The new Ratchet and Clank might be the most changed edition of the franchise since the multiplayer-centric Deadlocked, but that's not the comparison the developers probably want us making.
The third Ratchet & Clank game on the PS3 in as many years was on display at E3 to a pack of reporters curious if there was going to be anything new this time around.
The first Ratchet on PS3, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, was visually impressive but conservatively similar to most of the Ratchets before it. The second was a more puzzle-driven short that lasted just a few hours.
The third PS3 Ratchet? It could present the fundamental change the series hasn't had in some time.
What Is It? Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is the third Ratchet & Clank third-person shooter/platformer from Insomniac Games for the PS3 and the studio's seventh overall. (Two portable spin-offs were made by High Impact.) This time, Ratchet is separated from Clank, as the pair was sundered at the end of the first Ratchet PS3 game, Tools of Destruction. Ratchet gets jet boots to compensate; Clank gets puzzle levels that involve time manipulation. Captain Quark's back, but we don't know how.
What We Saw Behind closed doors, Insomniac developers let us play a part of a new enemy-filled Monument Valley-inspired Ratchet level and watch one of their team play through some brain-hurting Clank puzzle levels locked in metal rooms.
How Far Along Is It? The game is pretty far along as it moves toward a fall release. The levels we played had all the sights and sounds you'd expect from a finished game, though Ratchet's arsenal was limited to just a few weapons, for demo purposes.
What Needs Improvement? The Clank Levels: Several indie games, Sony's own upcoming Echochrono and even — sort of — the Xbox Live Arcade game Cloning Clyde, executed in 2D what Insomniac is attempting to implement in 3D. That would be the ability for the player to walk their character (Clank) through one path in a locked room, step onto a switch or ride an elevator… then rewind time, and do a second thing with that character while a "recording" of the first attempt plays through. The idea is that the player might have four versions of Clank running through a puzzle and that that will be necessary to solve it. This seems like the kind of idea that could be fun but also aggravatingly pace-halting. The jury's out, but, please Insomniac, make sure that the music that plays while Clank is in the metallic locked rooms loops a little less frequently than it seemed to at E3. The only thing worse than being stumped is being stumped while the music repeats.
What Should Stay The Same? The Ratchet Levels: Explosions now appear to be cel-shaded. Enemies can now be frozen and shattered or yelled at with a belching animal/gun called the Sonic Eruptor (Insomniac claims it's a mating call; we maintain it's a belch). Best of all, Ratchet's boots are now jet-powered and, with a press of the d-pad, and a push of R2, they can be used like a high-tech skateboard to propel our hero up ramps, through crates, into enemies. In other words, they can be used to increase the tempo and cacophony of the standard Ratchet & Clank level to Sonic-style brisk commotion. Without the boots, the Ratchet level I played would have looked like the same-old, same-old with a couple of new guns. With the boots, the pace is altogether changed, in a promising way.
Final Thoughts Insomniac says this Ratchet game will have more replay value than previous ones, and that's even after I remarked that that previous ones had high replay value because of the score-attack mode that activated during a second playthrough. More importantly, Insomniac would be served to worry about getting people excited about their first playthrough, because what I heard from lots of fellow E3 attendees to whom I mentioned that I saw the game that they were tired of the franchise.
My response to the Ratchet-weary people around me was that, not only does this one have a sharp new graphical style, but it felt in my hands like it would play differently from the recent games in the franchise. And it played well, with an energy that wasn't in Deadlocked, the final PS2 Ratchet game which previously provided the biggest tweak (one since abandoned) to the series' formula. I got more than I was expecting from Ratchet this time. I haven't been able to write that in years.