The other is through time puzzles. Scattered throughout the Great Clock are areas in which you’ll have to create duplicates of yourself that replay a particular sequence of tasks (mostly activating switches) you record for them. At first, you’ll only have to manipulate one or two doppelgangers, but by the end of the game, Clank will have to record himself multiple times over in order to advance. The puzzles have a nice gradual increase in difficulty, and even though towards the end it can get a little difficult remembering which of your clones is doing what task, the challenge is never overwhelming. Completing these puzzles makes you feel pretty darn good about yourself, and even though there are actually bonus Clank missions in the game already, I’d gladly pay for an entire game that consisted only of time puzzles.
While the previous two PS3 incarnations of Ratchet and Clank were in no way poorly produced games, Crack in Time shines just a bit brighter when it comes to the presentation. Every little thing that looked great in Tool of Destruction or Quest for Booty has been tweaked to look even better. Character models have a bit more detail, the lighting has been spruced up to provide more realistic shadows, and explosions and particle effects just look terrific. It’s easy to compare playing this game to what one would expect an interactive Pixar movie would be like, and that’s no small feat. Voice acting is, as always, a treat. Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, and even Dr. Nefarious are characters I’m genuinely going to miss hearing interact. Insomniac should be extremely proud of the vibrant, living world they’ve created, and it’s a shame that this is probably the last time we’ll ever get to visit it.
Even though there’s not much different or new about this sequel when compared to the last game, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time manages to be one of the most enjoyable titles released this year. It’s hard to believe it’s all over for this series, but at least Insomniac, Ratchet, Clank, and the gang are all going out on a high note. Perhaps one day, they’ll return to the franchise, but even if they don’t, the story has reached a satisfying conclusion. There’s absolutely no excuse for not picking up this title (other than the fact that you don’t have a PS3), and those of you who don’t are missing out on one of the best, and most complete games this generation may ever see.