Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time Hands-On Preview

Ratchet and Clank has always been one of the PlayStation 3’s top-tier exclusive titles, and with good reason. The development team at Insomniac–who also created the critically acclaimed Resistance series–has a creative knack for seamlessly integrating funny, lighthearted storytelling with an innovative arsenal of original weapons and chaotic, enjoyable combat. Admittedly, Ratchet and Clank’s latest outings haven’t quite lived up to their past adventures. However, from what we had a chance to play of the latest entry on the E3 2009 show floor, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time–is shaping up to be a true return to what made the series so endearing to begin with.

Set after the events of Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty, A Crack in Time continues the Lombax’s galaxy wide search for his mechanical sidekick Clank. We had a chance to play through a mission within Krell Canyon, which is one of the many planets you’ll visit on your journeys. The levels are as expansive and detailed as in past R&C titles, as we went from an arid, rocky terrain to jet-booting our way over ramps and finally traveled through a termite infested organic cavern –all without hitting a single load screen.

The real highlights of any Ratchet and Clank game are always the enemies and weapons, and the demo certainly did not disappoint in that regard. Not only did we get a chance to mess around with some old favorites–like the boomerang saw blades and a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher called Negotiator–but we also had the opportunity to see what new weapons and toys Insomniac has been able to come up with. While some weren’t too impressive–like the Plasma Striker, which is essentially the sniper rifle found in past titles–some of the others were truly memorable. The CryoMine Glove was pretty neat as it allows you to freeze enemies in place, and the Sonic Eruptor–a gun with a belching creature on the end–unleashes blades of noise at unsuspecting bad guys. Also noteworthy were the Hoverboots, which–as their name implies–gives Ratchet the ability to zoom across levels using a pair of rocket propelled shoes. They might not be the most novel invention that Insomniac has ever devised, but they sure are a fun and stylish way to travel around.

One thing that I found very impressive about the demo was the variety of gameplay that A Crack in Time offers. Though we weren’t able to get a glimpse of the time manipulation mechanic (used for both puzzle and combat purposes), there are still a number of noticeable improvements that fans will love. The first is that boss fights are now a much bigger part of the game, and are also a lot more challenging and deadly. We were able to square off against a multi-headed robotic hydra in the demo. Instead of just blindly shooting or trying to rush at us like bigger enemies would have in older games, the hydra actually has an attack pattern this time around. One head would shoot fire in our direction, and then all four heads would suddenly lower and create a rotating circle of flames that we quickly had to avoid.

The second was considerably smaller but no less impressive. Once we were done with the hydra, we went into a cavern and were swarmed by invincible termites. Since you can’t kill them and outrunning them is pretty tough, you have to manipulate the environment to distract the critters. For example, you’re equipped with a gadget called the OmniSoaker that allows you to absorb nectar from nearby plants. You can shoot globs of this nectar onto the ground, which will keep the termites busy long enough for you to slip by unnoticed. Its worth mentioning that the game looks about as good as Tools of Destruction did, maintaining a solid frame rate no matter what crazyness is happening on-screen.

Overall, we had a lot of fun with A Crack in Time. It captures the magic that made the old Ratchet and Clank games such a blast, and manages to improve on that formula by adding more to it. More features, new game play mechanics, new weapons and gadgets – all of these new additions feel like something genuinely important to the R&C universe rather than superficial or cosmetic upgrades. Each of the game’s humongous worlds are colorful, vibrant, and teaming with all sorts of baddies that are waiting to be destroyed. The only real gripe that we had about the demo was that Insomniac still hasn’t quite managed to strike a balance between letting gamers blow stuff up and offering a challenge. Like Tools of Destruction, I thought that A Crack in Time was simply too easy. Killing armies of enemies with super powered weapons is always a lot of fun, but it can become somewhat boring if there’s nothing there that forces you to think or strategize.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time launches exclusively on the PlayStation 3 sometime during holiday 2009.

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