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Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (Playstation 3)

While the title itself is forward looking, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction takes the series back to its roots to create one of the best titles in the franchise. Players will find that Naughty Dog has restored much of the simple platforming and shooting pleasures to the series with an array of beautiful levels, intense boss battles and tons of cool weapons and gadgets that have become the series' trademark. Taking full advantage of the PS3, Tools of Destruction features some of the best animation and level design seen in the series to date, making this a solid installment that fans of the series are going to love.

Set after the events in the previous game, Ratchet: Dreadlocked, the newest installment Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction marks the series' debut on the Playstation 3 and finds our erstwhile heroes once again reunited and it's as if nothing has happened. The game plays very similarly to the earlier games in the series and has a typically light-hearted plot. Except that an evil emperor has gone mad and blamed the Lombax species for the destruction of much of his empire. This means that our hero is now the villain and finds his home world attacked during the game's first level and beyond by hordes of enemy creatures. This is an exciting set-piece that shows the tone of the rest of the game, which is an incredibly intense mix of action and platforming with lots of shooting set against a gorgeous backdrop of remarkably detailed city. Each stage consists of a number of areas where Ratchet has too destroy as many of these opponents as possible, collecting the essential bolts they leave behind. These can be used later on to purchase weapons upgrades, and new gadgets that can be essential for passing other areas. However, it's not all simple run and jump platforming because there are some really cool cinematic sequences where the player can steer Ratchet as he falls through the air onto platforms below, jump through the air on massive air lifts, glide over steel pipes far above the city while dodging oncoming traffic and more. This lends Tools of Destruction a great deal of variety and helps keeps the action fresh thanks to an ever changing perspective on the gameplay. This design approach is really cool and allows the player to see the action from a number of different perspective and shows off the game's impressive graphics engine to its fullest.

As you might expect, the weapons and gadgets at your disposal play a key role throughout the game. Players begin with a basic set of weaponry consisting of a standard wrench and blaster, which can be used to attack enemies. New weapons and upgrades can be purchased at the many vending machines scattered throughout the level, and while some of these, like cluster bombs are new, there are some really clever ones that takes energy from nearby enemies and gives it to you,. There are also a number of cool gadgets such as the Swingshot ability that lets you latch onto something and glide through it in the air. There's also a special sety of Robo Wings for Clank that let him fly through the air using the Sixaxis controller. Players will also find the series' trademark sense of humor in the funniest weapon of them all, a disco ball called the Goovitron which mesmerizes anyone nearby and turns them into dancing fools, rendering them easy as well. The sheer variety of power of the weapons at your disposal is impressive, and there are more than 30 unique weapons included in the game. Accessing them is fairly simple, you merely need to call up the HUD using the select key and choose which one you're going to use. Most of the weapons have a small clip, but there are abundant ammo crates on virtually every level which makes it much easier to get through the game. In addition, gathering the Raritanium throughout each level allows you to further upgrade your weapons, so you shouldn't pass these by. Playing through each level and using the different power-ups is what makes Ratchet & Clank so addictive, and you won't need to worry too much about being stuck without a defense once you've acquired enough weapons. The real challenge at this point is knowing which ones will be the most effective against the enemy you're facing. It's not as simple as it sounds, because many of the enemies you'll face are shielded or have invulnerabilities against certain weapons, making your shots ineffective.

The game's balance and pacing is nearly perfect and makes the game a joy to play with large, expansive levels that allow you to experience an incredible adventure throughout the universe. There's a large selection of enemies you'll face, with some very cool boss characters as well, which helps to keep you on your toes throughout. The enemy AI is smarter than you'd think in certain points, especially when you find yourself surrounded by tons of enemies at the same time. You can definitely tell that a lot of care went into the design and mapping of each level, since the game offers enough challenge, yet never feels overly difficult. Your selection of weapons is also fairly interesting, with the more powerful weapons like the Geo Blades, Tornado Launchers and Buzz Blades offering fewer shots than the standard arsenal. There's ample supply of ammo, bolts and Raritanium on each level, which you can collect though breaking crates or picking it up after you defeat enemies. Likewise, Ratchet & Clank Future's controls are tight and responsive, with a consistent feel throughout. You use the left analog to move the character and perform most other objectives by using the face buttons, which makes for a simple interface that allows you to shoot and jump around each level easily without putting too much effort into things. This simple approach to gameplay goes a long way in making Tools of Destruction an accessible and enjoyable experience. The levels themselves are fairly long, but there are frequent checkpoints which allow you to progress through the game at a good pace.

From a visual standpoint, this is one of the most impressive PS3 titles to date, with large expansive planetary environments that can't help but to immerse you into the action. Each stage comes to life with massive amounts of background objects that seem to be in motion constantly. From the crowded city planets teeming with space traffic, to the more natural planet settings where creatures and animals run around, the game feels very much alive. The brightly colored environments are easy on the eyes, and come very close to matching the quality that you'd expect from a modern CGI animated film. Tools of Destruction features some fairly impressive animation throughout and an engaging, humorous storyline that helps to keep you involved throughout. Ratchet's soundtrack and musical score are excellent and compliments the action's sense of scale perfectly. Superb voice acting brings both protagonists to life and this allows you to get to know both of the main characters along with the many others they encounter in their galaxy-wide quest. Ratchet & Clank's trademark sense of humor is very much in evidence during the elaborate cinematic sequences which feature a good chemistry between our hero and his robotic assistant. The game's production values are superb and make this a joy to play that really pops off the screen.

While those who've played the previous Ratchet & Clank games will probably feel an instant familiarity with this latest installment, sometimes this is exactly what you need. It definitely has that classic feel very much in evidence, though the new High-Def graphics help to keep things from feeling stale. The gameplay is what matters most and, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction delivers a welcome blast of big-budget, high-octane platform and shooting action on a system that hasn't really enjoyed a title like this yet. It's larger, more open-ended areas, huge array of weapons and challenging boss battles, along with some clever mini-game style levels make for an unpredictable, yet thoroughly enjoyable experience. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction's polished graphics, cinematic presentation and accessible controls make this one of the best in the series to date and a solidly entertaining purchase for any Playstation 3 owner. 

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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