Ratchet and Clank (2016)

Factfile
Developed by: Insomniac Games
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: 2016
Format played: PS4

Ruminations

What makes a great game?

Ask half a dozen people and I suspect you’d get half a dozen different answers. What rocks one person’s boat leaves another stranded out at sea with nary a wisp of a breeze. Indeed it’s almost an impossible question to answer.

Still, as a lifetime gamer and amateur hack, I feel suitably qualified to attempt an answer. Let’s take a look at the criteria.

What’s The Story, Jackanory?

Every game needs a story. What is action without some context within which to frame it? And R&C has a rich narrative history from which to draw.

In a move that would make Tim Burton blush, this 2016 instalment is a reimagining of a film based on the original PS2 game. We follow the adventures of plucky Lombax Ratchet, marooned in a dead end garage but with dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers, an elite force of nefarious villain prevention. Told through the eyes of Ranger supreme Captain Quark, we follow Ratchet as he stumbles across robot Clank, a defective warbot who has escaped the Blarg factory and has set out to warn the Rangers of an imminent attack by the dastardly Chairman Drek.

Our pair of misfit heroes stumble from one crisis to another, righting wrongs, bashing bad guys and duelling with Drek’s forces alongside their Galactic heroes. Their adventures take them across the galaxy, from the dusty plains of Veldin, to the watery vistas of Novalis via the Ranger base on Kerwan.

Starting life on the PS2 way back in 2002, the escapades of the Lombax and his robot chum have carved a path through Sony’s consoles ever since. Sequels would follow each year between 2003 and 2005 before the PS3-based Tools of Destruction in 2007, the first instalment set in the ‘Future’ trilogy and my own personal introduction to the series. Quest for Booty would follow in 2008, a fun little side quest available from the PS store, with A Crack In Time and Into the Nexus completing the PS3 collection in 2009 and 2013 respectively. The PSP wouldn’t miss out either, my second experience with our heroes coming via a Honeymoon / birthday treat to self with Size Matters before Clank took centre stage in 2009’s Secret Agent Clank. Finally offshoots All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault round out the pairs adventures, whilst a remaster of the original trilogy reintroduced PS3 owners to the first games in the series in a collection currently gathering dust on my creaking games shelf. Whoops.

Phew, that’s a lot of games. And it shows with the assured presentation of our major characters. R&C are a splendid pair, presented with a suitable adversary in Drek and chums and rounded out by a colourful cast of supporting characters who each help to populate a world rich in detail.

Yep, no problem with story here. But then a great game needs more than a story. Surely it needs to look the part too.

She’s Got The Look

And once again, our furry friend and cold steeled companion don’t let the side down.

Locations are gloriously rendered. Barely a hint of slowdown appears as you race across the various locations. Levels often begin with you looking over the horizon as the world stretches out before you and the amount of incidental detail is impressive. As Drek’s forces launch their attack, you watch from afar as they go about their business, terrifying the local populace and general being a war mongering menace. Each world feels alive, as if all this action has been going on before you got there and would merrily continue without you.

Ratchet makes a fine protagonist too, just the right mixture of assuredness and likability. Clank meanwhile is everything you would expect to find in a Star Wars Droid, bringing the R2D2 or BB8 vibe to proceedings.

Technical effects abound, from the ripple of the water to the satisfyingly thunky explosions. Your playing area is tightly controlled but rarely do you feel artificially confined, level limits implemented within the context of the art style. Only once did I encounter any mood breaking glitch, the jetpack you acquire midway through the game giving you the ability to soar into the sky and around the level, a subsequent dive back towards dry land resulting in the environment popping back up several pixels at a time. Given the seamless nature of the rest of the experience, and against the context of a device that allows you to stretch the visible playing are to its limit, it feels like a reasonable compromise.

But looks will only get you so far. It’s whats inside that counts. And Ratchet & Clank is full to bursting.

It’s All About The Game

Your gaming environment is a veritable 3D playground. Levels are linear in design – there is always a point that you need to reach – but never stiflingly so and always with an eye on the path less trodden.

Most of the game is spent with Ratchet and whilst base controls don’t change – jump with cross, hit things with square, shoot things with R2 – the devil is in the detail. Your trusty wrench accompanies you throughout, useful not just for whacking enemies but also for triggering switches and smashes boxes, which in turn unleash swarm of bolts, the in-game currency. As the adventure takes shape, so Ratchet’s arsenal evolves. First you gain a basic plasma weapon, then perhaps a lobbed grenade but things soon take a turn for the bizarre. You’ll find you own favourite from a selection that includes the Groovitron (enemies stop attacking you and dance in place to the disco music), Mr Zurkon (a one man army who dispenses Arnie-style one liners as swiftly as fiery justice) and the Sheepinator (turns enemies into, yep, a sheep). Some of them are utterly bonkers and a welcome change of pace from the usual selection of rifles or machine guns that litter similar games.

The extensive range of weapons (add to the above a flamethrower, rocket launcher, sniper rifle and more besides) each have their own strengths and weaknesses and so you’ll find yourself cycling through all of them at some point, even if you tend to favour one or two. Selection is simple, a radial dial brought up from the triangle button, or you can assign your favourites to the d-pad. There is even an RPG-lite element as each of the weapons offers an upgrade tree, improvements to efficiency, range, ammo and more paid for with Raritanium stashed throughout the game world. The choice then is yours whether to focus on building up one particular weapon or to spread the wealth, creating a more balanced arsenal of death. Although to be fair I found it all slightly pointless. I didn’t pay too much attention to how and what I was upgrading and simply went all in on my four or five go to tools of destruction. And anyway, by the end of the game I hard largely upgraded all of them to full capacity.

Of course if you have a personal arsenal of death then you need something to shoot it at and Drek’s forces don’t disappoint. From snapping metal dogs to armour laden warbots to dirty great ships and everything in between, R&C have their work cut out for them.

But it’s not just about fighting, it’s about exploring and having fun too. Some levels include sections linked by Grindrails, requiring you to strap on your grind boots and ride the rails to get to the next section. It starts off simply enough by by the time you’re hopping over electric fences, bashing away bombs and hopping tracks to avoid trains, it becomes pretty intense. Staying on your feet, you get to take part in hoverboard races too, yours truly retiring after an impeccable, undefeated streak.

But why not take to the seas and explore the depths? It’s made all the easier once you pick up the breathing apparatus that gives you unlimited time in the drink. Or how about taking to the air with your jetpack, or dog fighting in the skies above the ransacked city.

These sections aren’t just mindless distractions either. Away from the story, part of the fun of the adventure is heading off the beaten track to hunt down extras. Finding crates serves a practical purpose; the more you smash, the more bolts you get and the more weapons you can buy. Similarly Raritanium deposits are always worth hunting down to pursue those upgrades. Beyond that, each level hides one or more Gold Bolts, stashed away in fiendish areas, much like the gold or power bricks from the Lego games. Plus there are Holocards to collect throughout. One set in particular gives you access to a special weapon whilst others give you upgrades to Raritanium pick ups and the like. Bonuses aside, they are a fun diversion to keep you on your toes throughout the adventure.

Don’t Try To Be A Great Game. Just Be A Game, And Let History Make It’s Own Judgement

And ultimately that’s what it’s all about. The secret to what makes a truly great game. Sure, a decent story helps. Yeah, it’s always nice if it’s a looker. And it definitely helps if the gameplay is varied and challenging. But it’s all for naught if the game doesn’t have that one simple ingredient that ties it all together, that takes a title from good to great.

Fun.

That’s what makes a game. And it’s here where Ratchet & Clank excels. It is simply great fun.

Perhaps it’s the gloriously over the top voice acting as Drek and co serve up enough ham to keep Subway in business. Maybe it’s the way that enemies see what weapons you’re packing and call out their dismay as you run in blasting. Or how about the way that Clank offers you helpful little tips from on your back. Or just the way the story is told from the perspective of Captain Quark, the self justifying egomaniac who not only disparages your ability but mocks you with asides under the guise of hints, reminding you to breath underwater and such like.

Bottom Line

It would be nice to have sprint button. I could do without seeing the same animation everytime you step out of your ship. And a two player mode wouldn’t go amiss, especially given that the whole premise of the game is built around two distinct characters. But these are minor quibbles.

Ratchet and Clank is a great biog dollop of unadulterated joy. A game that knows the most important part of the experience is to simply have fun.

9/10

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