Forget the Gravity Gun, the Portal Gun or the BFG – if you want really interesting weaponry, you need look no further than Insomniac’s long-running Ratchet & Clank series. From guns that suck up and deposit pools of water, to mini nuclear rocket launchers and deadly plasma whips – if you can dream it up and put a trigger on it, there’s a safe bet that Insomniac have thought of it and tried to incorporate it somewhere.
Less well known than Jak & Daxter (which I find almost completely backwards), Sony’s other action-platforming duo totally out-performed the competition in the first three games, at least. While recent efforts All 4 One and Q-Force (or Full Frontal Assault to some) were less successful despite their attempts to integrate 4-player co-op and tower defence respectively, the original trilogy was near perfect in the PS2 days – a trend that continued through the subsequent releases right up until 2009’s A Crack in Time, often considered the last great Ratchet & Clank game.
Twelve years and over a dozen games on from the original 2002 release, Sony and Insomniac (in conjunction with Idol Minds and Mass Media Inc.) have brought the first three games (Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando and Ratchet & Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal) to PlayStation 3 and Vita. Quite unsurprisingly, they’re just as playable and just as likable as they were the first time around.
It’s a testament to Insomniac’s design that even the first game doesn’t feel particularly dated when played now. There are giveaways, certainly, like using Triangle to back up in menus – which always feels alien when we all know that Circle is the universal “back” button – and the cutscenes have a grainy and lethargic quality left-over from the PS2 originals. But the gameplay… Oh, my. The gameplay is still sublime.
The first game wastes no time throwing together the two heroes – defective robot Clank, created with more brains than brawn and wise-cracking mechanic Ratchet, always ready for an adventure – and from then on it’s a race to save the galaxy from the evil Chairman Drek, who plans to steal the best parts of inhabited planets to make a Frankenstein-like super-world. Yes, the premise is bonkers, but that’s the entire point. The sense of humour – sometimes puerile, often sarcastic and always aimed at players a few years higher than the age-rating would suggest – is a constant companion, wrapping itself around every facet of the series from the enemies and weapons to the script and characterisation.
The template remains mostly untouched throughout the trilogy: you take control of Ratchet and travel the galaxy with Clank completing side missions and pursuing the main story, while obsessively collecting the nuts and bolts that act as the universe’s currency. This is then used to buy new weapons with which to experiment and open up new areas. The puzzle element is kept light and unobtrusive, and the first two titles have a checkpoint system that make them both fairly simple endeavours. In Up Your Arsenal the checkpoints become slightly less fair to the point of occasional mild frustration – but it’s well compensated for in other areas, with improved aesthetics, tighter controls and more variety in enemies and locations.
Presented in a trilogy package, it actually makes good sense to play all three games as one continuous campaign. Each title is an evolution of the one before it rather than a great leap forward, offering newer, zanier weapons and more interesting predicaments for the heroes. For example, Going Commando introduces a levelling system for each individual gun, increasing their effectiveness with use. It adds a tactical sheen to the melee and ranged combat and resource gathering that can make it genuinely tough to decide between using a cool new gun and levelling up an old favourite. The core mechanics don’t alter much at all from one adventure to the next, mixing jumping and swinging with heaps of combat and side missions designed to break up potential monotony (races and arenas both feature as distracting highlights).
As with all great buddy-buddy action-platformers, the real stars of the show are the two leads themselves. The relationship between Ratchet & Clank begins out of necessity and grows into a powerful partnership, aided by a supporting cast of hammy evil villains and bumbling sidekicks (galactic hero Captain Qwark being a firm favourite). Their world is as media-driven as our own, and watching them become celebrity heroes living off the fame of their adventures is incredibly entertaining. The clever script and likeable cast combine as not only the icing on the cake, but also the creamy fondant that holds the whole glorious, sticky mess together.
VERDICT: Quite frankly, each game in the Ratchet & Clank trilogy is as charming and playable now as it was when first released. They won’t really tax experienced gamers, and there is a risk of repetition should you play often and for long periods, but overall there’s enough quality content here to keep you going for a good long while. All Sony need to do now is release a second trilogy bundle containing Tools of Destruction, Quest for Booty and A Crack in Time and my life will be complete.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.