Review by AK_the_Twilight

"A Crack in Time needs just that: more time."

The Ratchet and Clank series has been a cornerstone in the Insomniac household since its inception long ago in the days of the Playstation 2. It was one of the first big 3D platformers to put a serious emphasis on action and shooting combat in addition to the traditional jumping mechanics. Thanks to some memorable characters and intense third-person action, the series grew into a runaway hit for Sony. While Insomniac surprised everyone with a new series in Resistance, the company continued to release new installments in the Ratchet and Clank series on Playstation 3. Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time captures all of the inventiveness and white-knuckle action that the series has been known for, but it also shows that this aging series is running low on steam, especially when the adventure is over so quickly.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time picks up with Clank kidnapped and Ratchet without a clue where to find him. The Lombax hero teams up with the comic relief spaceman Captain Qwark, but the two crash land on a distant planet while looking for a mysterious source that could help them in their search. Ratchet teams up with the source, a Lombax named General Azimuth who claims to know about Ratchet's family. On the other side of the story, Clank is imprisoned by long-time enemy Dr. Nefarious, who aims to use Clank for his own evil doings. Turns out Clank is a key component in the function of a mechanical body called The Great Clock, and the original creator of the body designed him to keep time (and the Universe) running smoothly. Clank is informed by the creator's assistant Sigmund, while Ratchet scours the cosmos for his friend. The story is exceptionally deep, especially considering the stories in past Ratchet and Clank games. You really do feel a tug-of-war between the characters' motives: while Ratchet is out to save his best friend, Clank is gaining powerful responsibilities. It's touching, really, and shows that the series can have its strong serious moments too. However, the humor that has long since permeated the Ratchet and Clank series wanes in A Crack in Time. You won't find many laugh-out-loud characters aside from Qwark and Nefarious, and even their goofy dialogue feels strained this time around. As the story has grown from humble beginnings into a tremendously scoped space narrative, the Ratchet and Clank series was bound to transcend the goofy humor of its past. Like a child coming of age, A Crack in Time is this series growing up and shedding the funny moments in favor of a bigger, more universal mood.

A Crack in Time is divided into two main sections of gameplay: Ratchet's action-shooter-platformer sequences and Clank's timing-based-puzzle stages. Ratchet's stages are traditional Ratchet and Clank levels. Ratchet earns weapons and gadgets, gains experience, modifies the weapons' functions, and delivers a burst of explosive power to enemies. If you've played past games in the series, you'll feel right at home. Ratchet is equipped with only a few weapons at the start, but weapon shops allow him to spend collectible Bolts on new armaments. The different guns range from the standard pistol, bombs, and rifles to the more abstract, like the Groovinator (which makes nearby enemies start dancing instead of attacking). The weapons gather experience with use and eventually gain better stats in things like damage, capacity, or range. The guns are fun to use and don't feel any less wieldable than past games in the series, but compared to the weapons seen in past Ratchet and Clank titles, they fall a bit short. For each creative gun, there is one that just doesn't fit the bill. Some weapons are a pain to level up, while others will likely be standard use. The ability to customize the effects of Constructo weapons like the pistol and bomb are welcome, but considering that you can't customize every weapon in your arsenal, you're bound to get tired of the disappointingly boring collection of guns.

The design of Ratchet's stages varies up well. Ratchet will take out enemies with his weapons, dart across canyons on his Hover Boots, and even solve a puzzle or two. The diversity is collectively solid, but the shooting just doesn't have the longevity as the jumping and rail grinding does. The underwhelming weapon arsenal may contribute, but Ratchet's stages feel longer than they need to be. The gadgets that Ratchet earns while exploring space keep things moving forward, but the shooting sequences just feel tedious after a while. They just barely miss their perfect time mark, too, so it's all the more disappointing. If you loved the last few games in the series, Ratchet's stages will keep you enthralled, even through the tedium. Anyone else will find Ratchet's levels to drag on just a bit too long.

In contrast to the action and shooting, Clank's stages involve time manipulation and puzzle solving. Using the Scepter of Time, Clank can use special time-related skills to progress through The Great Clock. Simple moves like Time Bombs that slow down speedy platforms and the ability to rewind projectiles back at their origins are cool, but the intricate recording puzzles are what truly make Clank's stages enjoyable. Using Time Pads, Clank can record himself completing actions, which can then be replayed while Clank makes other motions. These puzzles are quite challenging and prove to be healthy mixes of platforming and brain teasers. Once the whole thing comes together, Clank is rewarded with a rain of Bolts. Clank's stages are some of the best-designed sequences in the game, so it's a shame that you don't get to try out more of these mind-bending challenges by the game's end. The imbalance between Ratchet's stages and Clank's is noticeably intrusive, especially considering how creatively constructed Clank's puzzles turn out to be.

As far as side-missions, many favorites return. The challenges available at the local gladiator championship offer fun ways to refine skills with weaponry and the miniscule planetoids that hover around each space sector are welcome distractions. Zoni creatures, Constructo Mods for weapons, Gold Bolts for cash, and even hidden weapon schematics are scattered throughout the game. Sadly, though, the main storyline is far too short. It's possible to complete the game in less than eight hours. Though it has some fun distractions, A Crack in Time is just too short to really revel in its game design. The combat remains fresh and interesting and Clank's levels are incredibly fun to complete, but right when the game shows its most complex and exciting moments, it reaches a painfully early conclusion.

Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time is a great way to show a hard-hitting, action-packed platformer without taxing the system. While the PS2 Ratchet and Clank titles had noticeable frame rate issues during the heat of combat, A Crack in Time has none. Even when thousands of bolts scatter the landscape, there are zero moments when the game slows down because of it. The technical refinements are only the start. The cartoony cutscenes return with some funny designs and animations. The overly dramatic actions of Dr. Nefarious, the goofy swagger of Captain Qwark; they all show character. The sound backs up the animation with the same phenomenal voice acting that Insomniac has given this series since its creation. Even the new characters like Great Clock assistant Sigmund (voiced by none other than Nathan Drake himself, Nolan North) feel original and give the series some fantastic new faces to laugh along with. It's great to see such immense character in these aging roles; A Crack in Time delivers the same high quality presentation that the series has always had.

Pros
+ Ratchet's action levels are intense and full of shooting fun
+ Clank's time puzzle stages are inventive, challenging, and thoroughly rewarding
+ A solid amount of side missions and planetoids to uncover
+ Memorable storyline with some truly emotional moments

Cons
- Ratchet's levels seem to stretch on just a bit too long
- Could've used more experimentation in the weapon design
- Sense of humor dulls early on
- Absurdly short campaign

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time is another solid installment in the venerable series, but it can't help but emit an aging vibe. Some unexciting weapon designs and an eroding sense of humor are minor issues, but a gameplay imbalance between Ratchet and Clank's respective stages really get in the way. They are both fantastically constructed, but oddly paced. It would've been much better to see what other time-bending brain teasers Insomniac could come up with. The biggest issue by far, however, is the short length. Right when you really start enjoying the weaving narrative and combat, the game ends. With the series slowly disappearing from Insomniac's frontlines, Ratchet and Clank still prove that there is fun in blasting the hell out of enemies. Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time takes some risks, keeps its best aspects out in front, and delivers a rich narrative all at once. It's well worth playing, even if it's only for a short while.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/19/11

Game Release: Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (US, 10/27/09)


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