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Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction
Ratchet & Clank Future
By senseinobaka 29th Jan 2009 | 4,934 views
Platforming has been a staple genre of video games since the day I first picked up a NES pad and remains my favorite style of gaming to this day. On Sony's Playstation console, one franchise is routinely touted as its the best platformer - Ratchet and Clank. This unlikely duo of an adventurous anamorphic Lombax and a small cautious robot first teamed up in 2002. Since that time this series has been renowned for its fun gunplay and quality platforming, resulting in a new title being produced every year. After playing Insomniac's latest console entry into this legendary franchise, I would have to say the platforming is lacking, but as a gamer who appreciates fun, I couldn't care less.
Let’s get this out of the way: Ratchet and Clank Future is not a good platformer, it’s not even almost a good platformer. Ratchet and Clank is the Fischer Price game of the platforming genre. The game is not broken in anyway, it just seems that Insomniac decided to make the platforming elements very casual in nature and they made no effort to capitalize on decent mechanical ideas they included in the game. For example, Ratchet is equipped with magnetic sneakers that can be used to walk up certain walls. Never do the game designers decide to use these magnetic shoes for any other reason than for getting from point A to point B as linearly as possible. Clearly they could have made some obstacle courses or some puzzle element that would have exploited the magnetic mechanic, but they didn't, resulting in an unused device in the game. The same holds true for the Gelanator which is used to do nothing more than scale a wall that’s slightly taller than other walls, or to cross a gooey river. The frustrating thing is that had the developer utilized many of the devices provided in this game then Ratchet and Clank could have been an excellent platformer. The elements are there in the game and they work well, but are never used in any compelling way. Unfortunately, this oversight is not the only problem that Ratchet and Clank Future has with its platforming elements.
Control and physics have been important parts of platforming since Nintendo released the original Super Mario Bros. Jumping, running, and landing all have to feel natural and coordinated. Different platforms affect the player’s control of the game and offer new options and challenges. Momentum and judging distance helps the player determine if a running start is needed in order to clear a gap. Puzzles and level design keep the content fresh and compelling while obstacle courses and falling platforms add a dash of challenge. Insomniac took a radically different approach with Ratchet and Clank Future, namely they removed every element listed above. Ratchet’s jumping control and animation are stiff, and physics and momentum never come into play to effect jumping distance. Instead, every jump that is possible can be achieved by a regular double jump or by holding the jump button and floating to the next platform via Clank’s Heli-Pak. Never is there any challenge or interest allocated to these moments in the game. Ratchet and Clank doesn't feature a single discernable environmental puzzle and the level design is sinfully linear. Not once will you get lost and never will you find multiple paths or any reason to do any exploration. This is especially baffling considering that the developers paid special interest in making each planet visited a lush and life-like world by employing some of the greatest art-design available on the Playstation 3.
Obstacle courses are rare and usually feature Clank separated from Ratchet. Again, never are these courses challenging or fun. Another missed opportunity is presented in the form of Clank’s ability to slow down time, but it's only used to make the obstacle course easier. Also of note is the fact that Ratchet and Clank commits platforming sin; rail grinding. Sonic Advanced introduced this stupid mechanic where the player is supposed to have fun watching some pseudo-cool character doing psuedo-cool moves, supposedly just like a real skate boarder. It's not a clever mechanic and ultimately is like playing jump rope with the Dualshock 3's X button. Throughout the whole game the platforming offers no excitement, challenge, puzzles, or fun; which is a huge oversight on the developer's part.
Collectables are possibly the most iconic element in the platforming universe. Oddly enough, Ratchet and Clank Future does this mechanic justice, despite it being the least liked element among western audiences. In Ratchet and Clank you will collect Nuts and Bolts to use as currency at weapon shops, armor shops, and device shops. Raritarium is used to upgrade and modify weapons. This can be used strategically since upgrades come at a cost and effect different aspects of your weapon, including how much Nuts and Bolts or Raritarium is dropped, how much damage can be done and how much ammo you can hold. Other collectables include giant Golden Bolts, which can be use to augment your appearance, Holograms, which are used to gain the ultimate weapon, and skill points, which are achieved for completing a difficult task or action. Never in Ratchet and Clank Future are you without something to collect and everything is used in an interesting and well –designed manner.
The only reason I skipped out on the Ratchet on Clank series up until now is because the advertising focused so strongly on the weapons and shooting aspects, two things that never really interest me. There is something to be said about the mere idea that a game that so ravished my favorite game style could blow me away with a game style I don’t like. In Ratchet and Clank Future the player is presented with a plethora of weapons and devices. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and not in the clichéd FPS way (Shotguns are strong but only accurate at close range, while Rifles are weak but very accurate at long range). One way the weapons stats manifest themselves is based on the enemy encountered, one example is that some are electric based and impervious to electric based weapons, while others have shields and can only be harmed by the Shock Ravager. Another way is based on the individual tech tree each weapon has. Some don’t feature boosts to Raritarium drops and Nuts and Bolts drops like other tech trees do. This will greatly affect your decision making in investing Raritarium. Also each tech tree has a special item that can be unlocked by purchasing the upgrades surrounding it, this comes at a high cost of Raritarium and the player will not know what the special upgrade is until they buy the surrounding upgrades; a very savvy strategic element on behalf of Insomniac.
Sure the upgrade system is awesome and the strategy of balancing the weapons used is great, but the important thing is how fun the weapons are to use. If the platforming mechanics in this game are the second Star Wars Trilogy, then the battle mechanics are the first Trilogy. In other words the quality is the polar opposite. In Ratchet and Clank you can choose from third-person point of view or first-person point of view, both work well and which one is used is simply a matter of preference. Ratchet can lock the camera and strafe around to use the weapons. Also, the camera can be manipulated in order to lock onto another enemy and reset the strafing focal point, and it all works smoothly. While strafing, jumping will do side flips that will doge incoming enemy volleys. Battles can get intense with large amounts of fully modeled, textured, and lit enemies on the screen at once with no drop in framerate.
Having large groups of enemies also forces you to constantly switch weapons and throw devices. Thankfully the weapon select menu stops time, and in addition a quick select option, can be setup to allow you to select desired weapons at the touch of a button. The battles remain fast paced and fun throughout the entire game and never will you experience a dull moment; there are giant robots, little robots, and space pirates to decimate. Insomniac realized that battles are the money maker, so expect 5 minutes of blasting your way through levels for every bland, coma-inducing single minute of platforming. The boss battles all feature the same great gunplay that regular skirmishes feature, however, another missed opportunity is missed here as the only real strategy to each and every boss battle is to strafe around, dodge, and shoot. It would have been nice to see boss battles that inspired new gunplay and strategy.
Insomniac added many mini-game type experiences in Ratchet and Clank Future. Most of them are designed and executed very well and utilize the motion sensing technology of the Sixaxis accelerometer. ‘Mini-game’ may have a bad connotation, it’s not, in fact these experiences are an asset to this game and offer some fun and challenge that other parts of the game leave out. The two to watch for that tend to get annoying are the debugging mini-game and the on-rails shooter stages.
Presentation is one area that the developers have painstakingly polished. This game is beautiful, and not just visually. The music and sound effects are fun and full of humor. The same can also be said of the voice acting, which really stands out. Ratchet and Clank have great auditory chemistry and sound like long-time friends, while the villains have the conniving voices you expect. As stages are traversed there will always be background talk over a loudspeaker. Listen closely to what is said on the loudspeaker because there are so many great jokes and sarcastic remarks.
The in-game engine is also remarkable. As mentioned before, each enemy is fully modeled with high-res textures. There will never be hundreds of enemies on stage at one time like Dynasty Warriors, but there are always enough, and never is the console taxed. Lighting and shadow tracing is beautiful and is really shown off when coupled with the depth of field. A monster emitting light can be seen glowing from what seems like miles away, again without system taxing. There are minor clipping issues when it comes to cut scenes, but never is the gameplay affected by them. Like many modern games, special attention is given to hide load times. Whole stages are loaded while the spaceship is flying from planet to planet. This is accomplished by traditional memory loading and disc streaming and not by long hard drive installs like other PS3 titles do, which is remarkable. Once the player reaches a new planet they will not experience any loading related delay until they head off to another planet.
The story is also presented using full motion video. These videos are not the most graphically intense available but the animators make up for that with an interesting style and design. The narration is also very funny and at times wacky. The story is a mcguffin, and like all adventures that are mcguffins, the story is only deep enough to motivate the player to travel from planet to planet. No one will be coming back to this story for seconds, but they will immensely enjoy it the first time around. Tools of Destruction will take approximately fifteen hours to complete the first time around. There is plenty of collectables, but they are very easy to obtain on the first play through, and are not interesting enough to warrant a second play. This is a title that will be a blast the first time through, but doesn't offer enough to be picked up for another play through immediately after.
Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of destruction is a wonderful game. From start to end the battles and mini-games will keep you coming back for more, while the depth of the upgrade system will offer some customization for the serious gamers of the world. The game has woefully flawed platforming elements, but stacks many pros on the other side of the scale to minimize this con. This game is incredibly fun when it's doing what it does best, and to date is one of the best exclusive games on the PlayStation 3; without contention Ratchet and Clank Future is a must own title.