Review: Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time

by Tyler Martin

Sony came back in a big way in 2009. The PlayStation 3 had an unmatched first-party line up of titles that included Killzone 2, Infamous and Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. While the console's most successful title was Game of the Year award winner Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the latest Ratchet & Clank was no slouch. If it wasn't for Nathan Drake's amazing sophomore adventure, A Crack in Time would have been the exclusive selling point for the platform last year.

Insomniac Games' sixth Ratchet & Clank title, and third on the PS3, is a rarity. Platformers are an endangered species in this generation of consoles, and high-quality ones are even more difficult to find -- especially in HD. In an age where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was the best-selling game of 2009 and made $1 billion dollars as a result, it's a relief to see a high-budget title that you won't have to turn off when the kids are around. The sci-fi epic is notable for being one of the most humorous and quality family friendly titles in some time. Good writing and voice acting have only recently been prioritized in major titles, and the writers and voice actors in A Crack in Time do a great job of being engaging and witty without ever talking down to the audience or going over anyone's head. And fortunately, the story is never sacrificed for humor.

Similar to the recently released Mass Effect 2, A Crack in Time has plot callbacks that are recognizable to fans but not distracting to newcomers; typically they are brief yet humorous mentions of previous Ratchet co-stars and their current whereabouts in the R&C universe. We also get a few peeks at the backstage antics of the series' comic relief character, Captain Qwark. One of the game's highlights is the weaponized bodyguard Mr. Zurkon, who utters lines of typical action movie bravado. After picking up health, the hovering robot will exclaim, "Ha! Mr. Zurkon requires no nanotech to survive! Mr. Zurkon lives on fear!"

A Crack in Time's story doesn’t punish those new to the franchise thanks to a brief prologue that acts as a story recap, narrated by the aforementioned Captain Qwark. The plot is surprisingly deep for the franchise, dealing with time travel in ways I’d sooner expect from an episode of Lost. However, the more complex story is unnecessary: Unlike other games that sacrifice their design for some semblance of realism, A Crack in Time doesn't need to rationalize its experience with a better storyline because such things aren't crucial to the game's earnest, simple fun. There's no sense to be applied to the level design, no explanation for why there are ammo crates strewn about, no reason why platforms are hovering where they are and no cause for a quest-giver to choose that one quest's location. The only explanation for these design choices is because they make the game more fun, and thus won’t distract from the player’s enjoyment. A Crack in Time's level design is so highly polished that it's difficult to think twice as to the whys of what you’re doing, because the whats are so much fun.

Ratchet & Clank’s gameplay has always hinged on its arsenal, and A Crack in Time is no exception. New to the series are three “Constructo-Mod” weapons that can be altered significantly with mods found in the environment. Unfortunately most of the weapons aren’t exactly original, consisting of variations on series staples such as the Groovitron (a disco ball that inspires your enemies to dance instead of fight). Though to Insomniac’s credit, the weapon roster is extremely balanced. The amount of experience gained from combat has been perfected in A Crack in Time, and you’ll likely finish leveling your last weapon during the final battle.

In another addition to the series, Clank has been given his own time-based puzzle segments à la a three-dimensional Braid. Clank's puzzles are the most original aspects of A Crack in Time, and the most enjoyable. Some of the later challenge rooms are the best time I’ve had solving puzzles in a current-gen game since Portal. They force you to constantly keep track of which actions your Clank doppelgängers are carrying out. Clank’s sections are exceptional because they test a player's abilities beyond combat and navigation, and I hope to see more of Clank’s challenge rooms if Insomniac puts out any DLC for the game.

What's most remarkable about A Crack in Time is how so many different pieces manage to fit together without any of them feeling out of place. The classic Ratchet gameplay is streamlined so well that it’ll be difficult for Insomniac to develop another title without some sort of reinvention of the franchise to avoid feeling derivative, if another game is even made. There's been speculation this may be Insomniac’s last venture into the Ratchet & Clank universe. If A Crack in Time truly is the swan song for the Lombax and his robot companion, the pair are definitely going out on a high note.

Fifteen years ago, Pixar's Toy Story lead the way in computer-generated animation, and the question on many gamers’ minds afterward was: “When will games look as good as this?” A Crack in Time is undoubtedly the closest videogame yet to meeting that lofty goal. The gameplay animation is stunningly smooth, running at a constant 60 frames per second. The cutscenes are also some of the best I’ve ever seen, and are completely devoid of the compression issues common in other games this generation (likely thanks to the additional storage of a Blu-ray disc). The opening scene alone, which shows off The Great Clock environment, is amazing. And while the animated 3D smoothness of A Crack in Time is impressive, my favorite cutscenes were, ironically, the 2D GrummelNet intro videos for each of the weapons you acquire. If you’ve never played a Ratchet & Clank title, there isn't a better place to start than A Crack in Time; It's the apex of the series' art design, storytelling and gameplay.

Gamers have been looking forward to Sony's comeback since the launch of the PlayStation 3 and the rocky road that followed. Last year was a return to form for the company's PlayStation line, driven by the streamlined PS3 Slim, and a robust software library. In particular, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time stands out for maintaining the best elements of a dated genre while innovating in ways few could have expected, or even paid attention to.

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time was developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment of America. The game is available for a suggested retail price of $59.99 exclusively on the PlayStation 3. The reviewer purchased the game himself, and played the campaign to completion twice before writing this review.

Recommended for:

  • Gamers starved for solid platformers
  • Anyone looking for a deep, family-friendly title
  • Those who need to justify their PS3 ownership beyond Uncharted 2 and Blu-rays
  • You liked the idea of Blinx: The Time Sweeper...just not how it played

Not Recommended for:

  • You just can't get enough of those bald space marines
  • Anyone looking for significantly new weapons to the R&C series
  • People interested in online multiplayer
  • You actually enjoyed the gameplay of Blinx: The Time Sweeper

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