The Ratchet and Clank series has managed to become Insomniac’s ‘Mega Man’ in the way that Crash Bandicoot arguably failed to serve as mascot to Naughty Dog. Admittedly, the series hasn’t changed all that much since its debut on the PS2 years ago, but A Crack in Time manages to restore some vitality to the franchise and rejuvenate some of my faith in Insomniac’s efforts at continuing the series. The original PS3 title, Tools of Destruction, was gorgeous looking game – like a Pixar film you played – and had adequate gameplay, but some of the key elements that have defined the franchise were lacking. That visual flair is still here, and in spades, but many aspects of the first PS3 title that were a bit disappointing have been altered for the better.
For starers, the writing was, honestly, just not up to par with games like Going Commando (still my favorite writing in the titles to date). It came across as an odd combination of forced comedy and forced seriousness. A Crack in Time sports a bit of a different tone: the game’s story is easily the most solemn and serious in the history of the dynamic duo. Though I was skeptical of this at first, I must admit that in the end, it works. There is lighthearted humor mixed in, but it feels more organic this time around and thus genuinely amusing. There are still some forced moments but despite the game being of a darker tone than Tools of Destruction I found myself laughing in earnest much more often. Not to mention that the plot has its own twists and concepts that provide some grand context for the two protagonists in general. It’s not exactly Pixar grade quality but the more grown-up approach oddly works with these characters and provided some kind of motivation for me to finish the game. That and Mr. Zurkon’s humorously arrogant dialogue never fails to make me smile, so bonus points for that. “Are you ready to die? Because Mr. Zurkon is ready to kill,” and “Death is too stupid for Mr. Zurkon,” for example. The voice acting is pretty spot-on, with every notable character delivering their lines on spot and vibrant animation there to back the performances up.
From the gameplay standpoint, the main components are here: platforming and shooting in third person. It’s a pretty healthy blend, with some sidequests and plenty of hidden goodies to obtain that will reward you with various cheats and unlockables. There’s a wide variety of locations to explore with all of the traditional bases covered, but they certainly do pop. The sense of scale in some areas is impressive and I truly felt awe-inspired at times by the sense of overwhelming size of the structures and backgrounds. Flying through space in the overworld between palnets contributes to this feeling of epic size and is a welcomed new feature. Dotting each qudrant are optional moons that can be explored like enlarged planetoids in Super Mario Galaxy. The times when I’d tune into the galactic jazz radio station on my ship whilst cruising around from moon to moon to collect upgrades contained many of my favorite moments in A Crack in Time. Wherever that entire overworld concept came from it was a nice touch and helps make the title feel a little bit fresher than every other annual/biannual Ratchet and Clank game in recent memory.
Weapon upgrading is both simplified and more customizable at the same time. Many if not most of your weapons are borrowed in design from previous games, which is a bit disappointing. They will upgrade in functionality by gaining points from dispatching foes, but you can alter their color and appearance through a mod system which also adjusts the properties of the weapon. For example, the classic Bomb Glove can be altered to create explosions that are more vertical and narrow (for airborne enemies), or different bullets for guns can have various properties added for all kinds of effects. These contribute to help make your favorite weapons tailored to your own playstyle. While they are far from original and innovative given the series’ history, there’s definitely more variety in functionality than most third person shooters, and they’re still perfectly solid from a gameplay standpoint, save for a few weapons acted a bit strangely in the warped gravity of the planetoid/moon sections.
Boss Battles are few and far in-between though they do tend to mix things up well enough, and there’s enough enemy variety to force you to change strategies on occasion. On higher difficulty settings death comes pretty easily, as well, so you won’t feel so bad about using everything you’ve got on anything that crosses your path. Switching between only Ratchet and only Clank is something the franchise has dabbled in but certainly not to such an extreme. It acually works out fine since Ratchet’s combat-heavy sequences are engaging and Clank’s puzzle-based portions are slick and streamlined and paced surprisingly well for the occasional moments they crop up. Their separation is also a key element in the story, but it adds up to a bit of curve ball that works to the game’s benefit as the Clank sections never out stay their welcome.
When all is said and done, this in fact another Ratchet and Clank game and will not pull you in if you haven’t enjoyed the earlier titles. If you’ve never played any of them, their storylines are actually pretty disconnected and during the game’s install process it gives you a quick summary of any previous events that actually matter, so now’s as good a time as any to give the series a try, especially given that Insomniac has pretty much polished the formula to a shine. Everything looks and sounds great, gameplay is quick and focused, never skipping a beat and constantly giving players something to aim for. It’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the older games in my opinion (given that humor is based all on perspective), but the gameplay is probably the tightest the series has seen to date. Even if you don’t care much for the story, which is more memorable and interesting than any other title in the franchise so far, as a game, A Crack in Time is a fast-paced bundle of fun. Admittedly, fans who grew tired of the formula may not find enough here to attract them, but if it’s not broken, Insomniac hasn’t tried fixing it.