Ratchet & Clank are two of the more venerable characters in the world of video games and as a testament to this, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time is actually the eighth installment into their main series. Sporting some new features, such as a time manipulation, A Crack In Time is looking to go out with a bang as it actually signals the end of the 'Future' trilogy which started this generation with Tools of Destruction.
Ratchet, the game's protagonist, is searching for his partner in crime, Clank, after he was abruptly kidnapped by the Zoni at the end of Tools of Destruction. It appears as though the Zoni were duped into doing the bidding of one Dr. Nefarious though and fortunately Clank manages to escape. From here, Clank learns of a new destiny and Ratchet realises he's not the only one of his kind left in the Galaxy.
Despite the two main characters being separated for a vast majority of the game, it actually works quite well. Players will take control of Ratchet, experience some story progression and then take control of Clank. It continues this way for a while, and it helps a lot of extra characters get introduced more fluidly as often they have a distinct connection to either Ratchet, or Clank. The story itself is similar to what players have come to expect over the years. It never overwhelms players with too much information and it never takes itself too seriously; there are still plenty of comedic moments to enjoy. The new characters feel perfectly natural and the returning characters will be just as players remembered them. It's an aspect of the game that's almost flawless.
The normal gameplay is similarly flawless too, with controls being extremely refined. Ratchet is able to traverse through the different environments with ease, although this time he has a few more toys. The hover boots are great fun, and allow for quick progression through levels and because of this, there are many more expansive areas to roam around. It also means that the smaller, more condensed environments, have a lot more variety, as Ratchet can zip around very quickly while maintaining full control. For areas where the use of hover boots aren't recommended, the slingshot comes in handy and the Omni-Soaker, which can suck up various fluids, adds a slight puzzle element to the platforming gameplay.
As expected, there is a wide range of weaponry available, which can be purchased via GrummelNet by the bolts which are collected at almost every opportunity throughout the adventure. There are seventeen weapons in total, all with their own unique look and feel. Each can be upgraded by constant use, which leads to a modified weapon, and there truly is a weapon for every player. For those who want even more, included in the seventeen weapons are Constructo weapons, which can be modified by finding parts throughout the game. These weapons can have their colour changed, as well as how they perform. For example, the Constructo Bomb can be modified to attack ground or air-based targets. Some of the early weapons do seem a bit tame, but once Ratchet's arsenal picks up, it's easy to forget the early weapons even existed. Unfortunately, most of Ratchet's gameplay has a sense of deja vu about it. There are some new weapons, and a few new gadgets, but there isn't really anything that's pushing the boundaries - it will be enjoyable for newcomers, but veterans shouldn't really expect anything new.Clank's gameplay is actually quite different though. The platforming elements are much the same, but there is a much lesser emphasis on combat - denoted by Clank being given an extremely small amount of health. Instead, much of Clank's gameplay revolves around puzzle solving, which is where the time manipulation really comes into play. While venturing around the Great Clock, Clank must use time pods to open secure doors. The time pods allow Clank to create up to four holographic replays of himself and while the puzzles start off relatively simple, the latter ones can actually become quite challenging. Clank also has some other gameplay elements which are unique, such as attempting to eradicate time rifts on planets. It feels more like a mini-game though and only really features once during the game. Unlike the time-based puzzles, which promote a sense of achievement, this mini-game doesn't really feel like it adds anything, and if it wasn't included, players wouldn't be missing out on anything.
There is a third major part of the game, aside from Ratchet and Clank's, and that's space travel. Ratchet has the ability to fly the Aphelion around space through various sectors and to engage in full combat. Unfortunately, it's the gameplay element that feels out of its depth compared to the rest. Flying around isn't so bad, but combat just doesn't feel refined at all. Ratchet can fire various weapons, but the movement and weaponry don't really feel overly convincing - sections where this type of combat is mandatory are some of the worst parts of the game, and it's a real shame. Aside from combat, Ratchet can fly around to various small planets and moons to collect upgrades. These are actually required in some cases, for story progression, as Ratchet needs to collect rogue Zoni to upgrade his ship, allowing him to break through prohibitive barriers. It's not too bad though, as these offer a slight departure from the normal gameplay, they are much more about platforming than combat.
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time is in most parts, graphical eye candy. The cutscenes especially just ooze quality and it's complimented extremely well by superb voice acting and animation. It doesn't matter what's featured throughout the game, whether it be a tiny Zoni, or a huge War Grok, everything seems entirely plausible. There is plenty of comedy involved throughout, and the presentation is a real high-point for the game. Everything also runs at 60fps, so there are literally no drops in framerate, despite the chaos that's caused by all of the enemies on screen, bolts flying around and of cause, all the projectiles from Ratchet's weaponry.
Upon completing the game, it doesn't stop. If all of the Zoni haven't been collected, players are given the opportunity to do so, and then face off against another antagonist. Should they wish to play through again though, they are more than welcome to take all of their weapons, gear and bolts along for the ride a second time. Weapons can then be levelled up beyond their previous cap, to create Omega variants. To further please players, Insomniac Games, the developer of the game, have included a comprehensive community option, which has leader boards and individual stats for almost every aspect of the game.
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time is a solid platformer, and a fine end to the 'Future' trilogy. The story is as strong as ever, and it's supported by fantastic graphics, animation and sound design. The majority of the gameplay elements are extremely well tuned, but there are some forgettable elements, and high standards set by the rest of the game make the space combat really stand out as a sore point. Fans of the franchise will find lots to enjoy, but they shouldn't really expect anything that will break the mould. Those who have never played a Ratchet & Clank game before should use this opportunity to become immersed in the franchise.