Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
Ratchet believes he is the last of the lombax race. He is wrong. In A Crack in Time, another lombax emerges from the shadows. His name is Alister Azimuth, a general who served in the war that nearly brought the lombax to extinction. Ratchet has been searching the cosmos for information pertaining to his people and his history. Azimuth has been searching for a way to turn back the clock to undo the terrible fate that befell his race. In Azimuth, Ratchet has found his source of information, Azimuth has gained a supporter to his cause. The Great Clock, a device created to preserve unity in the universe, is believed to be capable of altering time, but at what cost?
The riveting plot doesn’t just answer questions players have had since first smashing a crate with Ratchet’s wrench; it unifies the series’ mythology and lifts its characters up onto a much higher and more meaningful stage. After playing this game, I now have a cohesive view of both Ratchet and Clank. Bringing back former antagonists, as opposed to creating a new foe for each game as Insomniac has done in previous entries, gives the universe a true threat that balances the scales between good and evil. Although maintaining a whimsical tone, this fiction now has a defined villain like Darth Vader.
Through this strong narrative, the quest for answers (and in some cases, conclusions) is heightened through the gameplay. In many levels, time is bent, stretched, rewound, and thrown in directions my feeble mind couldn’t even begin to comprehend. With the series’ trademark combat remaining as explosive as ever, the concepts surrounding time manipulation give sections of the game a Braid-like feel. This is most prominently on display in the Clank levels.
Yes, Ratchet’s tin sidekick is still around, but throughout most of the adventure he is on his own. In a twist of luck that helps his furry companion, Clank’s journey of self-discovery takes him into the heart of the Great Clock. Here, most of the challenges are navigation puzzles. Tricky platforming and amazing combat sequences are sprinkled in, but you’re mostly tasked with manipulating time sequentially to open doors, lower platforms, and dispose of enemies. To do this, Clank can record past and present versions of himself that, as confusing as this may sound, run concurrently in time. Think of it as programming AI routines that work together. These enjoyable mind exercises escalate in difficulty as the game progresses. In past games, Clank has had his moments, but these sequences are far and away his most enjoyable contribution to the R&C experience.
For Ratchet, time is abused in ways that show players certain worlds in the past, present, and future. Seeing how civilizations progress through time is interesting, but above all else, it’s something Insomniac uses to create amazing level design and mission objectives. With that said, the excitement tied to Ratchet’s gameplay remains largely about the weapons and gadgets he wields. While many of the armaments’ functionality fall into the classification of a shotgun, rocket, or machine gun, the creative spin on each weapon deserves a tip of the hat. I especially love how the destructive power of a species’ mating call is transformed into a shotgun-esque weapon. With enemies throwing curveballs at you like magnetic tethers or shields that must first be removed, the combat maintains a fresh appeal while still fitting like a glove you’ve worn since childhood [Reiner’s hands are tiny! – Ed].
As for the gadgets, series staples like the swingshot and magnetic boots return, but are largely overshadowed by the new hover boots, which greatly enhance Ratchet’s standard movements and add a layer of intensity to the platforming sequences.
The one area where A Crack in Time stumbles is in its aerial combat. Being able to explore a galaxy via spaceship adds hours of exploration and gameplay, but the ship-to-ship combat drew nothing but a yawn from me. Not only are these sequences far too easy, the lack of mobility goes against the complexity captured in the other gameplay mechanics.
Regardless, this series is the closest video games come to having a noteworthy serialized adventure. A Crack in Time shows a good idea and consistent execution is all it takes to keep interest high. Keep ‘em coming, Insomniac!