Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 6: A Crack in Time

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Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time was a game that passed me by at time of re­lease. It came only two years af­ter the re­lease of its pre­de­ces­sor, Tools of Destruction, and I’m ashamed I didn’t man­age to pick this up at the time. I only got around to play­ing it a few months ago when the idea of this ret­ro­spec­tive first oc­curred, and it is — quite frankly — an ex­cel­lent game.

Right from the open­ing it’s clear we’re see­ing a more ex­pan­sive ap­proach. The game uses a mix of in-engine and CGI cut scenes, and un­like many games these gel to­geth­er quite well. It’s ob­vi­ous the en­gine, and PS3 hard­ware, couldn’t give them the close-up de­tail and an­i­ma­tion qual­i­ty they want­ed, but there isn’t too much of an un­fea­si­ble jump in qual­i­ty or a miss-match of tone when mov­ing from CGI to real-time ren­der­ing. This helps with the more fleshed out and con­tin­u­ous sto­ry lead­ing on di­rect­ly from the events of the oth­er Future se­ries games Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty.

It’s an odd kind of Ratchet & Clank game, be­cause whilst it does fea­ture both char­ac­ters with rel­a­tive­ly equal weight, they spend most of the game sep­a­rat­ed from each oth­er. It’s like play­ing a Ratchet game and a Clank game, but the fact that they don’t feel dis­joint­ed is a tes­ta­ment to the strength of the sto­ry and the uni­verse build­ing. Both in­ter­wo­ven sto­ries fea­ture promi­nent and well writ­ten new char­ac­ters in the form of Zoni sci­en­tist Orvus and Alister Azimuth; both of which are fa­ther fig­ures to each of the re­spec­tive he­roes. This give the plot an ex­tra lay­er of depth as this game deals heav­i­ly with themes of friend­ship, be­long­ing, and in deal­ing with re­spon­si­bil­i­ty and your place in the universe.

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Th Great Clock

The tight­ness of the both the me­chan­ics, and the char­ac­ters and sto­ry in this game re­minds me most of Up Your Arsenal, due in no small part to the well im­ple­ment­ed re­turn of Dr. Nefarious as the main an­tag­o­nist. Everyone is scram­bling for con­trol of “The Great Clock,” a gi­ant struc­ture that is meant to sta­bi­lize time, but can also ma­nip­u­late it. Azimuth, Nefarious, and Ratchet all want to find the clock for their own ends, but Clank is in­trin­si­cal­ly tied up in its fate as its new caretaker.

The Ratchet sec­tions of the game play much like any oth­er Ratchet & Clank game, but the Clank sec­tions deal with var­i­ous puz­zles and mini-games re­lat­ed to the op­er­a­tion, as well as nav­i­ga­tion of the Great Clock. The tem­po­ral record­ing based puz­zles are very vi­su­al­ly and me­chan­i­cal­ly en­joy­able (a rare thing for video game puz­zles), and they do a great job of cre­at­ing com­pelling me­chan­ics out of time manipulation.

The game is in­fused with this theme of time; from the clock-like ap­pear­ance of the gears and sprock­ets that act as the col­lec­table bolts, to the time anom­alies Ratchet and Clank both en­counter, to even the de­sign of he Great Clock it­self. The game is very well de­signed and graph­i­cal­ly very pleas­ing to look at. It hasn’t been over­done with ef­fects, so its fram­er­ate doesn’t bust, but the look of the game has en­hanced from pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions still.

The game has strong vi­su­al themes, and these are matched by an equal­ly strong mu­si­cal score. Composed this time by the tal­ent­ed Boris Salchow, it fits the more emo­tive and epic scope of the sto­ry and uni­verse. The main theme of the game re-appears and threads in and out of all kinds of places, and comes in giv­ing cru­cial mo­ments a well need­ed mu­si­cal sting. All in all, it feels like a well-made and quite clever fam­i­ly movie in terms of its sto­ry, score, and cut-scenes.

This time around the Gadgets and me­chan­ics have a lot of good stuff on show; Clank’s Chronoscepter al­lows him to throw time-bombs that cre­ate a bub­ble of slowed down time. This can be done to aid with com­bat, or solve puz­zles. The main ad­di­tion for Ratchet this time are the Hoverboots which al­low Ratchet to tra­verse small cours­es with­in lev­els, as well as give a small amount of glide to aid plat­form­ing. They are a halfway-house be­tween a ve­hi­cle and a Gadget, and pro­vide much need­ed va­ri­ety with­in lev­els. New as well is the OmniSoaker, a gad­get used to move liq­uids some­what like the Hydrodisplacer in the orig­i­nal game. The OmniSoaker can spray liq­uids on use­ful lo­ca­tions to grow plants and form platforms.

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Dr. Nefarious and Lawrence

A Crack in Time has a more stream­lined weapon sys­tem in this in­stall­ment, and it does away with the de­vices sys­tem. But it does keep the best of them as weapons — like the Groovitron Glove and Mr. Zurkon. This time they in­clud­ed lit­tle an­i­mat­ed ex­pla­na­tion videos for each weapon that are both use­ful and charm­ing. They just ooze personality.

Once again Insomniac puts cre­ative and fun weapons cen­tre stage. For in­stance, when you hold down fire with the RYNO V, it plays the fi­nale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture — a ref­er­ence to the can­non fire fea­tured in the piece. You wouldn’t get weapons like the Sonic Eruptor, a weapon made of a gi­ant belch­ing frog/slug crea­ture which is more pow­er­ful when its cheeks are puffed up, in any oth­er game.

The more ba­sic weapons also have a twist this time; gone is the pas­sive up­grade grid of the pre­vi­ous game, and in its place we have three Constructo weapons. As the game pro­gress­es, you can pick up Constructo parts to aug­ment and al­ter each of the weapons to your taste. For ex­am­ple the Constructo Shotgun has a se­ries of dif­fer­ent chokes that can be used to al­ter spread, and the Constructo Pistol has burst-fire and dif­fer­ent bul­let types. These weapons can also be giv­en cus­tom colour schemes to suit your preference.

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time also com­plete­ly re­vamps the way space is used in the game. The space sec­tions func­tion less as com­bat zones and more as an over world be­tween mis­sions and side quests. You move from sys­tem to sys­tem, and plan­et to plan­et, in a log­i­cal and sat­is­fy­ing way, and it re­al­ly helps in­crease the sense of galac­tic ad­ven­ture at play with­out re­duc­ing your ship-time to fran­tic com­bat sec­tions that nev­er re­al­ly worked in the pre­vi­ous games in the first place.

The op­tion­al plan­ets them­selves vary from plat­form­ing, to hover-boot cours­es, “kill all the things” mis­sions or “lo­cate the thing” mis­sions, all with a healthy sup­ply of Zoni and gold Bolts to col­lect. The Zoni al­low you to up­grade your ship, and in­cludes up­grades like the ship teth­er and en­hanced thrusters that are re­quired for you to reach cer­tain main sto­ry plan­ets. As Zoni ap­pear on most reg­u­lar plan­ets ex­ces­sive grind­ing isn’t re­quired in this ti­tle ei­ther. The op­tion­al mis­sions are not as slick as the main game, but they are still en­joy­able. As is the bat­tle are­na for this game, “The Argonian Battleplex.” This is the type of are­na com­bat we are used to by now in the se­ries, but with a nice lit­tle bit of sto­ry arc in­volv­ing Quark.

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Alister Azimuth

Also re­turn­ing in A Crack in Time, for the first time since Up Your Arsenal, is the Insomniac Museum in its most ex­pan­sive it­er­a­tion to date. To ac­cess the mu­se­um you need to com­plete the game, in­clud­ing an ex­tra boss, and have col­lect­ed all 40 Zoni. This un­locks the Insomniac Moon that you can ac­cess at any time. The mu­se­um even fea­tures a very well-produced and charm­ing be­hind the scenes video from the de­vel­op­ers, as well as the usu­al crop of con­cept art and as­sets that were cut from the game. There is a lot to ex­plore here, in­clud­ing an un­used time puz­zle, a cut hov­er­boot rac­ing mode, and a pro­to­type pro­ce­du­ral­ly gen­er­at­ed plat­form­ing puzzle.

Above all, A Crack in Time re­tained the Ratchet & Clank se­ries’ com­mit­ment to free skins, col­lec­tables, and an ef­fort to not only cre­ate a great and com­plete game, but for the de­vel­op­ers to share their love of gam­ing and some of their de­sign process to boot. This com­mit­ment goes above and be­yond most oth­er de­vel­op­ers, and makes the game shine.

You can hard­ly get a free al­ter­nate skin out of de­vel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers these days in mod­ern HD re­leas­es, so Sony and Insomniac not giv­ing into the nick­le and dime temp­ta­tion here makes the game shine all the brighter. Picking this up to­day you will still get as com­plete of an ex­pe­ri­ence as buy­ing it new on Day One. This is what will make the game con­tin­ue to age well, as many of its con­tem­po­raries al­ready feel in­com­plete and out­dat­ed. We’ve lived in the era of on­line pass­es, mul­ti­play­er serv­er shut­downs, mi­cro­trans­ac­tions, and moun­tains of DLC for far too long. A Crack in Time is only five years old, but it feels like it dates from an­oth­er era — a bet­ter era — of gaming.

As a fan of the Ratchet & Clank se­ries, A Crack in Time was an ab­solute joy and rep­re­sents the pin­na­cle of the se­ries to me. We can ar­gue all day about what the best game was for its time, but the fact re­mains that Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time man­ages to both re­tain all the strong points of the se­ries whilst be­ing a thor­ough­ly mod­ern and ex­pan­sive video game. Everything came to­geth­er well for this one, and gave us a glimpse of a big­ger uni­verse in which the Ratchet & Clank se­ries ex­ists, and one I still hope will get a fit­ting se­quel. But as we will see next week, things didn’t ex­act­ly con­tin­ue on this up­ward tra­jec­to­ry forever.

Favourite Gadget: The Hoverboots

Favourite Weapon: I can fi­nal­ly say the Groovitron Glove

Next time we ven­ture Into the Nexus!

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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