Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time

Answering Some Nagging Questions
by Joe Juba on Sep 30, 2009 at 03:21 PM
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Rating: Everyone 10+
Platform: PlayStation 3

For years, Ratchet & Clank has been one most reliably entertaining franchises in video games. The addictive blend of powerful weapons, funny and endearing characters, vibrant worlds, and pitched action is always captivating. But after eight successful installments, developer Insomniac Games faces a unique dilemma: How do you keep things fresh after such a long run?

“A Crack in Time is the culmination of the Ratchet & Clank Future saga,” explains creative director Brian Allgeier. “It’s going to answer many of the big questions that came up in both Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty. You will learn what happened to Clank, his connection to the Zoni, and more about Ratchet’s past.” In the Future storyline, our heroes have struggled with issues of their origins, and this new installment answers those questions once and for all.

In Tools of Destruction, Ratchet turned down a chance to reunite with his long-lost fellow Lombaxes, and Clank had strange visitations from the robotic Zoni. Quest for Booty found Ratchet in pursuit of Clank after the worshipful Zoni swept him away to parts unknown. The game’s ending revealed Clank’s location, but didn’t reunite the two friends, so A Crack In Time begins with the heroes separated.

“Our fans have had a ton of questions about Ratchet and Clank’s pasts ever since we began the series, and we’re really excited to finally answer these questions,” Allgeier reveals. “They’ve been wondering for the last two years about the Lombaxes and if Ratchet would ever find another one. He meets Azimuth, who has been in hiding for many years and serves as a mentor for Ratchet. He reveals many things about his past that I think may surprise many players. Combine that with everyone’s favorite villain, Dr. Nefarious (and Lawrence) and a healthy side helping of self-proclaimed ‘superhero’ Captain Qwark. We think that longtime fans will really appreciate a story that brings back some old favorite characters as well as introduces new characters that reveal more about Ratchet and Clank’s pasts.” 

While many story details remain under wraps, it’s clear that time plays a big part in both the plot and the gameplay. “Ratchet and Clank learn that Dr. Nefarious is attempting to tamper with time itself,” Allgeier says. “We’ve never fully explored ‘time’ as a gameplay element in previous R&C games, and I think fans will be pleasantly surprised by some of the cool gameplay twists that this game introduces to the franchise.”

Throughout the series, fans have always gotten a kick out of the dedicated Clank levels, and A Crack In Time is no exception; messing with time is now his central mechanic. “Clank will have to solve puzzles by using recordings of himself to get through various puzzles,” Allgeier tells us. “The challenge comes in timing the other recordings correctly, and then re-recording the Clanks as you get into the tougher puzzles. It sounds complicated when I describe it, but is actually really fun and intuitive to play. It’s one of the new features we’re most excited by here in the office.”

The bulk of new features are being reserved for the action-centric Ratchet levels. As always, Insomniac is crafting new weapons to add to Ratchet’s ever-growing arsenal. Allgeier lists some of his favorites: “There’s the CryoMine Glove, where Ratchet can toss out these mines that will seek out enemies and instantly freeze them, leaving them open to Ratchet’s attacks. There’s also the Sonic Eruptor, which is a fancy name for a bloated creature held by a harness. When Ratchet fires, he squeezes it to let loose a massive burping sound. It can be fired repeatedly to create lots of damage and some good belches. However, the damage for this weapon can be maximized through timing the firing to onscreen indicators. As big sniper rifle fans, we also love the new Plasma Striker – an energy weapon crossbow with a scope that has a special sensor that can detect enemy weak spots.” Ratchet also has access to several new tools to make up for the absence of his robotic buddy. One of the coolest of these appears to be the new Hoverboots. With his new footwear in place, Ratchet has access to an array of jumps and acrobatic moves as he explores the planets of the game.

If new weapons and equipment are a foregone conclusion, the new space combat and exploration sections are a welcome surprise. Where previous entries in the series often included space-shooting sequences, A Crack In Time opens up entire star systems, which can be freely explored and navigated with your ship. In addition to dogfight-like space battles, the sprawling reaches of outer space yield hidden collectibles and upgrades.

Outer space isn’t the only environment to branch out into a more free form structure. Ground levels are now far more open than before, giving players a chance to choose the paths they want to pursue and shape their own progression through a stage. “We had a lot of positive feedback to our more non-linear levels like Sargasso in Tools of Destruction and the Merdegraw area in Quest for Booty,” Allgeier says. “We wanted to continue to give players larger levels that encourage exploration and experimentation.”

It’d be disingenuous to suggest that Ratchet & Clank is seeing a complete overhaul with the introduction of A Crack In Time. Then again, this is one series where dramatic reinventions are rarely called for. New weapons, refined gameplay, and an evolution of story have been recipes for success in a series that has been one of the most crowd-pleasing in Sony’s lineup ever since 2002. The developers at Insomniac Games have shown time and again their ability to make the formula behind Ratchet & Clank feel fresh and new through clever innovation and stellar level design. Unless that track record goes askew, we can expect A Crack In Time to be another sure bet.