Weakest of the Good Ratchet Games
It has been quite some time since I found myself absorbed in a Ratchet game. I’ve been burned-out on the series since Deadlocked. Even by the time I first played A Crack in Time, reportedly the best the series has to offer, I just didn’t feel like playing any more Ratchet games. Well, it must be time for me to dive back into this series here in the current generation’s fading years. I finally finished the first of the next-generation Ratchet games. And it gets this old Ratchet fan an approval, but it doesn’t escape unscathed. Wonder if I’ll ever review a game that I want to give five stars?
As always, I’ll start with my complaints with the game, so hold your bile back until I actually say good things about this game that I’ve given my stamp of approval.
My memory of the first few games isn’t entirely intact, but I can tell you that Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal were chock full of levels that had several objectives. Many of these levels felt long and full, and there were several secrets and side objectives in the old ones. My biggest complaint with this particular Ratchet game is its sheer linearity. It feels like all the parts for a good Ratchet game are here, but there are few frills. You go to a level, you go down its linear path shooting your way through things, and then you move on. My favorite level takes place on a planet filled with cartoon-y dinosaurs. It’s easily the most sprawling, fun to explore and play, and great to just take in. Incidentally, you can also make T-Rexes dance in this level with a gadget called the Groovitron. Apart from that level, the sheer linearity hurts the game a fair bit. Even worse than that, the final level is mostly a repeat of an early level only at night, and the last half of the game is full of tiring arena fights. Arenas have always been a part of Ratchet but the ones toward the end of this one come often and last for far too long.
The shooting in this game is generally as fun as ever, but Insomniac couldn’t seem to decide if they wanted to design the game around Going Commando-style controls (platformer with a strafe modifier) or Up Your Arsenal/Deadlocked controls (more like a regular third person shooter). It creates this weird scenario where the player thinks that the former control scheme is better, until suddenly he or she finds a particular part hard with those controls and switches to the other scheme and things become easier. The final level is a good example of this. The first half of it is one of those overly long arena fights with large enemies, often faraway, and several flying ones. Clearly, depending on a spotty automatic lock-on isn’t going to be as good as using third person shooter controls for better aiming. But the final boss fight takes place in a small area that you can easily fall off of. With the platformer controls, the camera zooms out so you can easily see where the ledge is and when you’re approaching it, plus the fight in general becomes easier. It means the player is occasionally going into the menu and switching control schemes, which is tedious and annoying. I was losing because Insomniac couldn’t decide if they wanted this game to be more like Going Commando or more like Up Your Arsenal? Ugh. It’s possible to get through the game entirely on either control scheme, but it’s clear that some sections were designed around one, some around the other.
The weapons are largely repeats of weapons in older games. The Tornado weapon was a new idea and an interesting one, but I rarely found it useful due to its dependency on the PS3 controller’s motion control. In a game where constant movement is extremely important, a weapon that greatly hinders that movement isn’t a great addition. There are some new gadgets here, like the Groovitron, but a) those are expensive and b) they’re bought through a special vendor that doesn’t appear dependably like the ammo vendors do.
One final issue I have with the game is its graphics. It looks like a Ratchet game, sure, but if I had never played this series and you told me this was an HD version of a PS2 game, I’d believe you. The trade-off is that it runs smoothly almost all the time, which for me alleviates the problem quite a bit. It’s still very much worth a mention. I’ll stress that it by no means looks bad, but no part of the game is particularly impressive. From a purely aesthetic level, this game also feels like well-tread ground. I definitely feel as if I have been to many of these places before, and few of them look special at all.
This game didn’t bring me back into the Ratchet series for nothing. Even though the levels are mostly linear, what we have are some pretty good Ratchet levels with a lot of stupid, crazy, fill-the-air-with-bullets-as-big-as-Clank action, just as it should be. Few levels stand out as duds. The arena-filled last few hours of the game are a bummer, but those are offset by the rest of the levels in this game. I do wish the gizmo that turned you into a sphere and let you roll along levels was used way more often than it is, but that’s a nitpick. Like in every game except the first, you can earn experience and level up guns and health, both of which are pretty good at keeping you interested. I wound up min-maxing my favorite guns with Raritanium, a not-so-rare purple gem (hello Crash) that is used as currency for upgrading your weapons to give you more bolts, ammo, damage, Raritanium, etc. The guns themselves are usually pretty good, though by the end of the game only the Negotiator seems in any way practical. Everything else requires you to use up a lot of ammo just to kill one thing. To be fair, though, this is how every Ratchet game has been – grind down your ammo counters until you reach the last boss. Make you use those creative weapons, well, creatively. Despite those weapons being repeats or variations on old guns, they’re still Ratchet weapons, and they’re still over-the-top and stupidly fun to use.
Overall, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is perhaps the weakest of the “good” Ratchet and Clank games. But it’s still good Ratchet and Clank, and if it ever gets its hooks into you good and proper, you’ll play it and play it and play it over and over again. If you’ve never looked into this series, though, I suggest going to buy the Ratchet and Clank Collection, then starting with Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal (the first controls rather weirdly and the series had a lot of growing room with that one). Even after all these years, I can safely tell you that those games are better than this one. Or maybe take your chances with the much-lauded A Crack in Time (which I haven't played much of and remember very little of, so I can't stamp my approval on it), but that’s a direct sequel to this one. You choose, but there are better Ratchet games to pick up; play this one later.