In the eight or so years since the original Ratchet and Clank was released on the PlayStation 2, I've learned that there's more to life than collecting items, powering up outlandish weaponry, and unleashing mayhem upon hordes of enemies. There's also a fair amount of platforming. These ingredients have been staples of the Ratchet series since its inception, but like a seasoned chef, Insomniac has added just the right amount of each to concoct a treat that will keep you satisfied until your last bolt-ridden bite.
Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time is the series' third installment on the PlayStation 3 and picks up where the previous two games left off. Our little robot friend Clank has been abducted and hidden away by some adorable, mysterious beings known as the Zoni. His Lombax compatriot Ratchet, the apparent last of his race, is teamed up with the egomaniacal, would-be-galactic-savior Captain Qwark. It's quickly revealed that the naive Zoni have been working for the robotic madman Dr. Nefarious who needs Clank to access the temporal powers of a device known as the Great Clock. With Clank locked away inside this celestial timepiece, Ratchet begins his adventure to save his friend, the world, and time itself.
Though Ratchet is occasionally joined by Qwark, or another fighter, he will mostly be fighting hordes of enemies aided solely by his weapons... his many, many, ridiculous weapons. The Ratchet and Clank games have always included a sizable arsenal, but A Crack in Time has some of the most unique, useful, and satisfying ways to kill or incapacitate your foes yet. You'll see the return of some favorites, like the always entertaining, boogie-inducing Groovitron Glove, but you'll also be treated to such tools of destruction as the Rift Inducer 5000. This little number happens to be a device that tears open a dimensional portal allowing a tentacled beast to peek through and devour your enemies for a limited time. Honestly, I only found a few duds in the mix (I'm looking at you Dynamo of Doom) and by constantly giving you the chance to upgrade your weapons through continued use, the game encourages you to experiment with new ones. Upgrading is a huge part of the game and each weapon can reach a maximum level of five, at which point it will transform into a slightly modified, and better version of its former self. For example, continually using Mr. Zurkon--a minuscule floating robotic helper bent on destruction--will eventually transform him into Zurkon the Destroyer. Each time you reach a new level with a weapon, stats like damage or rate of fire will increase, and the leveling comes so quickly that you constantly feel like you're progressing towards some goal as you mow down the endless hordes of baddies.
Upgrades for your arsenal will also come in the form of new components for your Constructo weapons. These include the Constructo Pistol, Shotgun, and Bomb. Each can be fitted with parts that you'll collect throughout the adventure, allowing you to toggle between attributes like the rapid fire or charge triggers on the pistol. These modifications drastically affect the properties of each weapon and you'll be mixing and matching them to your liking. With all the options available on the Constructo weapons, I found them to be my go-to choice when I wasn't giggling at robots dancing or summoning inter-dimensional beings to do my bidding.
Did I mention upgrades? Ratchet will also be upgrading his ship with new lasers, missiles, and armor as he flies around the galaxy searching for his little robotic buddy. When you're not running around planet-side, wreaking havoc, you can now pilot your ship freely through defined sectors of space engaging in combat or landing on the many smaller planets to find more collectibles. All of the space travel and combat is locked to a horizontal plane, so instead of being able to pitch your ship up or down, your evasive maneuvering is limited to barrel rolls and 180 degree turns. Most of the non-terrestrial combat isn't terribly engaging, but the ability to take optional missions and land your ship on the planetoids to hunt down collectibles is a welcome inclusion.
While Ratchet is tearing about the universe, Clank will be engaging in his own subtler methods of world saving. He'll be using his newly acquired time-shifting abilities to navigate and solve puzzles within the Great Clock. The most devious of these time-and-mind-bending obstacles are the ones that require you to record multiple versions of yourself as you race to trigger different events around the room. A simple example would begin with recording your movements with Clank A. You position Clank A to stand on a pressure plate that, when depressed, allows access to another button in the distance. You would then end that recording and start a new one with Clank B, during which you can watch as Clank A goes about his prerecorded business of clearing the way for you to access that distant button. The complexity quickly ramps up and you'll eventually have up to four versions of yourself all running around performing tasks that somehow aid the other recordings. If that sounds complicated, it is, but it's also extremely rewarding and once you've completed a puzzle you will not only be showered with bolts, the currency of this universe, but you'll also feel like the smartest human on the planet. If you truly are not feeling up to the task, you can opt to bypass the puzzle entirely, but will miss out on the monetary rewards as well as the boost to your ego.
All of this puzzle solving and item collection takes place in one of the more visually stunning games to date. The environments are brightly colored, interestingly designed, and well realized. The animators over at Insomniac must be some of the best in the business because all the characters move with a fluidity and appropriately cartoonish exaggeration rarely seen in video games. The level of quality and care taken is present in everything from the rendered cutscenes to the Groovitron dances. Complimenting the visuals is the sound design which is also top notch. From the voice acting to the music, the audio breathes life into an already living world and serves to draw you into the rich experience.
While the humor in the game falls more on the corny side, I definitely found myself chuckling at some of the gags, and it all seems to gel with the rest of the presentation. The story may not be the most enthralling but it's told well and it will help to keep you curious as you progress through the game. Playing through on normal, and collecting a majority of items, I was able to complete my first playthrough at around eleven hours. After you're finished you'll have the option to go back and find all the goodies you missed along the way or restart in the Challenge Mode with all your existing weapons and upgrades.
With A Crack in Time apparently marking the end of the "Future" storyline on the PlayStation 3, I really couldn't ask for a better embodiment of everything I've come to enjoy from the series. The constant satisfaction from upgrading creative weaponry, item collection which feels rewarding rather than trivial, and the over-the-top action are all here, and better than they've ever been. With the addition of some interesting puzzles, even more flexibility with your weapons, and a great presentation, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time is not only the best game in the series, but one that will certainly stand the test of, well, time.