Polished Metal

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time perfects the series' formula, buffing every last aspect to a perfect sheen... but does little else in the process.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 24, 2009
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The very first Ratchet & Clank game was released just seven years ago. Including their latest outing A Crack in Time the duo will have appeared in one game for every year the franchise has existed -- and that's not including the spin-off projects on the PSP. In every sense of the word, developer Insomniac lives up to their name -- do these guys ever sleep?

Unfortunately, the tireless pace at which they've been able to crank out a game, on time, every year, without fail has also taken a bit of a toll on their franchises. Resistance 2 felt like an attempt to change what made the original so good in the first place and Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty lived up to its download-only origins and failed to offer the kind or replay value the disc-based games had offered. Neither game is especially bad, but the past few years' efforts have felt lacking for a studio that seemed impervious to outright negative criticism.

Let the record stand, then, that Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is a proper return to form for the sleepless dev house. It is, in no uncertain terms, the most polished, lengthy, well-written and varied game in the series' history, and marks not only the close of the PS3 trilogy that started with Tools of Destruction, but a fitting break for the series should it finally get one. Everything about the game seems like an ode to the building blocks that came before it, and fans of the series have absolutely no reason not to pick this one up.

That said, those looking for a wildly different or seriously upgraded experience from games past will likely be left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Oh, there's the addition of space exploration now -- a great way to incorporate the spherical worlds that were first introduced in Up Your Arsenal, the previous reigning king of the franchise -- and the time manipulation mechanic that Clank gains is at once mind-bending and absolutely welcome, but the overall game feels more like a continuation of the last full game than a full-blown sequel.

Depending on which camp you sit in, this could be something of a farewell for the Lombax and little robot who could, or it could be a tempting peek into what could happen were Insomniac given a bit more time to really flesh out the next chapter of the pair's saga (and yes, despite closing out rather neatly, there's plenty of room for another go). In either case, you owe it to yourself to actually check things out, and this is the last I'll speak of the game "failing" to feel like a real advancement of the formula. You know what to expect going into things, and if you don't then this is one hell of an introduction.

The story, thus far, is that Clank was kidnapped at the end of Tools of Destruction by the Zoni, a mysterious race that until this game were still sort of a big question mark. As Ratchet searched for his robo-pal in Quest for Booty it was revealed -- via a cliffhanger of sorts -- that the actual person holding Clank was Dr. Nefarious, easily the best of the villains from the series and yet another key import from Up Your Arsenal. Now separated, Clank must find out the true nature of his creator and his ultimate destiny while Ratchet searches for his pal, discovering what appears to be another Lombax (he's supposed to be the last of his kind don'cha know) and gaining a little help and plenty of comic relief from Captain Qwark.

Qwark is a perfect example of why A Crack in Time is such an elegant close to things. In previous games he's been everything from rank-and-file comic relief to a scheming coward to something approaching an incompetent villain. Here, all those things gel into a character that's at once self-serving and yet still manages to provide not only proper, genuine laughs, but serves as an aid to the heroic titular pair. His arc, like everyone else's in this game's story, is filled with laughs, but more importantly they actually help give everyone a nice, solid end point. Plenty of things have happened to both Ratchet and Clank, and yet neither has been so neatly encapsulated as both a solo hero and a team that genuinely cares for each other. A Crack in Time manages to be, at turns, heartwarming, hilarious and surprisingly complete in its story.

But enough about the story. Know that it's more prominent and well-told here than the series has ever really had before, but it's certainly not the core of the game. That, of course, is in blowing stuff up with all manner of high-powered and creatively-designed weaponry... oh, and there's still a bit of that platforming stuff that was found in the early days of the series, though it's obvious the "action" side of "action platformer" was put at the start for a reason. You'll spend most of your time blowing up stuff, scooping up the bolts and searching for the odd bonus item like plans for the all-powerful Rip Ya a New One (in this case the RYNO V), spare Zoni that help upgrade your ship and of course gold bolts.
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