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Sean Pettibone


Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (Playstation 3)

Since the first release on PS2, Ratchet & Clank games have delivered a consistently entertaining and challenging series of platforming titles that mixed challenging puzzles with massive amounts of ammo. A richly detailed universe of characters and storylines evolved over time and made this one of the most engaging traditional action series of the past few years. The newest adventure builds on the successful play mechanics of the original and adds a few new wrinkles including new sub-missions, mini-games and time-twisting gameplay mechanics that keep things fresh. Excellent production values give it a cinematic flair and help to deliver a satisfying experience that will please the series' many fans.
Those who played through the last Ratchet & Clank Future title, Tools of Destruction, found that while the game delivered an epic quest, there were a few loose ends. The new PS3 adventure, A Crack in Time brings these plot threads to their conclusion while delivering another satisfying adventure. The arrival of its latest installment, A Crack in Time, for the Playstation 3 shows that developers Insomniac Games have maintained their high standards in terms of gameplay, visuals and innovation. This time around, our heroes have been separated at different corners of the galaxy. Ratchet is looking for his friend who was kidnapped by the mysterious Zoni creatures at the end of the last game. Meanwhile, Clank finds himself in the center of a strange place called the universal clock, which controls time across the galaxy. When he awakens, he discovers that he's been created to control the clock, with his 'father' instructing him on how to maintain it. Clank also gains special powers that he can use to protect it. It's an intriguing premise and one that is fleshed out effectively through a series of excellent cut scenes. However, this only represents about half of the epic story that unfolds in A Crack in Time. On the other side of the galaxy, Ratchet is looking for his kidnapped friend, and has to travel through multiple planets in order to save him. Early on, he's joined by the infamous Captain Quark, who ham-fistedly aids him on the quest. The game plays similarly to previous games, and vets will be able to jump right in without much effort or explanation. Its controls remain tight and responsive with the player controlling their character as they race through levels with platforms to jump on, enemies to destroy and many, many weapons to use.

As usual, the game allows you to build up quite an arsenal of weapons, and you can switch between them easily by using the onscreen menu. There's a massive array of these devices including guns, bombs and other wacky devices, such as burp guns and more. Players can purchase these weapons at any of the kiosks they find throughout the game. The twist this time around is that they can be upgraded and customized in many different ways, which gives you a massive selection which to use. A large part of the enjoyment in the R&C titles is experimenting and trying out all the different weapons, and seeing which ones cause the most damage the fastest. There's a huge amount of variety and since the weapons upgrade automatically in some cases, you won't get bored. Using the weapons is fairly easy, and the in-game HUD allows you to switch between them effortlessly. Most of the game's initial levels closely resemble those you've seen in previous games in terms of layout and structure. There's usually a mix of platforming action, where you have to jump around, along with fights against enemies. There can be swarms of these attacking players, and you have to mow them down rapidly, which makes the game feel a bit more intense this time around. When you defeat these enemies, they'll release bolts which you can collect and use to purchase additional weapons. It starts off a little bit on the slow side, but things pick up as you get more experience and explore the universe.

While the game's main planetary levels are quite impressive and dramatic in terms of presentation, A Crack in Time differs from previous installments in that it allows you to complete numerous side quests. Once you find yourself in your space ship, you'll see that in addition to the huge planets that have become the series' trademark, you can also travel to smaller moons and other areas. These are smaller scale missions, presented with the player roaming the surface while globe rotates under your feet. It has shades of Super Mario Galaxy, but its still fun, since these are like small scale versions of the main missions, with enemies and crates filled with power-ups. The odd camera angle makes things tricky and you have to be careful to avoid plunging to the planet's surface or its lights out. The point of these missions is usually either to earn extra credits, or to find and capture the small Zoni creatures that have kidnapped Clank. They not only give you clues as you search for Clank, collecting enough of them in your pocket-prison automatically upgrades your abilities and ship. This is important later on, since you'll need the extra powers to survive some of the more intense battles you'll face in the harder sections. However, the pacing of the game is generally excellent which makes it a good fit for both casual and hardcore gamers. There are no sudden spikes in difficulty and most progression occurs quickly. Even if you do get stuck in one section, frequent save points allow you to go through the levels at a steady pace.

Ratchet's sequences are fairly predictable from a gaming standpoint, but when the action shifts to Clank's adventure, things become more interesting. He has a somewhat similar style of play, but the twist here comes in the form of Time twisting techniques. There are a couple of these that the robot can use, the first of which are Time Bombs. Throwing these slows down the action in its immediate area for a short time, and gives you the chance to get past obstacles or foes in your path much easier. Time Bombs only work for a short time, and he can only throw one, so you need to use them carefully. These offer a surprisingly different take on the traditional action models. A more complicated system is also available, in which the player can use time pads on the floor to unlock puzzles, and use multiple selves simultaneously. In this system, you stand on a time pad, go into the menu and record your actions. When this is done, you can replay your actions while using the saved action to perform a task at the same time. This can also be used in multiple steps where you can erase the first action, create another and use it as well. It's a bit confusing at first, and while it's not implemented or explained as well as it could have been, the time pad technique offers an interesting mechanic when it comes to solving puzzles. Some of the puzzles can be frustrating, but some of these give players the option of skipping them, but at the price of losing the reward they would have otherwise received.

The new time-warping gameplay elements are fairly well integrated into the existing structure, and for the most part, they work seamlessly. Throwing time bombs works much like any other weapon and while it takes a few tries, jumping onto the time pods is fairly easy to get the hang of. Ratchet's new space travel sequences are even easier to get the hang of, and while they aren't as elaborate, these missions give players a less-intense gameplay experience that helps to break things up. These mini-games and new abilities give the game a more free-roaming feel, but there's still an over-riding adventure and storyline to get through, and the game delivers a cinematic experience that's quite impressive. Most of the levels on planets you explore are richly detailed and feel alive with creatures, characters and monsters who'll keep you entertained throughout. There's an impressive sense of scale throughout and while there are a few glitchy moments, the camera system is excellent throughout and rarely obscures the action. Whether you're shooting at groups of foes, interacting with other characters or, exploring vast chambers and caverns, there's a high level of polish that is quite impressive. It's character animations remain remarkably fluid throughout that brings the events to life vividly. Excellent voice acting adds to the game's story and brings each persona to life, and the casting is nearly perfect. This extends to supporting characters as well, with each interaction bringing another piece of the puzzle to place. It remains consistent with the quality in the first game so, the second Ratchet & Clank Future title for the PS3 delivers the high-quality aesthetics that players have come to expect from Insomniac. There's loads of eye-candy from beginning to end, making for an impressive overall experience for those who play through it.

While it doesn't offer too many surprises, fans of the series are likely to find much to enjoy in this latest R&C adventure. Its solid play mechanics and excellent controls make for an extremely playable and enjoyable experience. The addition of time warping techniques definitely adds to the challenge in solving puzzles, though the implementation could have been better. Its time theme works its way throughout the adventure and gives the storyline a cohesion that some previous R&C titles occasionally lacked. These puzzle sequences give Ratchet & Clank more variety but there's still plenty of the traditional platforming action to play through. Outstanding production values with lavishly rendered space sequences, moon walks over globular levels and a smooth, consistent frame-rate. As usual, there's some excellent voice acting and animation to give Crack in Time a cinematic flair that brings many humorous and dramatic points to life vividly. In closing, their second PS3 adventure delivers great gameplay and an engaging story that brings the current storyline to a satisfying conclusion.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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