Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Plot: As an evil tyrant is destroying planets, a self-aware robot servant, Clank, breaks away from his army to get help, bumping into a mechanic with a longing for adventure.
While the solid classics come from the earlier days of the Playstation 1, there is something to said for the days of the PS2. Game developers were suddenly given an exciting chance to push the boat out for their products. While PS1 games are fairly linear with clear limitations in what the game can bring to the table, with the PS2, the larger memory meant better graphics and more advanced gameplay. This brought about the next generation of platformers, such as Ratchet and Clank, brought from the same studios that gave us Spyro the Dragon.
There are a handful of issues that simply come from playing a game this old. The main problem for me was the same frustrating issue that really lets down the old Spyro the Dragon series from the same company. As you are playing, sometimes the camera tries to predict the motion you are taking and continues a circular whirling motion around the character. It is quite often very counter-intuitive and the sort of thing you wished Insomniac Games had figured out by now, especially as it is one of the only flaws their style has. The first few levels of Ratchet and Clank hardly scream that Insomniac Games are moving with the times in the same way their competitors had. In fairness, there does seem to be a half-hearted attempt to rectify the issue by popping into the options menu and fiddling with the camera style. Sadly your two options aren’t ideal. You can either keep the floating camera as it is and have it speed around in a heartbeat. This means that when you are in a panic, you can accidentally end up spinning around, a very disorientating experience, especially when you are in a hectic firefight. The slightly better option is the slow this movement right down. It makes the motion a tad easier to control, or at least to rectify that little bit faster, but it still feels awkward. While the dizzying spin is cut out, if a bad guy is lucky to get behind you (and it is always those tiny, theoretically-easy-to-kill ones), it can get a good few chomps out of your health bar, before the camera finally finishes its cumbersome pan to the viewpoint you want it to get to. It’s not just the angle, but the aiming. It’s a good thing Ratchet seems quite proficient with his melee weapon (a Wrench – which doesn’t sound particularly powerful, but does the job rather nicely), because anything that requires aiming is a frustrating experience. The Blaster refuses to lock onto much and with such a frantic gameplay style, slowing down to aim properly is rarely an option. Combining the spinning camera and the shoddy aiming system and you are in for a downright miserable gaming experience as a relatively easy fight turns into a chaotic scramble for survival. Hardly the casual platformer experience you imagine Insomniac Games envisioned.
Yet Ratchet and Clank still emerges a resounding success. The gameplay might be a tad ropey with the usual platformer issues of your hero randomly stepping to the left and falling into lava for no discernible reason, but the world surrounding Ratchet and Clank more than makes up for it. The level design of this game is astonishingly clever, some of the best map design I have seen from a game in a long while. It seems fairly basic in the opening few moments of Ratchet and Clank. You are thrown into a planet and there are often two or three paths to get to objectives. The paths are often stock platformer material, with a combination of bad guys and obstacles. The end of these paths are either an Infobot, providing coordinates to the next planet (level), or a gadget that can help you with your mission. However, as you descend further into the game, you realise that gadgets obtained in the later sections of Ratchet and Clank actually help you return to an older level and come at it from a new angle. One planet, Orxon, is heavily polluted, and only Clank, a pint-sized robot, can access it. However, if you return later with an oxygen mask, you can approach the level as Ratchet, suddenly able to traverse the more dangerous areas. And that is the standard main mission. By the time you add in the other secrets (Gold Bolts, Skill Points), you open up a new can of worms entirely. That odd looking feature in the first level actually might be the exact thing a gadget in the last level needs to be opened. It adds this diversity to Ratchet and Clank that really pushes the boundaries of what a platformer can be. Speaking of diversity, the types of level that this game has to offer is quite exciting. When the game looks like it has peaked, it finds a new way to push the gamer. Even frustrating levels like sneaking through some tough, sleeper monsters in Orxon without waking them up, or being disguised as a robot to sneak through a secure facility, doesn’t feel stale, because of how many new twists the developers put into it. And it makes the moments where you get to turn Clank into a giant, mega-robot all the more satisfying.
Ratchet and Clank is quite progressive in a lot of places, only now, when the rest of the gaming world has caught up, it is hard to realise. Compare Ratchet and Clank’s storyline to the likes of Crash Bandicoot. Crash got by with colours, cartoon characters and a story that suited the level structure. With Ratchet and Clank, we have a much larger story. It isn’t Metal Gear Solid levels of narrative, but it has morals and messages. There is a clear debate about what defines a hero and the bad guy’s plot, revolving around pollution, stops and make you think. The characters are also more diverse. Do not let the cover’s loveable raccoon alien or adorable miniature robot fool you! Ratchet and Clank are more than the pretty new craze on the block. Clank is a decent hero trying to do good, despite being a tiny creature in a world of scary bad guys. And Ratchet is an updated version of Luke Skywalker: a wasted soul on a backwater planet, illusions of heroism that needs to be refined into the true makings of a good person.
Final Verdict: Ratchet and Clank remains a clever, enjoyable gaming experience, boasting a vibrant map with intelligence bursting from every corner.