Ah, Insomniac Games… Makers of such classic titles such as the Spyro the Dragon series on the PS1, and, well, not much else (short of a classic title called Disruptor for the PS1 as well), Insomniac Games is well known for making very good titles. When they unfortunately lost the Spyro license (or they got tired of the series, who knows), they went out and decided to make their own original game – Ratchet and Clank. Considering that this is the first time they’ve worked on any platform short of the original Playstation, their original effort is an extremely good one.
Stunning. Amazing. Tons of objects, effects, and enemies all onscreen with absolutely no slowdown at all. And best of all, they can do this with not only none of that mystical ‘fog’ that so many other titles of this genre have to deal with, but they can do all of this with an amazingly huge view distance.
The character animation looks like it belongs in a cartoon – every character and enemy has an exaggerated range of motion (especially our heroes), showing off the little details the designers put into their creations. The character design is rather good as well, although a bit generic – basic furry alien type guy with a pal on his back. We’ve seen this before in quite a few other games, but when it works out well for those games, it works out well here.
The overall level design looks amazing. While some levels look better than others, in any case you’ll be faced with some outstanding vistas. Every level is packed with little touches like plants, passing ships, and pools of bubbling lava. One of the best levels visually is oddly enough the demo level – you’ll find yourself wandering amongst a giant city, jumping from platform to rooftop as you traverse through the city. At more than one point you can just stop and look around, easily spotting your starting position from a couple dozen stories up. On top of that, you’ll spot dozens of ships passing overhead as well, giving a whole feeling that this level is actually lived in, instead of just being a place to be at.
One thing that Insomniac is known for is their musical soundtracks. Their Spyro series was filled with some lighthearted music that fit the game perfectly. In Ratchet and Clank, you’ll get what could be best described as a sci-fi type techno beat, that while wouldn’t work well in other titles, fits very well for this game. I doubt I’ll be humming the music afterwards, but otherwise you can’t complain one bit about the music.
As for the voice work, I have to say that Insomniac once again did a great job with their vocal cast and crew. Ratchet (the furry alien thing) sounds like a teenager who is just there for the whole adventure aspect of his journey, while Clank (his robotic partner) sounds like he has an actual mission to follow. As one would expect, they bicker quite a bit from time to time, each person believing that he his correct in his statements. The supporting cast and crew are done rather well, although some of them are rather stereotypical as far as their characters go.
The game fully supports Dolby Digital Pro Logic II to some nice extent. As expected, you’ll be able to hear what roams around you before you actually see it if it approaches from behind you.The control is very well set up, and other than a few quirks that you’ll overcome quickly with how your character controls (as in real life, he can’t stop on a time), you’ll have no problems at all controlling your avatar in this game. One unusual feature to note about though – the pressure (analog) feature on the primary buttons is actually used to some small extent. When underwater, pushing the buttons to make your character swim up and down are controlled by how hard you push the button. Unfortunately this leads to one small side effect – for buttons that don’t use the analog feature, you’ll have to push them in a tad harder than normal before they register. This has led me to my death once or twice (as I end up not holding the button that controls my grappling hook hard enough while in mid-flight), but once you recognize this, you’ll adjust your play style accordingly.
Ratchet and Clank starts of rather simple as far as the story goes. You’ll begin the game as Ratchet, looking for one last part to get your spaceship off the ground. The lack of this object keeps you grounded entirely – well, at least until another spaceship comes crashing to the ground nearby. Having nothing better to do, you decide to figure out what happened. Upon finding the wrecked ship, you encounter Clank – a half-pint little robot who has a goal for Ratchet – to find Captain Quark (the local ‘superhero’ in this part of the galaxy), and to get his help to save the galaxy from an evil ruler of one of the local planets. This crazy ruler in question (being the evil dictator type as expected) has had his population ruin the planet he lives on, and his scientists have figured out that if he takes parts of each planet in the system, he’ll be able to recreate the perfect world. Of course, that would destroy every planet he did that to, but when you rule the world with an iron fist, you can do whatever you want, right?
Enough of a story for a platform/shooter, eh? Fortunately short of a bunch of funny short cinema scenes, you don’t get much more of the story thrown at you like you do in the beginning. Besides, once you get down to it, the story is nothing more than a simple reason to get out there and blow stuff up.
And destroy things you do. Each of the more than a dozen levels is filled with lots of baddies to shoot at. Armed with more than a dozen weapons of mass destruction, you’ll find that you’ll have a weapon for every situation. Starting with a generic blaster and your all purpose wrench, you’ll quickly upgrade to fun weapons like a guided missile launcher, a suck cannon (vacuum up small enemies to turn them into projectiles), and a morph ray (turns anything into a chicken). Each of these weapons tends to have a purpose as well, giving you a real reason to go out there and purchase them.
Unfortunately the whole purchase aspect leads to a few problems. See, everything in this game revolves around the currency of the game – bolts. Every enemy drops bolts, every crate you break drops bolts, you even find random piles of bolts scattered around. While you do get a ton of them during the course of playing the game, you’ll find that you just don’t have enough of them to buy everything you want (unless you die a ton), unless you replay entire levels over and over again. While it does increase the amount of time you end up playing the game, in retrospect one has to wonder if there was some other way of them doing this.
Also, unlike their previous Spyro titles, this game is actually somewhat difficult. I see this as a good thing, but others might think differently. Fortunately not only did the designers give you unlimited lives, but they place ‘respawn’ points (for lack of a better term) close enough together that you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something if you end up kicking the bucket during the course of a level. Some of the more difficult parts of the game give you a feeling of accomplishment when you finish them, making you enjoy the title even more.
Finally, I have to say that the designers did a wonderful job hiding the loading time in this game. Other than an entertaining short sequence showing you flying from planet to planet, there is no loading time at all. No pauses, no ‘now loading’ screens, nothing other than that getting in your way of playing the game. Certain designers (like the guys who continued the Spyro series) need to learn this.
More than a dozen worlds cover the galaxy in which you must explore in order to save it, each providing lots of exploration and play time in order to finish. Tons of weapons and gadgets are yours for the taking, providing that you have enough bolts to purchase them. A varied amount of monsters and critters await you, each knowing that they could be killed in any number of possible ways.
All of this equates to a somewhat long game of 15 to 20 hours of gameplay depending if you want to backtrack to acquire all the weapons and hidden items. Once you finish the game, you’ll have the ability to play a harder version of it as well, keeping all your collected items in the process. This gives you a nice incentive to play through it once more.