Future perfect

Ratchet and Clank explore new horizons
Rating: 3.5 stars
November 27, 2007 1:37:20 PM

VIDEO: The trailer for Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

PlayStation 3 owners have had a rough go of it. Over the past year, we’ve been mocked on message boards and belittled in blog posts. The worst of it is, our detractors have been right. What few exclusive games we’ve gotten since launch have been decent but incomplete at best (MotorStorm, Heavenly Sword); at worst they’ve been flaming dung heaps (Lair). Deliverance has arrived: Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction marks the first foray into the next generation for one of Sony’s most popular franchises. Marrying tried-and-true platforming gameplay with hi-def graphics that are knocking ’em dead at the demo kiosks, this is at last the game that has left PS3 critics speechless.

Any discussion of Ratchet and Clank Future has to start with the visuals, Exhibit A for the argument that graphical horsepower is best employed in the service of the fantastic. Insomniac Games has crafted vibrant, imaginative worlds that run the gamut from prehistoric boglands to futuristic cities with gleaming skyscrapers that reach to the heavens. The developers don’t repeat themselves much, giving each planet its own color palette and ecosystem. The environments are so lush and solidly constructed, you’d be forgiven for not realizing at first how interactive they are. I spent a few minutes ogling some brontosaurus-like creatures before discovering that Ratchet could climb the armor plates running from their tails to their heads. This sense of scale was simply not possible in prior Ratchet games.

The production works on the micro level, too. No matter how many millions of polygons a developer can cram into one frame of animation, there will always be something unnerving about a virtual human face. Ratchet and Clank have no such problems. They’re characters with character: Ratchet is a catlike biped called a Lombax, and Clank is a sarcastic little machine. The optimistic, reckless Ratchet and the caustic, logical Clank are the quintessential comic duo. Their continual tiffs are packed with repartee and absurdist humor. (In a typical exchange, Clank upbraids Ratchet for having once invented electro-shock undergarments; Ratchet sighs proudly and murmurs, “Stunderwear!”) It’s fun just spending time with them.

It’s also fun blowing stuff up with them. Not much has changed from previous Ratchet and Clank games — which in this case is a good thing. Ratchet acquires more than a dozen weapons during the course of the game, each of which can be massively upgraded. A device that starts off emitting a dinky whirlwind eventually becomes capable of generating an all-consuming tornado that deals blasts of lightning for good measure. Given that dozens of foes can be on screen at one time, firepower is important. Only the few boss battles are less than stellar: they don’t require much in the way of strategy, and most of the bosses can be dispatched simply by running in circles and hitting the fire button as fast as you can.

To keep things interesting, Insomniac has interspersed some extra gameplay modes between the run-and-gun levels. A few on-rails space-shooting sequences are notable mostly for looking even prettier than the rest of the game, and a handful of missions in which you control Clank fail to live up to the antic escapades of the main game. Ratchet and Clank Future experiments with the motion sensitivity of the SIXAXIS controller, though the contexts — including flying sequences and a ball-rolling mini-game — suggest that such things are best done sparingly.

For all Sony’s bluster that the PlayStation 3 was the future of gaming, it turns out that what was really needed to attract gamers was a throwback action adventure like Ratchet and Clank Future. PS3 owners now have something to point to with a smile.


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