Ratchet & Clank

Ratchet & Clank

Overview

In the beginning, we meet Ratchet, an able mechanic who looks like a cross between a cat and a rabbit. He’s a very good mechanic who is in the process of building a spaceship to venture out from the lonely planet that he’s on. Next up is the Supreme Chairman Drekk, who rules a polluted planet populated by the Blarg. Wanting to create the perfect world for his empire, he embarks on a plan to take chunks of other planet and patch them up to create his idea of utopia. Realizing that the affected planet’s population won’t just go quietly, he manufactures a vast army of robotic minions to quell any resistance from the inhabitants. But one of his manufacturing plants malfunctions, and produces Clank, whose high intelligence makes up for his diminutive size. Clank learns of his boss’ evil scheme, and escapes on a spacecraft, and crash-lands on Racthet’s planet after being shot down by the pursuing minions.

After helping Ratchet by powering up his spaceship, Clank then persuades Ratchet to help his search for Captain Qwark, who he believes the only man powerful enough to stop Drekk. And thus begins their adventure. The game retains its humorous undertones with hilarious cut-scenes, which features commercials for products and newscasts, and intelligent dialogues which gives the indication of the title’s high production value.

Gameplay

This is where the crux of the game lies. The controls are very responsive, and Ratchet has a wide variety of basic and cool moves in his collection. The left analogue stick controls the movement, with the X button executes the jump and pressing the Square button makes Ratchet swing his big wrench, which is his main melee weapon.

While the above control scheme may sound overly simple and basic, you’ll gain access to more moves when you get upgrades to Clank or new weapons and gadgets. For example, earlier on Clank, who is strapped to Ratchet’s back like a backpack, gets a helicopter upgrade, you as Ratchet can execute higher and farther jumps, and have the ability to glide to difficult to reach places. Another impressive gadget is the Sling Shot, which enables you to grab hold of faraway magnetic object and use it to swing to the next destination, making you feel like a certain great webslinger superhero.

In the game, you travel from one planet to another, and completing a number of objectives set by the planet’s inhabitants or your overall mission. You may need to backtrack to a previous planet, but this process is made simple where you just have to get on the spacecraft and teleport to the desired location by the use of strategically placed teleporters or moving platforms.

As you arrive on one planet, there may be 2 or 3 branches. These sublevels are cleverly designed to end up right at where you start of, thus eliminating the need to retrace your steps to proceed to the next destination. These sublevels require some strategies, as you may need to grind on metal rails while jumping past obstacles and smashing enemies, or swimming through some pools to reach the next point. Although the checkpoints aren’t visible, there do exist, and very seldom do they require more than 10 minutes of play to reach your last game point.

Another plus is that the game boasts a great range of impressive gadgets. These range from the basic Blaster, the Pyronator (a fancy name for a flamethrower) to the highly useful Glove of Doom (a device that spits out tiny robots that chase and explode against enemy targets), the aptly named Devastator (long-ranged missiles) and Suck Cannon that can suck small enemies and spit them back out as high-velocity cannonballs.

But these weapons and gadgets don’t come cheap, as they require a set number of bolts, which works as a currency in the game. You get bolts by smashing crates that are found on the levels, or by destroying enemies. You can purchase these weapons and ammo at Gadgetron vendors, located at the start or each world. As the game features quite a lot of fighting, there are usually more than one weapon that you can use to dispatch the baddies. Strategic planning and common sense will often save you a lot of ammo and help in progressing through the game.

An interesting point to note is that there are instances where you get to control Clank, who makes use of his superior brain power to control mini gadgetbots to do his bidding. These gadgetbots can be utilized to solve puzzles and attack enemies.

The aural aspects in Ratchet & Clank is equally impressive. The voice acting is superb, which Chairman Drek sounding like Crash Bandicoot’s Dr. Neo Cortex, who is one of my favorite characters. The sound effects of explosions, gun fire and ambiance noise also adds up to your enjoyment of the game. For those that have home theater system, you can sample the delights of the excellent sound as the game supports 5.1 Surround Sound Pro Logic feature.

Graphics

After witnessing the visual spectacles in Jak and Daxter, and the distinctive toon-shaded look of Sly Cooper, I was expecting another treat here. I wasn’t disappointed, as the game looks great. The character models are very smooth and the animation is close to perfect. Apart from a few instances of clipping and collision detection issues, the graphics are perfect.

The showcase in Ratchet and Clank is the environment, which varies from the heavily polluted Orxon, to a bustling megacity set in the clouds (not to be confused by Star Wars’ Coruscan), a lush and vibrant jungle and icy tundra world. Each world has their own theme, and look very distinctive which negates the feeling of ’seen one, seen them all’. There are plenty of activities happening in the background, as hovercars zooming in and out of skyway intersections, Drekk’s transport ships commencing bombardment and dropping their robotic invasion troops and thick smoke emanating from manufacturing plants.

What’s more impressive is the fact that there are no slowdowns at all in the game. Considering the fact that you’ll encounter dozens of enemies at the same time, it’s astonishing that the game maintains a solid framerate all the time, even with those weapons blasting, explosions and background activities happening at the same time. Clearly developer Insomniac Games have found a way to optimize PlayStation 2 graphics engine, and entirely eliminate loading times and slowdowns from the game.

Fun Factor

Is this game fun? The answer is a resounding yes!. While other platmormers don’t offer much in the replay value or the overall playing time, Ratchet & Clank is one lengthy game, requiring upwards of 20 hours to complete it. That’s fairly long, considering it’s a platformer. Even after than you can go back and retry those levels to find the elusive Golden Bolts, or just gather some bolts to buy the most powerful weapons.

A major difference between Ratchet & Clank and other platformers is that you’ll always be doing something different in the levels. It’s not just plain crate smashing or enemy bashing. You can grind rails ala Jet Grind Radio, race on Hoverboards, man massive turrets to gun down enemy ships, or pilot a spacecraft in one of the boss battles. With these many things to do, the 20-odd hours feel like a breeze, a thing not many games can manage.

Overall

Ratchet & Clank re-invents the platform genre by introducing a perfect blend of action, puzzle solving and traditional platforming elements. The wide variety of weapons and gadgets extends the gameplay considerably by adding several layers to a particular level, and the strong production value as evidenced by the impressive graphics and voice acting makes this one a solid choice. You can’t go wrong with this one. Ratchet & Clank is my contender for the best platform game of the year, which indicates that this one is not to be missed by anyone seeking a fun and accessible game.

Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com