As a huge fan of the Ratchet and Clank franchise, and having played all the previous titles, your humble reviewer was quite excited to have this new title land on my desk - hot off the press from our friends at Sony. So how does it compare to the previous versions, and also... does it stand alone as a good game for newbies?
Ratchet and Clank (R&C) have been marquee stars for the PlayStation 2 & 3. The seven previous titles released on the platforms have sold well and rated very highly with fans and critics alike, since the first title released in 2002.
The popularity of the series has relied upon lighthearted stories, hilarious voice acting, fast paced action, decent gameplay with surprisingly good fighting mechanics, and - of course - the likable characters. But probably the biggest point of difference for R&C is weapons...yes, sweet, sweet weapons. You can purchase, upgrade and extend your arsenal as you progress through the game, and to suit your own preferences.
Although the weapons have varied from game to game, there are always three standard categories: the more serious standard weapons (such as rifles, blasters and grenades), the in-betweeners (tesla claws, decoys, and laser whips), and then the comedy weapons (which include such recent gems as the hilarious disco ball launcher, which makes all enemies in the vicinity stop attacking you and start disco dancing, so you can pick them off at your leisure.)
So what’s the story? Like the last few R&C games, the game kicks off with a documentary style interview film of the characters. The voice acting is hilarious and perfectly timed, and adds a real cinematic punch to the whole game. The ever brilliant (in his own mind anyway) Quark has brought his usual genius to the table, and basically doomed everyone - unless Ratchet and Clank step in and help out.
Due to a comedy of errors, our heroes - and Quark - end up getting stranded on a planet with none other than arch nemesis Dr Nefarious. So we’re all going to have to work together to get off this rock... in more ways than one.
You can play the four characters with 1-4 carbon based lifeforms. Assuming you have friends, of course... none were included with our review copy.
If you have two people, you can choose two characters to play and work together, and if you want to play alone, you get an AI pal to play Clank to your Ratchet throughout the game. Cutting the story down to feature the two characters only is a very good idea, and cuts down on the potential frustration of playing with three computer characters, because the AI is generally pretty good, but not perfect.
There’s a couple of places where it’d be nice to say “Hey, over here!!! Use the vacuum, Clank!” like you could to a human team mate. Instead of watching him stand there, saying “I think we should use the vacuum” in a maddeningly calm voice. “I know,” you find yourself snarling at the screen, “I’d like YOU to do it, since I need to lift up the platform to get you there!!!!!”
To be fair, these little ‘features’ are in the minority, and as stated, generally the AI character figures out what’s required pretty quickly.
So how does it run? When you first slip the disc in, it installs content to your HDD, which seems to take a very long time (between 5-10 mins). Once this is done, however, the game skips along pretty quickly, so doing this once at the beginning appears to cut down the waiting you might otherwise have to do between levels, etc.
There are some differences between this and the previous games (the co-op for one!), like the introduction of ammo pads, and frustratingly, the controls are different. For example, it takes a long time to stop accidentally hitting the weapon selection menu using the right stick, which previously used to control the camera.
It was quite the adjustment period, and as a player who recently replayed R&C: Crack in Time, my skills were not too rusty, so I would have expected to be able to slip into the new game a little more easily than I did.
Multiplayer is a completely different kettle of fish, however. This is clearly the mode this title was designed to be played in, and it’s good fun. Lots of laughs are to be had with your buddies, but still with enough challenge to keep you interested in playing the whole way through. And the game stands side by side in the look, feel, and warmth department with the previous titles, so fans of the series won’t be disappointed.
As with any game with multiple players on screen at any one time, there are drawbacks. Not being able to see yourself in the middle of a firefight for one, and not being able to see your weapons menu either - because it’s hidden under your buddy’s weapon menu.
The pictures of weapons in the tiny little covered up menu (which pops up around your character when you use it) become really, really small when you play with other people, and it’s probably easier to actually memorise where your weapons are on the wheel, rather than try and find them amidst the chaos.
The controls definitely aren’t as good either, and it makes you feel a bit inadequate as a gamer. This is largely because you can’t see where you’re going, what you’re doing, and - in the heat of battle - you can’t even see what you’re doing enough to change your weapon, or you find yourself flung into a tricky situation while you've still got a non-combat "weapon" selected (by necessity).
It also suffers from the - seemingly unavoidable - issues that spring from having up to four players on the one screen. You can easily “drop off” an edge, while the other characters race ahead and leave you behind. Or you might also get hit by missiles that come from areas you can’t even see yet. These aren’t new issues, of course, with many other games (LittleBigPlanet) similarly requiring you to stick together and move in a coordinated way.
Ultimately, it all feels a bit... forced, like it's not a natural fit for the franchise and the developers knew it. It’s a shame, because the franchise so far has been really enjoyable - gathering up a loyal following of fans around the world - but this iteration just doesn’t play like the earlier ones did.
To a certain extent, this may have been the intention as it’s a different kind of game, but the core mechanics are different enough to make this a spin off - rather than the next Ratchet and Clank instalment proper.
It still has some of the old Lombax X factor, however, and therefore isn't a total write-off (hence the respectable score). It’s recommended as a good multi-player fun fest, but genuine fans might find it less satisfying than the last few iterations - which have been rip-snorters.