With another generation of consoles almost upon us, Insomniac have seen fit to sign off on Ratchet & Clank PS3-wise with a trilogy-ender heavily influenced by the original Playstation 2 jaunts. This is by no means a bad thing. By returning to what made the originals so much fun, and throwing in a few nice new gadgets and tricks, they have created a bright, breezy adventure that is short, sweet and accessible, and with a sensible price point to boot.
Unless you have played the preceding two installments or are familiar with the Ratchet & Clank universe in general, the plot here is likely to leave you scratching your head in places. Thank goodness then that the characterisation is warm and affable, the script sharp and entertaining, and the story – of an imprisoned villainess attempting to unleash ethereal beings known as Nethers (chortle) forth from another dimension – is a hoot.
Proceedings kick off at a cracking old pace. This isnt a game that is going to bore you rigid with lengthy tutorials – within a few minutes you are using newly-found abilities that come at you thick and fast to walk in gravity-defying fashion around a huge spacecraft, avoiding a meteor shower and battling enemies with your wrench, all the while racking up the nuts and bolts, destroying scenery and just having a whale of a time. The controls are incredibly simple and intuitive – most of the moves are via a simple L/R1 modifier with the press of a face button. Choosing between weapons is as easy as holding down triangle and moving the left analogue stick toward your gadget of choice.
And what gadgetry! The weapons have always been Ratchet’s strongest suit, and there are some corkers here. Ever wanted to freeze an enemy into an actual snowman? No problem with the Winterizer, which even throws in a little burst of Jingle Bells just to set things off nicely as you pulverise the snowmen around you to smithereens. Just as inventive is the Nightmare Box, a sort of decoy device that either scares the b’Jesus out of your enemies or entices them closer before exploding. Seeing a grunt flee in terror as an horrific toothsome skull pops up in front of them is a moment of pure comedy that you will never tire of.
The list of weapons is large enough to give a genuine sense of variety, without overwhelming the player with too many unnecessary options. Levelling up is actually fun, too. XP is earned just by using any particular side-arm, however you can also purchase upgrades with the Raritanium crystals dotted around the landscape on an RPG-style branching grid that allows you to pimp each shooter with tasty upgrades like a bigger clip, or quicker rate of fire. The upgrades feel satisfying – imagine the delight when your bog standard weapon, the Omniblaster, suddenly levels up and you find Ratchet dual-wielding a pair of them.
The new additions to firepower are joined by some similarly fun gizmos that have a bearing on how the likeable Lombax gets around. A gravity gun called the Grav-Tether allows you to create teleportation streams from designated points around the map. This leads to some mild puzzling, as the stream will flow, and thus carry you from the first target point to the second. Sometimes you will need to create more than one stream, and are suddenly given a time limit to set them all up. Most of the tools at your disposal seem to revolve around the effects of gravity, and this stream-creating doozy is joined by the always-fun jetpack and hoverboots, but also the magnetic Gravity Boots that allow you to remain upright in some crazy situations, or leap forward from one magnetic area to another using a handy L1 targeting system.
Gravity forms the basis of another new-to-the-series exclusive. Clank is given his own chance to shine by the inclusion of the Rift Cracker – a device that allows the little fella to slip into his own puzzly 2D platform sections. While not as fleshed out as the superb indie title, the first thing you think of when taking control of Clank is VVVVVV - there’s no escaping that. But these puzzle-lite sections are a decent distraction, as you use the right stick to flip polarity and guide the robot around a maze-like environment, with the aim of getting a dozing Nether Beast back into the real world by coaxing it toward the rift you have torn in the fabric of space and time.
This isn’t a huge game, clocking in at a tight 5-ish hours. The standard Hero difficulty isn’t particularly taxing, but there is an opportunity to play it through on a harder New Game+ mode, which allows you to begin your adventure with the powered-up weapons from your previous adventure, and gives you the chance to unlock the uber-powerful Omega weapons. What you do get in your main playthrough is brilliant fun. There are some dazzling set-pieces in some truly beautiful and diverse settings. You get some wild arena combat trials in the form of Destructapalooza. The lure of finding all of the Golden Bolts, or indeed just smashing things to pick up the bog-standard ones, is strong. And those weapons upgrades are so splendid that it would simply be rude not to try and get them all, so repeated playthroughs to make sure you didn’t miss any of the precious Raritarium become enticing.
VERDICT: For a budget price you get to spend some quality pre-PS4 time saying goodbye to the last generation – and indeed Insomniac themselves where Sony are concerned – with a perfect encapsulation of what made Ratchet & Clank one of the company’s notable first party success stories. Intuitive controls, excellent pacing, a smart script and sublime visuals mean there is much fun to be had here. If this is the last time we get to control Ratchet and his robot buddy, then it’s a rock-solid way to go out.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.