What would you do if suddenly, out of the blue, someone wanted you to drop everything and accompany him or her on a mission of global importance. You’d travel to exotic lands, acquire artifacts to help you on your quest, and face off against scores of enemies bent on eliminating anyone in their way. Fortunately, you wouldn’t be alone, because you’d have a sidekick who’d help you gather information and defeat opponents. Would you be able to rise to the task and become a famous hero? Sony poses that question with its latest action title, Ratchet and Clank.
The game’s eponymous characters are radically different in terms of personality and background. Ratchet, the larger of the duo, is a catlike alien mechanic who loves tinkering with machines and ships. Clank, by contrast, is a diminutive robot that can interface with any computer or droid. Marked as a defective unit and slated for destruction, Clank commandeers a ship and escapes from a factory, only to be hotly pursued and shot out of space. Crash-landing in Ratchet’s backyard, Clank quickly relates a tale of galactic conquest and destruction by the hands of Chairman Drek. An evil, unscrupulous alien, his plans of universal domination involve building a new homeworld from chunks of smashed planets. Begging Ratchet’s help to find the cosmos’ superhero, Captain Quark, Clank promises to aid Ratchet with his ship’s mechanical problems. Thus, a great friendship is born, and what both of them will discover is that even everyday individuals can become heroes.
To illustrate this fact, Ratchet and Clank find themselves leaping from planet to planet, seeking ways to undo or prevent the damage that Drek has done through the galaxy. However, neither one has superpowers or regenerative abilities; they can’t summon creatures or perform incredible feats of strength or agility (at least, not immediately). In fact, Ratchet’s lone protection from the aliens, robots and other creatures that seek to kill him and his partner is his trusty … wrench. Are you kidding? A wrench? What the hell is that for, you may ask? Well, for one, you have to remember that Ratchet is a gearhead who wouldn’t be caught dead without a tool in his possession. In fact, he’s so skilled with his wrench that he can swing it as a club or use it as a boomerang.
Wielded successfully against enemies yields a collection of nuts and bolts, the universe’s equivalent of currency. These bolts can be redeemed in at Gadgetron vendors or other characters scattered across the galaxy for weaponry or ammunition. Overall, 35 weapons and gadgets are available throughout the game. Futuristic, powerful, and incredibly zany, some of these items completely challenge the traditional concept of armaments. Sure, some are pretty straightforward, such as the Pyrociter, an overgrown flamethrower, or the Blaster, a.k.a. the stereotypical space gun. However, the stars of the game are the oddball weapons, such as the Suck Cannon. The Suck Cannon does exactly what its name suggests: Sucks enemies into a chamber with a vacuum-like suction. However, these foes are then converted into explosive projectiles that can be fired like rockets from the cannon. Bolts can also be redeemed for gadgets, such as Magneboots that enable Ratchet to walk up walls, or Heli-packs installed in Clank that enable the duo to leap higher and farther than before.
Ratchet and Clank is a representation of just how beautiful a next generation game can, and should be. Huge, sprawling worlds filled with impressive backgrounds and clean textures gives each planet a life of its own. Distinctive in presentation, there isn’t a single backdrop that’s repeated from world to world. So, for instance, the pastoral world of Novalis appears radically different than the metropolitan world of Kerwan. With an imperceptible draw-in rate, you’ll be able to see for what seems like miles, especially when you climb peaks, ledges and other edifices to get a look at your surroundings. Crisp, clean particle effects, along with accurate water physics boost the action within settings.
Packed along with these gorgeous settings is a solid framerate that never, and I repeat, never suffers from slowdown. This might not seem like a large statement to make, since you hope that never happens in platformers. However, if you take into account the massive numbers of enemies that you’ll face on screen, each firing projectiles, releasing bolts when destroyed, and avoiding shots from Ratchet, while still displaying background action at the same 60 frames per second, this becomes a much more remarkable attribute. Character models within the game, from the lowliest enemy to Ratchet, Clank and Drek are animated very well. Facial animations display changing emotions realistically. This is particularly highlighted within the cutscenes, which are nicely rendered and smoothly included within play, often seamlessly playing and ending without a massive disruption in action.
Augmenting the game and the cutscenes is the sound effects and voice over work, which comes across nicely. Ratchet has an appropriately “eager for adventure” tone to his voice, while Clank’s optimism, know-it-all attitude and intelligence is nicely represented. Musically, the soundtrack to Ratchet and Clank is well done, with different musical pieces accompanying each level, supplementing each world’s unique levels and environments. Boosted by Dolby Pro Logic II sound, you’ll be able to detect explosions, weapons fire and other effects occurring behind Ratchet if you have the proper audio setup to support it.
Even if you don’t have the proper audio setup, you’ll still notice an incredible amount of action within Ratchet and Clank, some that redefines the action platformer genre. Like I said earlier, the worlds are large and expansive, with huge, action filled scenery. Without giving too much away about the plot, what is really cool about Ratchet and Clank is that there are multiple ways of exploring each world, all of which circularly feed back into each other, so there’s never a fear of missing or going the wrong way. Featuring at least two paths, this gives tons of opportunities to make your own strategies up as you go along. You’ll find that comes into play with weapon usage as well. Discounting the gadgets that aid you in puzzle solving or level exploration, there are plenty of weapons left for enemy destruction. While some are more effective than others, the strategy comes in figuring out which ones are best for what situation. For example, using the Glove of Doom as a defensive measure might be good to protect you against attackers when you’re running low on health, but if you’re not careful, you’ll waste all of your ammunition before you run into a swarm of enemies, making your progress a lot tougher.
Instead of the typical platformer conventions, Ratchet and Clank seek to add innovation within the genre. You’ll still receive missions and tasks for each level, and sometimes you won’t have to return to previously visited worlds unless you’re looking for hidden secrets or mining for bolts. However, there are a few twists that the designers have placed within the game. For example, there are moments, a la Banjo-Kazooie, where Ratchet will take a backseat to Clank, primarily because of his size or his robotic expertise. Many of these situations involve Clank manipulating smaller robots that will run into service doors to activate hidden switches, or sacrifice themselves against larger opponents willingly. Creatively placing the buddy system on a tilt, this smaller robot scenario is really cool to see in action, especially the first time that you see five of them take on a much larger droid.
The few problems that you might find with the game are rather minor. For example, while you’ll find that you’ll receive new missions or objectives within a world, there are moments where figuring out what you’ll need to do can sometimes be a little obscure. This seems a little odd considering that the explanation of items and other situations are very good, but you may get a little confused as to what exactly your next move is going to be, especially if you don’t find the infobot you’ll need to open up the next world. The other one is the AI, which suffers from a certain amount of predictability. Most enemies seem to follow the typical setup of moving along a set path, responding merely when you’re within a certain area and resetting to their original behavior when you exit the vicinity. However, there are a few, such as the proximity mines, that will doggedly follow you once they’ve acquired you as a target. It’s an odd mix of AI that is a little distracting.
Overall, Ratchet and Clank is the kind of game that any gamer would want in their library, whether it’s as a holiday present or as a gift to yourself. Revamping the action platformer genre with plenty of action, wacky, impressive gadgets and an interesting storyline, this is what the future of action games should be. If you’ve got a PS2, get your hands on this one.