There are few things better than an indie game, and I delight in forays into the unexpected, yet here I am loving every inch of Ratchet and Clank which is, well, expected. Ratchet and Clank adheres to certain rules like a wacky universe, goofy monsters, and weapons that are equal parts doom harbinger and harlequin. A Crack in Time effectively does everything Ratchet fans demand from an action platformer, and more, with a dash of open world and whole lot of revolutionary notions of “sidekick”. That’s what A Crack in Time is about really, challenging your perceptions of Clank, and what that means for “Ratchet and Clank”.
Allgeier called A Crack in Time “a love letter to the franchise”, a sentiment evident throughout. From the RYNO V to the scenes of Ratchet and Clank past in Clank’s memory banks, there is plenty of comfort food to be gobbled up. Picking up where the downloadable Quest for Booty left off, Captain Quark catches new players up on what they may have missed. Admittedly, if you’re new to the franchise you will still miss out on some of the goofy nuance, and you probably won’t have tears in your eyes like I did in the final chapter, but then you probably never cared to begin with.
Those wary of all that Clank time need not fear. For one, what Clank time there is, is great and serves the story. Two, most of the gameplay is still spent on the Ratchet side of things. I was once on the “anti-Clank” team, which I attribute to the simple fact that in the past playing as Clank meant playing as the weak link. In A Crack in Time you play as Clank the Powerful: you are in your element, you have a weapon, you have powers. It’s a very different type of Clank.
In addition to some platforming and combat, the shining star of Clank gameplay (and A Crack in Time as a whole) is the temporal puzzles, which practically warrant a game of their own. Using time pads you record Clank’s movements recording up to four actions at a time (depending on the complexity of the puzzle). By replaying them simultaneously and building upon each recording you solve the puzzle to open a door. It sounds daunting in print, but by starting small the game will have you slowing time and solving complex puzzles with seconds to spare. If you’re an embarrassment to puzzle solvers everywhere, you can skip the puzzle, forfeit the prize, and move on. For the rest of us that feel the puzzles never really get quite hard enough, there are some challenges to be hand by revisiting Sigmund in the Great Clock.
Control wise, you are offered three different schemes, and Ratchet aficionados will want to tweak this right out of the gate because the default control system is not classic Ratchet. Weapon quick select is in fine form, and a small portion of your arsenal is made up of Constructo weapons, which can in turn be modified by collecting Constructo mods. Each gun has a handful of tweaks in areas like spread, speed or detonation. Utilizing these mods can be the difference between scraping by in a boss battle and really blowing them to tiny little pieces in a blaze of glory. Some of my favorite weapons from the arsenal are the Rift Inducer, a inter-dimensional monster that snaps up enemies, and Mr. Zurkon, a quick-witted battle-ready robot (“Mr. Zurkon doesn’t need nanotech to survive, Mr. Zurkon lives on fear”). With so much sans Clank gameplay Mr. Zurkon was not only excellent defense, he provided a little companionship on those lonely moons.
Each time you acquire a GrummelNet weapon you are treated to a little stylized Ren and Stimpy cartoon showing its myriad destructive benefits. With the exception of the Chimp-o-Matic, weapons can be upgraded. Using weapons wisely means that you will rarely meet death, but I like the fairly consequence free ability to try a ridiculous weapon in an improbable situation. The upgrade system is not only satisfying, it also gets you using weapons you initially write off (Dynamo of Doom) allowing you to learn their role in the arsenal (if you want to finish the final Battleplex challenge with ease, charge up that Dynamo and launch it at wave start then decimate half the crowd). Some favorite weapons do return, and sure I love the reprisal of the Groovitron Glove. I am bummed there aren’t more new weapons, and a surprising lack of a ridiculous melee weapon. Each item in the arsenal is effective, but the return of the Buzz Blades marks a deficit of whimsy.
The platforming has been dumbed down in favor of scale, and while I don’t know if scale came first the egg is definitely the hoverboots, or as they’re known in my house, deathboots. Allowing you to zip across large spaces and utilize certain jumps and platforms, they were only worn when gameplay required it. There is no jumping back and forth between vertical planes to reach new heights, and there are only a handful of instances of hanging and shimmying. The moons have more challenging platforming, and by being optional the game remains accessible to people that bought an action platformer while harboring an aversion to platforming.
Oh, yes, and there’s plenty of crates – even camouflaged crates! Like all Ratchet games, you play to collect enough stuff to destroy enough stuff to collect more stuff. At this stage if you are trained (as I am) to hoard bolts, then you will never have to postpone a purchase. Zoni collecting is among the most beneficial gathering in the game. The mysterious little hive minds restore Ratchet’s ship, Aphelion, to better than mint condition ready for space combat. The space combat is simple and occurs on one plane, limiting you to turns and barrel rolls – and lots and lots of firing. With lasers, shields and missiles at the ready, the state of your ship is integral to the open world style exploration introduced in A Crack in Time. The game is divided into Sectors that you travel to and within, each containing planets, moons and ships. I much prefer this approach, where past Ratchet space combat was on rails this spare yet exploration-friendly take works well in context.
Visually, the game is as beautiful as Ratchet fans expect. Admittedly, I don’t buy into the whole “it’s a PIXAR movie” nonsense, but it is reminiscent of PIXAR eye candy. Vibrant and compelling, these are environments you long to explore. From the level design to character animations, you can feel the love poured into the game like a bear hug from a Squishy. This is no more apparent than when an array of enemies are dancing to the Groovitron, each with their own moves. Sound is great, from the music to the echo effects. While in space you can even choose an amusing radio station, though once you land on a moon you will find yourself stuck listening to Pirate Radio, which really upsets my platforming rhythm.
The voice acting is stellar, and since i make a game out of spotting Nolan North appearances give Sigmund a wave. My only frustration is that with the constant rain of bolts from crates and enemies I occasionally missed some in-game dialog, a consequence dearly felt during a particular boss encounter monologue that seems to reveal tidbits of Ratchet’s past. The dialog I could hear had plenty of well-deserved Qwark quips, and all the funny you could want. The potty jokes are more notably absent, but in their place are plenty of Star Trek references. There are some new alien races, including the rather Jar Jar-like Fungoids and junkyard mavens, the Vullards. I think I could actually recount the plot and mythology at work here, A Crack in Time’s is the most cohesive of them all.
If it isn’t already clear, I’m a big Ratchet fan, so it is with both great experience and a great ache in my heart that I tell you, this is the buggiest Ratchet game ever. The scale Insomniac is bringing to the game is wonderful, and makes me think that their two year development cycle might have reached a point of insufficiency. I’m not talking, “Look at that floating crate” bugs, these are game-breaking travesties. Range from platforms not moving in the right space, to a turret not being repaired and ready for use, to a terrible game-breaking Qwark bug in Challenge Mode (do NOT rush over the bridge in Zolar Forest!). Basically, there are times where you could be in a situation where you can’t do anything but die. This is the first time I’ve experienced a bug like that in a Ratchet game. Certainly, A Crack in Time is bigger and awesomer, but at the expense of some quality.
How much time you spend with Ratchet and Clank will largely depend on how much of a completionist you are. It’s not a difficult game, but with bolts, Zoni, Skill Points, holoplans, Constructo Mods, space missions, Trophies and Challenge Mode, there’s an abundance of gameplay. It’s a robust single player experience, and I particularly love that Insomniac has kept their signature Skill Points, with their own quirky requirements, separate from Trophies.
With Ratchet and Clank on a largely separate intergalactic adventure it’s clear that A Crack in Time is as much about Clank as it is the notion of a Ratchet without Clank. Ratchet’s future, Clank’s future and the future of the universe are in your hands. A game for the young at heart and agile of humor, Insomniac has crafted a well-realized sci-fi universe. In a phenomenal conclusion to the Future storyline, to say whether I think there’s more to the franchise is a spoiler in itself…but maybe in the next game we’ll finally learn Ratchet’s last name.