10 years later Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is a step in the wrong direction after the first two R&CF games.

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bigsocrates

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Edited By bigsocrates

Criticizing old games is hard. Many of the frustrations and issues they have were much less noticeable in the time they were made, and it’s easy to lose track of how much game design and technology have advanced in the last decade when you’re looking at a game like Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time, which still has nice graphics and plays more or less like a modern game most of the time. It’s easy to get annoyed by issues like not being able to pause cut scenes (WHY did it take so long for this to become somewhat standard?) or not having subtitles for in-game dialog even though the sound mixing is bad, without fully acknowledging that those issues were very common at the time. I am, however, better equipped than most to peer through the mists of time and see the game in something like it’s original context. I still play the PS3 fairly regularly and I even played much of the Ratchet & Clank series last year, stopping before Crack in Time because I was starting to feel burned out. I owned a PS3 when the game was released and was aware of the discourse around it and how it was received. I think I understand enough about games of this era to give an honest assessment, and despite the fact that Giant Bomb’s Vinny Caravella rated the game 5/5 and seems to have loved it, I personally think that Crack in Time feels unfinished and like a step back for the series, especially after Tools of Destruction (Quest for Booty being a smaller downloadable game with a different focus.) I don’t think it’s a bad game by any stretch, but it feels stripped back in a lot of ways, and closer the PS2 iterations of the duo than the Tools of Destruction version.

R&C:CIT starts immediately after the end of Quest for Booty, with Ratchet & Clank still separated and Ratchet searching for his friend while Clank is being held captive by Dr. Nefarious in a place called “The Great Clock.” The game alternates between the two characters, with Ratchet’s sections (the majority of the game) playing like a traditional Ratchet & Clank game while Clank’s segments are linear platforming levels with a little bit of combat and the added wrinkle of Clank’s new time powers, which mostly amount to being able to reflect shots back at enemies and use a “time bomb” to hold moving platforms in place. Ratchet jumps and guns his way across alien worlds, and also zooms around some 2D sections of space in his fighter ship blasting enemies, while Clank focuses on platforming and some puzzle solving. The puzzles primarily take the form of door opening puzzles where Clank must record versions of himself doing various actions and play them back so they can work together in a synchronized fashion to flip switches and open doors. These are clever enough, but I found them boring because of the number of times you need to repeat actions as you build new iterations of each time clone’s activities and I really would have appreciated the ability to jump in mid-recording instead of having to start over from scratch each time.

If the Clank sections of the gameplay fall flat, the Ratchet segments are…fine. I’ve played through 4 main games in this series and two spin offs (Quest for Booty and Deadlocked) previously so at this point I know the controls and how the game plays pretty well. There’s nothing wrong with this particular version, but the level design seems to have taken a step back both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay. Future Tools of Destruction felt like a whole new generation of Ratchet & Clank, with levels that felt dynamic and exciting. From teeming cities to vicious pirate hideouts everything was full of character and a real sense of place. CIT is much more like the PS2 games in level design, except it strips out a lot of elements from those games (like swimming and mini-games like hoverboard racing or mining) and doesn’t replace them with anything. There are only 4 gadgets for environmental obstacles and they are pretty boring. The environments all feel linear and simplistic, even though they look good. Even the rail grinding, which used to be intense and complicated, is stripped back and feels perfunctory.

Of course it’s not all bad. Those signature creative Ratchet & Clank weapons are still there, and while the best of these come from prior games (and none are quite as wacky as the morphing rays) they’re still fun to use. Weapon experience and transformations carry over from the last game (as does the smart system of Ratchet gaining experience from taking damage and upgrading his health that way) and you can also collect mods for 3 specific weapons that lets you add stuff like automatic fire or incineration damage, but the menus are too clunky to switch that stuff up too often. It’s all fine stuff.

Also fine is the ship stuff. Instead of flying from planet to planet through a menu you now explore a bunch of different sectors of the galaxy and you can do things like run short sidequests for NPCs (like fetching them materials to fix their ships) or explore small moons that might contain some collectables and a platforming or combat challenge, and engage in ship to ship combat, which is now on a 2D plane and feels stripped back from prior releases. This is all filler but it’s mostly harmless filler and I enjoyed some of the platforming and combat challenges well enough. There’s also a combat arena with a variety of rewards as there have been in prior games. It’s very standard Ratchet & Clank.

The game keeps Ratchet & Clank apart far longer than I expected and I think it suffers greatly for it. Ratchet & Clank are a duo for a reason and each character is built to compliment the other, not so much in terms of mechanics (Ratchet quickly gets equipment to replace Clank’s hovering function) but in terms of rapport. Ratchet meets up with a bunch of characters on his quest and none of them have Clank’s acerbic wit or fussiness, making Ratchet feel a little bit bland as a hero. For his part Clank is accompanied by a caretaker of the clock who knows quite a bit about his past, and he is too busy learning new information and trying to figure out his origin to bother being sarcastic. This all makes for a boring and forgettable story, and while Ratchet & Clank has never been a great story series it did at least have banter going for it. Not anymore.

In addition to having a story that didn’t hit for me even though the voice acting was quite good, this Ratchet & Clank game felt downright unfinished in spots, despite being a big budget first party release. In addition to a general bugginess that I’m not used to in Insomniac games (especially ones that have had a decade to be patched) there are obvious chunks of this game missing. At one point Ratchet, Clank, and Captain Qwark discuss a daring mission that involves Clank sneaking into some vents so he can get some information about Dr. Nefarious. In any other Ratchet & Clank game this would lead to a Clank level where you navigate the little guy through a bunch of security systems in the vent, but here it just leads to a simple cut scene. Similar situations abound and there were times when cut scenes ended so abruptly that I wondered whether my digital copy was somehow corrupted or if I’d hit a button to skip or something. A late cut scene includes several seconds of voice over played over a totally black screen, which is a clear indicator that they just ran out of time or budget to animate what they originally intended. For what it’s worth the cinematics that do exist in the game are gorgeous and still impressive all those years later, so there was definitely talent and budget behind the game, which are undermined by the cut corners.

The cut sequences are one thing, but the game also has a bunch of glitches. There are collision detection problems that had me plummeting to my death when I shouldn’t have, contextual button prompts that will have you firing off a shot instead of using the swing shot (and thus also plummeting to your death) and at least two cases where a scripting era caused me to have to either die or reload a save because a door that was supposed to open wouldn’t. In one case I spent 15 minutes wandering around trying to figure out where to go while thinking “is this a scripting error? Is that door supposed to open?” I finally reloaded my save, spent 15 more minutes fighting back to that place, and yes, it was a scripting error and I lost half an hour to it. Not the biggest thing in the world but not the smallest, and that’s 10 years after release on a fully patched copy.

Look, I get that nobody really cares about my thoughts on a decade old Ratchet & Clank game that is only available on hardware 2 generations out of date. The truth is that I got the game for $15 and it had some enjoyable aspects even if it was a disappointment. It’s still Ratchet & Clank and I still like that formula. I was just surprised at the lack of memorable locations and characters, all the re-used assets and planets, the simplistic puzzles and the lack of polish, especially because the game reviewed quite well. I kind of get that because if you can get past the lack of polish and other issues there’s still a lot of fun to be had here, and at a time when 3D platformers were starting to feel like an endangered species. They’re not anymore, and in the cold light of 2021 A Crack in Time’s cracks have really started to show. The last game in the Ratchet & Clank Future sub series feels like it takes a step back into the past, and not in a good way.

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impartialgecko

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I think I need to revisit this one since I remember thinking A Crack In Time was return to form and potentially an all-timer for the series.

It certainly looked and handled great back in the day. Sure there were some undercooked elements like the space combat/exploration but it was still better than the other Future games for me.

I've been meaning to go back to the series though. I had a conversation with someone who made a decent case that Ratchet 3 (my favourite) was actually the least good of the PS2 Ratchets, so I think it's time I jumped back in and updated my opinions.

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bigsocrates

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@impartialgecko: I can kind of understand this view depending on what you like about the series. Crack in Time certainly played more like the PS2 games in the Ratchet segments, and if you didn't mind the stripping away of some of the mini game stuff then I could see it giving you more of what you wanted.

For me I actually really liked the changes that Tools of Destruction made (Quest for Booty was just kind of a throwaway thing) and was hoping they'd be expanded upon. I also personally think that keeping Ratchet & Clank apart for so much of the game really took away from the character stuff I enjoy in the series, but that's a matter of opinion. Likewise the lack of side activities like swimming or the trespasser or whatever are matters of opinion. You may not have liked that stuff while I thought it added to the series charm.

I think that the unfinished nature of things is more of an objective problem, but if I hadn't run into scripts that failed to trigger maybe the collision detection stuff would have been less annoying in 2009 than it is in 2021 when modern games don't have as many of those problems.

What I would like to ask you is if you actually think that the environments and planets Ratchet visits are as memorable as those from other games. The whole thing seemed very generic for a Ratchet & Clank game to me, with no real memorable side characters or even antagonists other than Dr. Nefarious. Compared to the cities and pirate hide outs of Tools of Destruction I thought the whole thing was really lacking in that area.

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Justin258

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As someone who was a huge fan of the first four - yes, including Deadlocked - games, I was never able to make it through this one. I never quite put my finger on why, I thought I was just done with the series after everyone praised this one constantly and I couldn't get into it.... but later on I finished Tools of Destruction in a weeekend and still couldn't get into A Crack in Time.

Up Your Arsenal is still the best as far as I'm concerned. I NG+'d that one enough times that the bolt counter was all 9's when I finally put it down.

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bigsocrates

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@justin258: With the massive caveat that I played the PS3 remaster of Deadlocked last year and only played the single player (so I in no way had the ideal experience with that title) I was surprised at how well it held up. It is far from essential in any way but it's actually...kind of a fun third person shooter even all these years later. I could see really getting into it at the time of release and even in 2020 when I thought it was going to be a slog (but one I was willing to put up with just because I want to get through the whole series that I have available) it...wasn't. At all. It wasn't essential in any way, shape or form, but overall I liked it.

I also think A Crack in Time is a decent game. On the Giant Bomb scale I would give it a solid 3/5, and if it didn't have obvious cut content and glitches it might even be a 4. But I also understand not being able to get into it because it definitely lacks those classic Ratchet & Clank hooks. Ratchet & Clank for me has always been about 3 main things. The characters, the weapons and gadgets, and the fun and exciting level design (both aesthetic and in terms of game design.) Crack in Time has okay weapons, though nothing the series hasn't seen before, and kind of fumbles the ball with characters and especially the locations. It doesn't even have the enemy variety the games usually do, repeating a few enemy types across all the planets instead of coming up with new foes for each one. It really feels like it was done quick and cheap.

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csl316

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Haven't played it, but I seem to remember people loving it at the time?

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HHAP

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@bigsocrates Glad I'm not the only one with doors not opening when they are supposed to. Recently played it through PS Now, and got stuck at least 1-2 times not knowing where to go until I finally gave up 30 min later to redo the section and a pathway opens up this time.

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glots

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I recall enjoying it a lot back in the day, but for me it was the story that was the highlight. Guess I just thought Azimuth was a great character with a good VA. I've played parts of it afterwards too, but never the whole game again, so can't say what my full judgment would be now. Definitely a better wrap-up for the Future Trilogy than Into The Nexus though, can say that even without replaying it...

Well, I'd say it's also better than the remake, story-wise at least. Probably the best news about Rift Apart for me was the fact that they're dumping the movie and making it a continuation (even if stand-alone) for the Future games. June really can't come soon enough...

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bigsocrates

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@glots: I don't really have a problem with Azimuth as a character and I think the VA did a great job (though I think Orvus and Sigmund are even better) but for me the separation of Ratchet and Clank really hurt the game in terms of character and story. I guess I've never really cared about the fate of the Lombax race as much as I have about Ratchet & Clank as a mismatched duo, so leaning into that stuff left me mostly bored. I also think the game is very un-Ratchet & Clank like in that it doesn't build the Agorians up as anything and also doesn't do much with the Valkyries. The pirates in Tools of Destruction had a lot more character and build to them (even before they were further fleshed out with Quest for Booty.)

I'm glad the story worked for you and maybe 10 years ago I would have felt differently than I do now. I'm also nearly 40 and this is fundamentally a kids game, so I'm not dinging it too hard on not resonating strongly with me.

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Nuttism

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Yes! I totally agree with you. For my part, Tools of Destruction is one of my favourite games of the PS3 (though granted, I didn't play very many) while a crack in time felt like a middling disappointment. I enjoyed the locales and story of Tools a lot more, while a Crack in Time sort of felt... Dull. You never base-jumped onto a volcanic planet as part of an invasive force in that one. I also enjoyed the weapons a bit more in Tools. I really have no idea why they didn't include the lazer claws again, as I really enjoyed messing stuff up in close quarters and they didn't have a comparable replacement. It's been a long time now since I played them, but I can't really find anything in your write-up I disagree with. I think I also preferred the store system in Tools more, but I can't remember why.

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impartialgecko

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@bigsocrates: I agree that Tools felt like a more fleshed-out universe, I just didn't love the tone or the theming as much. A Crack in Time has a much more mystical and evocative tone than Tools' Saturday morning cartoon vibe.

I'd also make the case that the series' worlds were on the decline in detail and verisimilitude from the first game. Ratchet 2 made a slight trade-off because it was a bigger game with more to do, but 3 looks pretty cheap in comparison to the first two games and has half the number of alternate routes and side-paths.

Basically, ACiT felt closer to that first game to me than everything else up until that point. I think the more stylised, cel-shady look contributed to that in a big way. It also had a more convincingly emotional story, and while I don't love the whole 'last of his species' thing that the Future games have going on, I thought the dynamic between Ratchet and the mentor Lombax character worked really well to lend some proper stakes to the series again.

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bigsocrates

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@impartialgecko: Interesting. It seems like the people in this thread who really liked the game enjoyed the story a lot. For me, personally, story is not a major factor in Ratchet & Clank games (no shade for those who really dig it, just a matter of taste) so I'm much more focused on stuff like the environments and individual character beats. You mentioned the Saturday morning cartoon feel of Tools of Destruction and...I agree. But I also really like that aesthetic for R&C. For me there's just so much silliness in the games (like Dr. Nefarious randomly lapsing into soap opera recordings) that I find it hard for the stakes to land, so I'd rather just have goofy humor.

I don't know if I fully agree with your take on the games getting smaller as they went. I agree that the levels got less complex but 3 had a lot of minigame stuff like the battle missions etc... that felt like they were going for variety.

Regardless I think that 3 had some pretty interesting and memorable locations compared to Crack in Time. The more I think about it the more the environments and lack of set pieces and the lack of the Ratchet & Clank relationship stand out as my main gripes.