Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time Playstation 3 Developed by Insomniac Released in 2009
After the terrible mini-adventure Quest for Booty, I was a bit unsure on what to expect going forward. The Ratchet and Clank-series has become an experimental franchise with varied success. However, this time we are back with a big, main-title and considering how poor Quest for Booty was, the only way is up!. I have no clever intro this time, I just hope they try to learn from previous attempts.
Time Traveling and parent-issues
We start off the story right after the quote on quote “events” of Quest for Booty and Tools of Destruction, so there might be some spoilers here. Clank has found himself in captivity at Dr. Nefarious’ hideout. While fixing Clank for the Zonis, he reveals he is looking for something called the Orvus Chamber. When the Zonis deny him access to that chamber, Dr Nefarious throws a tantrum and Clank sees his opportunity to escape. Clank gets eventually knocked out by Dr. Nefarious, but he doesn’t bother taking him back and Clank is saved by a robot named Sigmund. He reveals himself to be the Senior Caretaker of the Great Clock, a machine that keeps time flowing. While telling about the clock, Sigmund reveals he also knows who Clank’s father was and what plans he set out for him. Meanwhile, Captain Quark and Ratchet are on their way to find Clank, but crash-land on planet Quantos which seems to have time standing still in some areas or not flowing right. Stranded with nowhere left to go, they begin their search on this very planet.
The story has a lot of strengths to it, with good exposition on how Clank came to be, Ratchet meets someone who can elaborate more about his past, and the important characters you meet throughout the journey are likeable and create a strong bond with our main characters. It is all heartwarming and well done, making me easily care for our protagonists. The plot itself, however, is a mess and this is because of the time travel aspect. It is unfortunately too easy to create plot holes when time travel is involved. While Crack in Time tries to establish some rules to the mechanics, with our main characters agreeing that changing the past is too dangerous, they constantly abandon this and change past events multiple times. How the time-machine truly works or how even time travel in general works changes from time to time. Having this power also means that many events could have been avoided if they properly used it. However, what holds it up is the likeable characters. The inhabitants you meet throughout the game also adds a bit to the atmosphere, and Captain Quark and Dr. Nefarious still provide a good chuckle, even if the game has a more serious tone than before. But they should definitely drop the time travel aspect, as it hurts the story tremendously.
Story score: 5/10
An odd mess
Throughout this game you will control two characters, as the title suggests: Ratchet and Clank. Since we begin with Clank, let’s explain him first. Clank has left the strategy-parts of the earlier entries behind in favor of a more puzzle-based setup. In certain rooms you will be met with 2-4 time-pads, which you can use to create a holographic recordings of yourself, one for each pad. When you create a duplicate, you have one minute to decide on what he will do in that time, and after that you can rewind and make your double(s) help you throughout the puzzles. It sounds simple, but the game gets very creative with this and each are a joy to figure out. Clank also gets some minor platforming-bits that are fun when used alongside the puzzles, but generic on their own.
He has a triple-jump and can attack with his staff, reflect shots back at enemies, and repair broken parts for bolts which works similar to breaking crates. Unfortunately, no enemy feels interesting enough for the combat to be more than a button masher, and the ability to reflect shots has limited to no use. There is also a minigame Clank must do for only 3 occasions. You will be presented with a planet you can spin around and have to shoot at yellow objects to destroy, and shoot power-ups for support. It is shallow and short lived, making me wonder why it was even there. The only interesting element he will get is the time bomb, that will slow down time for platforms and enemies, and you can only activate one at a time. It is a neat idea, but outside of the puzzles, it is too restricted in its use.
Clank’s segments are only a minor part of the game, as it usually has been. This is a shame, since the time-pad puzzles are the only thing worth talking about; they are an excellent addition. Most of the time you will be taking control of Ratchet, who has lost his ability to wall-jump, but can still double-jump, cling to edges and use his arsenal of weapons. The weapons are once again a highlight, however they are mostly recycled from previous games. This should have been okay, as the weapons from previous games were a joy to use, but they aren’t, thanks to upgrading them going too fast, and getting them to level 5 by killing enemies with them is not as intriguing as before since you barely notice any difference. Even showing the stats on how your weapons got stronger felt worthless because of this.
You can modify them with mods that you find throughout the game, and they are all unique to one weapon. You can mod their barrels, chambers and one overall upgrade, with a paint-job being optional. While it is an interesting idea I never felt the need for this, since making a weapon similar to another one felt like an odd choice. For example, I could make the pistol rapidfire or add a shotgun-blast. But would it not be enough with the actual shotgun instead? The weapons are fun to use, but can be quite repetitive thanks to enemies changing little and the guns feeling a bit dull, despite their creativity. Some weapons felt completely useless, especially those with a new concept such as the Dynamo of Doom that has weak electrical shots, and even favorites felt, at times, underwhelming, giving you little use to vary up your approach. Another issue that contributed to this was that the weapons were too easy to acquire, since I always had the bolts for them. Luckily, the armors cost more, but I never felt challenged, so they were not needed until late in the game. That being said, the boss fights are a treat, with plenty of obstacles to dodge and jump over, and always keeping you on your toes as you fire with everything you got. Only one felt boring and was a drag, but that is a mere nitpick compared to the other ones.
The platforming is unfortunately limited, as you could tell from the lack of options compared to previous titles. You will eventually acquire hover boots so you can hover in the air, you can drift to get around faster, and you’ll gain the ability to use context-sensitive ramps and jump-pads. But that’s all they are: context sensitive. The level-designs are bland and the platforming is about 90% unimaginative, until the end where it gets real creative and stressful. Even the rail-grinding and swing-shots are dull thanks to not using them interestingly and rarely. Returning from the last game is also using your wrench for situational moments and it does nothing but slow down the pace, since it’s only used for moving platforms down and up, or charge catapults. The wrench can this time be thrown while running, since you can’t duck anymore, which is fine until you realize that it is for collecting Zonis (see the extras). I will come back and complain more about this later so we can be done with the platforming-segments. They also try to give some variety in Ratchet’s segments with planting seeds to grow grindable trees and transfer liquid from one place to another by using the OmniSoaker. Both are unimaginative as they have limited use for only certain areas, making them tedious, context sensitive fetch quests. Even the Arena, which at times has fun battles, are more often than not a bore. They try to vary it up with rules like only throwing enemies’ bombs, which is rather a drag than an interesting mechanic. They even have a couple of turret-sections, which you can probably imagine are terribly uninteresting, especially when you want to use your upgradable weapons instead.
However the worst part of the Ratchet-segments is flying your ship. First of, to progress you need to upgrade it by acquiring Zonis, which can either be found throughout levels or on smaller planets that are either arenas or platforming-segments. Searching for the Zonis is either a blind hunt or boring thanks to platforming and shooting-arenas being even simpler on the small planets, making this a terrible way of padding the game. You will also have to fly to each planet in a free-moving area, with only your altitude being what you can’t change and your ship being quite slow. They tried to add exploration to this, but it comes of as more of a hassle to drive in these spacious and uninteresting areas. There are some ship battles that show some promise, with upgradable weapons and even barrel rolls. However, all the battles are shamefully simple, with shots being slow and the bosses being just as unimaginative. Upgrades usually range from more health to context-sensitive progression-tools. My favourite is the warp-ability, since that is what this should have been: an overworld map where you can directly warp to any area you unlocked. Just a shame you have to fly to new planets before you can use this upgrade.
This is a mess, simple as that. It has some strong moments, with fun time-puzzles and the shooting can be enjoyable, but that is barely a part of the game. Everything else is either uninteresting or too simplified to be even decent. I wonder why they need to experiment so much, as they clearly have a good concept from previous titles. Although it has the best Clank segments I have seen, that does not say much.
Gameplay Score 4/10
Technical over artistic universe
Crack in Time definitely pushes the consoles to its limits, with gorgeous lighting and weather-effects, lovely textures, and galaxies with plenty of elements in the background, such as all the mechanisms in The Great Clock. The amount of enemies and bolts on screen is impressive, despite some framerate issues. It makes the bunch of unnecessary loading times a bit more tolerable. The cutscenes are beautiful as well, making it easy to see why Ratchet and Clank would eventually get on the big-screen.
That being said however, the creativity is not always on top. Despite lovely caves and ruins, they do not feel unique or intriguing when the variation is not as grand, even how technically good they look. The smaller planets are a bore to traverse through and the huge space you must drive through is empty. The same can be said for the creatures you meet, as they are well designed, but you only meet a handful of them, with generic robots being most present as enemies. There were also some minor parts in the game where the lighting was so off, it felt like I was looking at something cel-shaded, but this was only for a few occasions.
The voice actors do a great job representing their characters, giving them each a personality you can care for, or laugh at. The music, however, is forgettable except for the disco-tunes and one track near the end of the game. David Bergeaud was replaced with Boris Salchow and despite having a full orchestra at his hand, most tracks are slumbersome and similar due to using most of the same notes and tone for each music-piece. It almost feel lazy. The sound effects of guns and bombs are quite important in a shooter with tons of crazy weapons and it unfortunately falls flat, with a few exception. It is a technical marvel, but what use is that when creativity is not always on top?
Presentation Score 7/10
Time is better spent elsewhere
The skillpoints return for cheats and art, as well as hidden gold bolts for funny costumes and schematics for the powerful Ryno. The challenge mode is also back, but due to the game not being enjoyable to play through, it is hard to really go back for another go, despite getting stronger weapons. The Zonis are not worth it either, especially since getting all of them does not yield a good reward. Upgrading the ship does nothing for me either. The planets and sidequests are also a drag, so it is hard to go for the extras. There was at the very least an attempt to create quantity of extras, but no quality.
Extra Score 3/10
This was such an oddity to me. Ratchet and Clank has experimented before, but they more often than not made both the platforming and the shooting-parts enjoyable. Here both are really lacking and while I do enjoy the characters, using time travel as a story-element creates plenty of plot holes. Clank has some fantastic segments, which I can’t say for any other game in the series, the bosses are fun and the last part of the game is great. But for the most part the game simply bored me with uninteresting level-designs, simple and context-sensitive platforming, weapons that get dull, and the terrible flying-segments. It is a mess, which made it the hardest review for me to write. Heck, it would have been easier to go through the entire Kingdom Hearts series.