Time is a curious thing. It gives and it takes, it can be made and it can be given. It’s as certain as the promise of summer, and nostalgia is the by-product of its passing. But perhaps most fortunately for this otherwise-waffling introduction, time – and all its aspects here presented – is the very stuff that Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time concerns itself with.
Insomniac and Sony’s wholesome poster boys are back to round out the Future Trilogy, a saga introduced in 2007. Clank has been separated from Ratchet in a diabolical plot by the theatrically villainous Dr. Nefarious and the two heroes must platform and puzzle their way toward both their reunion and their destinies. It’s a light-hearted, charming and undemanding experience that can be picked up and put down by anyone without so much as a pout.
In fact, that brings us nicely to the next point: If you’ve recently signed something called a “dedicated servers petition”, if you’re too cool to watch Pixar movies with your young cousins over the summer holidays, or if you can freely engage in a discussion about mana-per-5, maybe this game isn’t for you. But if you’ve just spent your Sunday lovingly wiping the dust off an old Sonic 2 cartridge that you found behind the drier at your parents’ place, let’s talk.
A Crack in Time is a game that you’ll want to chuck in at 7AM and go turn-about on with your sibling while you compare scraped knees and wait to go to the beach. It’s totally cool with you wearing a baseball cap indoors and eating cocoa puffs out of the box during cinematics. It smells like sunscreen and damp towels, and it doesn’t mind if you want to pause it and play some backyard cricket.
When you get back, you’ll find that the game is split between levels on which you control Ratchet and others on which you control Clank. Clank has been kidnapped by the mysterious Zoni and brought to a structure at the very centre of the universe, give or take fifty feet. With the assistance of the facility’s enthusiastic caretaker, a robot named Sigmund, Clank will work his way around The Great Clock and the closer to his fate.
Clank’s levels are very much centred on precision platforming and puzzle-solving. Clank rarely has to throw down and take it to hordes of foes. His levels play like an ongoing tutorial: learn a gameplay function and then execute it in addition to other skills you’ve already mastered. It’s a very clearly defined progression curve that layers its challenges incrementally.
The astute among you may already have connected the dots here: The Great Clock is the primary shooting location behind the game’s title. Clank is gifted a Chronosceptor that allows him to throw orbs that slow time, an essential function used to slow down fast-moving platforms and incoming projectiles. The Chronosceptor is also used as a plot device to introduce mini-games.
Additionally, Clank must overcome a series of time puzzles. Typically, Clank is presented with a locked door, a touchpad that he must remain standing on to open it, and one or more hologram recording pads. In order to open the door, Clank must record himself standing on the touchpad, then replay a hologram of himself doing so while the he runs into the next room. Simple enough until enough presented with multiple buttons, platforms and moving parts. Some of the puzzles will require extensive trial and error and younger kids may occasionally need an adult to give them a helping hand. There is an option to skip any hologram recording puzzle but you’ve got all the time in the world to figure it out, and you’ll miss out on a healthy cache of bolts.
As Clank unlocks the secrets of The Great Clock, Ratchet planet hops across the galaxy in search of his missing friend. Ratchet’s levels are very much focused on fast-paced action, running and gunning his way through Dr. Nefarious’ minions, collecting bolts, weapons and level-ups. Captain Qwark is back to run off the gag reel, but before long Ratchet teams up with grizzled Lombax exile General Azimuth.
Azimuth provides his fellow Lombax with one of the few truly different additions to Ratchet’s gameplay, a pair of hoverboots that our hero can use to cover his larger levels faster, to glide, in short, to operate as advertised. Speaking of which, Ratchet will find and buy a series of new weapons, each of which is introduced to the player with a tutorial skinned as an advert. Each is probably best described as a novelty: The sonic eruptor, dynamo of doom and Tesla needles provide Ratchet with new and briefly entertaining ways to dispatch hostiles but in the end they’re no substitute for his trusty blaster.
Each weapon is upgradable, and while the game tries to present these upgrades as a “paradox of choice” puzzle, each upgrade is by and large better than the last. There’s really no difficulty in deciding.
Each of Ratchet’s levels is punctuated with intergalactic travel. Space is a drear sandbox that feels like it has been bolted ad hoc onto the hull of the game. It’s populated by Dr. Nefarious’ star-fighters and you’ll be gunning them down on a horizontal plane Space Invaders-style. When you’re done, try to find your bearings again and remember where you going in the first place. When you get there, discover you’ve got to back-pedal and knock out some small planetary side-levels in order to upgrade your spaceship: Unnecessary and unwelcome. However, the game features highly responsive and user-friendly controls, it looks great on Insomniac’s v4.0 engine and the plot is as amusing and accessible as ever. At the stately age of seven, Ratchet, Clank and their cohorts have retained their appeal and that alone is no small feat.
But maybe titles such as Ratchet & Clank are what industry figures Iwata and Cousens are talking about when they say videogames will need new intellectual property to survive. A Crack in Time is an engaging conclusion to a trilogy that has been thoroughly enjoyed by millions and now seems like a fitting place to say our fond farewells to a larger series and let nostalgia take over.
So, what’s next, Insomniac?