Ratchet and Clank first made an appearance on the PlayStation2 in 2002. It introduced the world to an impulsive and brash Lombax of the planet Veldin, along with his helpful robot mechanic named Clank. Now in their third outing on the PS3, our heroes must once again save the Universe from the evils of Dr. Nefarious and his hordes of minion thugs.
For seasoned R&C players, things will feel right at home straight away. Like previous outings, the mainstay of the gameplay involves jumping on platforms, killing bad guys and solving the puzzles that litter the environment. The initial hour or so is a bit of a grind - it acts as the game's tutorial, gradually introducing the concepts and moves that are required to progress through the game. As things advance, the timeline jumps between Ratchet and Clank's escapades as they're split up in different parts of the universe. As each character has different skills, there's plenty to take in at first. However, it's not necessary to remember everything, as there are always hints to poke the player in the right direction.
There are a number of different difficulties to choose from, though even on the easiest of these, it's relatively simple to mistime a jump and plummet to your demise. It's possible to save the game at any time, though it still appears that the action returns to the last checkpoint. Fortunately these are relatively close enough to ensure there's not too much hair pulling and repetition.
Ratchet's idea of a good time is smashing up as much of the environment as possible. Whilst this sounds simply like a fun thing to do, it's not without purpose. Crates and other combustibles produce nuts, bolts, health and ammo re-charges. Throughout the game, there are Grummelnet shops littered about the place, allowing Ratchet to upgrade his equipment. Doing so treats the player to a wonderful and cute animation as to what said weapon is capable of, all done in a throwaway and gleeful manor. The different armaments are more useful in specific circumstances, mostly bosses that may be encountered, but for the most part it's possible to get by with the default melee weapon and laser pistol.
Through their adventure, Ratchet and Clank will encounter many different enemies - it's never really possible to avoid battles, so either pummeling them or blasting them back to oblivion is the order of the day. As the kill rack up, our heroes gain in level, with which comes a greater health bar. On the easier difficulties this doesn't make a massive difference, it simply means easy becomes easier. On the harder settings however, all the level-ups become an essential boon, especially at boss fight time.
There are some quite expansive sections in the game, but they do tend to be quite linear in their exploration - that's not to say that they're uninteresting, or that you feel like you're on rails the whole time - just that the areas never feel as big as they look. It is worth walking off the beaten path when possible, as this is where weapon power-ups lurk: items that serve to aid the main protagonists on their quest. The modifications can be applied to a number of different attributes, allowing changes to be made to triggers, chambers and even the paint jobs. It's not always completely clear how these things may be of benefit, but it still feels like a power-boost, having an effect on damage, ammo capacity, rate-of-fire or range.
Many of the level are noteworthy, but one that really stood out was the Volgram Pass. Here Ratchet ventures into a massive factory, an area that feels like a working ironworks. The goal is to get the place working again. Naughty little batteries with tiny legs have decided to revolt and it's down the player to capture them, in order to restart the factory equipment. Doing so though makes the environments evermore difficult to navigate - giant saws bare down on narrow walkways, furnaces fire-up ready to burn the unwary and hammers are on-tap to flatten anyone who dares to linger in the wrong place for too long.
3D platform games live or die by their camera - it's essential to be able to see where you are and where you need to be - that is unless the goal is to break joypads like crockery at a Greek wedding. Fortunately in Ratchet and Clank it barely skips a beat, giving the player the optimum view the majority of the time, allowing the player to time runs and jumps properly.
The platform action is interspersed with trips across the Universe in Ratchet's spacecraft. These jaunts often entail encounters with enemies, leading to dogfights amongst the stars. Although a nice distraction from the on-foot adventure, there's something not quite right about the controls; it all feels a bit horizontal when the urge is there to move up and down too. This part of the game doesn't interfere unnecessarily with the true story, and although there are other areas to explore in space, it's not required in order to complete the main game – just a fun excursion.
Characters within Ratchet and Clank are brilliantly modelled, with some very interesting and humorous animations. The details of the individuals fit in very well with the whole feel of the different environments, something that really adds to the enjoyment and immersion. This is also true of the aural delights; the transient effects that pierce the background don't feel out of place and fit into the cartoon world excellently.
Occasionally, as various points around the world are reached, the game will lurch into a pre-rendered cut-scene. The quality of these is superb, with some fantastic textures to the visuals. These are, of course, intended to move the narrative forward which thankfully doesn't interrupt the flow of the game at all. In fact, these are often a welcome rest-bite from the hectic platform action.
Ratchet and Clank is a game that makes the player feel empowered; it's not so difficult as to make things frustrating, yet it's not so trivial as to make the progress feel boring and achievements frivolous. Along with the fantastic environments, transient aural delights and wonderfully animated friends & foes, skips the well-adjusted platforming goodness and exploration. Ratchet and Clank is a joy to play in both short and extended stints. It's a PS3 platformer that definitely warrants a look.
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