By: Michael McWhertor
The Ratchet & Clank series from Insomniac Games is largely expected, for better or worse, to be great with every entry. And it's not a system-selling, headline-grabbing, fanboy-insult war fodder kind of great; it's the polished, consistent, carefully constructed kind of great that seems to deliver without worry or pretention, a product of the hard working developers helming the property.
After four PlayStation 2 games—Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, Rachet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal and Ratchet: Deadlocked—plus a solid portable release, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters from High Impact Games, each delivering solid gameplay and avoiding sequel burnout, the first PLAYSTATION 3 entry has big shoes to fill.
Does Tools of Destruction deliver more of the same? And in the good more of the same way? Yea... well, it's still too early to pass final judgment, but based on what we've played at E3 and at SCEA's recent media day, it's looking like another proud member in the Insomniac Games action platforming family.Ratchet & Clank Future improves upon the formula of guiding a fuzzy Lombax and his mechanical sidekick Clank wielding wacky gadgets and an extraordinary arsenal of weapons by focusing on, according to creative director Brian Allgeier, four key elements: mystery, adventure, spectacle and variety. The mystery portion of that evolutionary recipe involves a number of key plot drivers. Foremost, we'll explore the origins of Ratchet, learning more about his fictional species. Also, we'll unravel the secrets of the mystical Zonie, an alien race that only Clank can see and hear. Finally, we'll interact with a number of secondary characters, including a "sultry heroine" name Talwyn.
Appearances from flowery characters like Cronk and Zephyr, Captain Slag and Rusty Pete, and series super zero Captain Qwark will also play a part in the game's mystery, adding comic relief to the heavy narrative of a furry mammal whacking things with a wrench.
The adventure factor is fairly self-explanatory. We'll follow Ratchet and Clank and journey through an all-new region of the universe, dispatching all manner of space pirates and mechanical terrors along the way. A new galaxy to explore provides all-new settings for our heroes' world-saving feats.
Spectacle-wise, it's one of the best looking games on the PS3 to date, blending semi-realistic visual effects with a fantastical world populated by vest-wearing robo-pirates, deadly fish controlled exoskeletons, and massive prehistoric era beasts. Oh, and there are huge explosions. And things are shiny.
The game's variety comes in the form of its copious weapons and accessories cache, clever mini-games—for instance, there's at least one Space Channel 5-esque pirate jig dancing game—and innovative tools that make smart, optional use of the SIXAXIS controller. Ratchet & Clank Future also breaks up the platforming and shooting with a series of space shooter levels.
Chad Dezern, the game's art director explained, in loving detail, the visual philosophy behind Insomniac's development. Avoiding the trappings of too-brown next-gen graphics but careful not to tread into cliche, Skittles inspired platformer colour schemes, Tools of Destruction's concept artwork showed the bright, saturated "colour scripting" that lends the series a unique style. We were shown pages of artwork, from enemy silhouettes to ambient avian wildlife, from one level's shiny metal shaders to another's moss covered rocks. Most of this stuff you wouldn't notice how well crafted it was unless you spent the time to focus the game's camera in on a distant boulder in prehistoric Sargasso or a polished floor vent in Kerchu City. But when these elements are all on screen amid the rest of the action, it goes a long, long way to presenting a complete visual package.
What most gamers are going to be interested in, sans pixel-pushing beauty, is the variety of the game's weapons and its unusual gadgets. One of the most popular, and sure to get the most press, is the Groovitron. Similar to the King of Pop's screen clearing powers from Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, the Groovitron forces enemies within range to shake their booties, even as you take a giant wrench to their metal skulls. Perfect in a pinch.
Even the aforementioned fish who ride in oversized mechs will get down to the Groovitron's sounds, even if they're already defeated and flopping about on the floor. Poor little guys.
The rest of the notable weapons and tools include, but are clearly not limited to: Death Springs - Toss these deadly Slinky-like toys into a crowded space and watch everything die. Mr. Zurkon - This agenda-spewing hoverbot companion will take out anything in its path, up until it runs out of ammo. A cheat will allow you to replace Zurkon with James the Galactic Defender, the in-game recreation of real-life paralysis victim James Westerbrook. Plasma Beasts - These living mines will look like piles of green slime until someone you want dead approaches. Their true form is a hideous mound of good that kills without prejudice. Tornado Launcher - It launches tornadoes. Duh. These can be guided with SIXAXIS tilt control upon deployment. Gelanator - If something is just out of reach when you double-jump, drop some gelatonium then use it as a springboard. Of limited supply.
Of course, there are less gimmicky guns and gadgets, like the Negotiator rocket launcher, the Buzz Blade shooter, the Incinerator flamethrower, the Pirate Holo-Disguise and Clank's new Robo-wings. These standbys will come in handy more often than some of the more flamboyant, harder to find showcase weapons.
Not only are there 23 items to enjoy, keeping the action fresh, your weapons can be upgraded by visiting non-player characters in various worlds. Using a hex-based upgrade system, you'll modify your attacks with collected bolts and "Raritanium" to give them faster firing speeds, greater damage, bigger attack radii and even a few secret unlockable mods. If Ratchet & Clank Future is lacking in anything, it's certainly not depth.
One bit of trivia I managed to eke out of Anthony "Moo" Yu, Gameplay Lead at Insomniac was one of the bizarre weapons that didn't make the final cut. Apparently, the team has been trying to find a way to work in the "Rainbow Afronator" for some time. Unfortunately, outside applying a rainbow-colored afro wig to every enemy in the area, the details have yet to be worked out. Insomniac puts a great deal of emphasis on balancing weapons, reason enough for their preliminary list of 100 weapons to be pared down to just under two dozen.
As revealed earlier yesterday, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction will hit store shelves on October 23rd. While the game looks relatively complete, minus some difficulty tweaks needed in the space shooter levels and some frame rate optimisation, the game is currently looking like a no-brainer purchase. You literally will not need a brain to aid you in the decision.
With the series about to celebrate its fifth anniversary, just weeks after the release of the PLAYSTATION 3 sequel, it may feel like familiar territory to some. Those who have skipped out on any of the previous releases or are looking to add some welcome variety to the PS3 libraries will almost certainly want to pick it up.
We've secured ten new screens of the game in our gallery below.