Dr. Nefarious enjoys the simple things in life: radio dramas, massages, and being epoch-spanningly evil. As Ratchet and Clank’s arch nemesis, though, the doctor tends to spend most of his time licking his wounds and nursing a massive grudge. During one of his rebounds from defeat, Nefarious stumbled across what seems to be the answer to his troubles: time travel. How so? Well, if he could go back in time then he could “wrong every right,” of course. All he needs is control of the Great Clock, but first he must defeat its newly appointed protector, Clank.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (A Crack in Time) finds the duo separated most of the game, with Clank coming to terms with his new position and Ratchet zipping around the universe on the lookout for Clank and the Clock. That doesn’t mean that Ratchet won’t have any helped, thanks to fellow Lombax General Azimuth and intergalactic buffoon Captain Qwark. Each adventure has its own concentration within the broad platformer design with Clank handling puzzles and Ratchet tackling combat. Elements from each portion do creep into the other which offers some variety, and it’s a good formula, if a bit uneven at times. Ratchet’s portion is surprisingly the easier of the two due to Clank’s portion containing a recording mechanic that seems pretty convoluted but ends up being fairly clever; it doesn’t take long to get the hang of things, but even after you do, a few puzzles will throw you for a loop.
Clank will have to reset time fluctuations within the Great Clock as well as delve into his memory banks to properly learn how to care and protect the structure. To get everything running smoothly again, Clank utilizes both bombs to temporarily slow down time and recorders to access different areas. Up to four recorders are used at a time, each one filming a copy of him for one minute as he works through areas by navigating obstacles and unlocking doors. The tricky part is that most doors require multiple pressure plates to be pressed in order to be unlocked, but to get to those plates there are others that need to be pressed in order to lower and raise platforms, access navigable cylinders, and create platforms in order to even reach them. The areas are pretty easy to get through at first, with just one or two plates to contend with, but by the end there will be seven to contend with in addition to obstacles. They can definitely be frustrating when you first encounter them, but a little patience really pays off as the answers tend to come fairly quickly after a few minutes of trial and error; what seem to be tedious puzzles end up being interesting brain teasers. Clank will also have to face off against some erratic defense mechanisms and dangerous creatures that are running, but the monsters can be whopped and blasts ricocheted back with his new Chronosceptor - adding a little bit of excitement.
Instead of being confined to one location, Ratchet is able to zip around from sector to sector in his star fighter, Aphelion. Instead of going from one set planet to another, he can now freely travel on a 2D plane between moons, planets, depots, and other celestial bodies. Each location offers something to make the trip worthwhile, whether it’s a treasured gold bolt, Zoni, RYNO V schematics, side mission, or weapon mod. The bolts that come showering down from a gold bolt are used to purchase new weapons and armor while captured Zoni unlock ship upgrades. Each weapon is enhanced with usage, utilizing a similar experience and leveling system as Ratchet, and features customization in the form of appearance and with up to three selectable mods for three different components. The most powerful weapon is the RYNO V, which is built by the smuggler, one of several space-faring creatures that can be hailed and assisted for bolts. Some of Ratchet’s greatest challenges will come from these optional gathering tasks, in particular the moons holding the Zoni, which feature the game’s more difficult platforming portions.
Most of Ratchet’s time will be spent on planets, and the occasional battleship, wiping out Dr. Nefarious’ forces and trying to track down the Great Clock to reconnect with his past. This involves a copious amount of rockets, blaster fire, saw blades… and disco balls. True to the series, the arsenal in A Crack in Time is as off-the-wall -- and satisfying -- as the humor. Each weapon is introduced by a 60s-style cartoon courtesy of arms manufacturer GrummelNet, explaining the optimal use of the shotgun, disco ball that causes enemies to dance, tesla coils that create charged perimeters, creature whose mating call sends enemies flying back, and interdimensional portal that calls forth the tentacles of a ravenous beast. Combat is often chaotic and colorful, with UFOs, floating blade-wielding robots and giant mechs blowing up alongside squished snails, raging beasts, and cyborg hydras. A few non-combat items will be unlocked along the way to aid in navigating obstacles, including hoverboots, an electrical tether, an Omnisoaker (with a side bonus of being able to coat enemies in a gel that causes insects to devour them), and eventually Clank’s time bombs. The controls do a good job keeping up with the action which include an auto lock, zoom, double jump, and strafe; though, a manual locking system would’ve been optimal for long-range encounters. There were a few moments when the camera wasn’t far out enough, which was a bit of a nuisance, but the only technical glitches I ran across was when Ratchet got hung up on a railing a few times and when the vocals dropped off (subtitles remained) during a cutscene. Considering the scale and amount of detail in A Crack in Time, that’s very surprising. Even with those in mind, I wouldn’t hesitate to call the game anything but polished.
Throughout the 12 to 13 hours of play, the game was only repetitive at the very end, around the last half hour. Up until then, the game had been a real treat. Like its predecessors, A Crack in Time does a fantastic job in creating an atmosphere that’s exciting, funny, and easy to enjoy, whatever age you are. The comedy rarely misses -- even if the gag can be seen from a mile away, the reactions are still great -- and the constantly rewarding system, whether it’s a level or a mod or an upgrade, gives the game a real sense of momentum. The ease might put some people off, especially with the random Clank bits that can be a little tricky, but the game does have a challenge mode that unlocks upon completion and its style is never one that indicates any different. There are a lot of pows, bams, and explosions, but everything is kept lighthearted. Older players can kick back and enjoy a few hours’ worth of solid action-platforming while younger players will find it challenging yet rewarding.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time isn’t vastly different from its PlayStation 3 predecessor, Tools of Destruction, but the addition of the space combat and open-world element adds a lot for the initial and subsequent playthroughs. Aside from a few technical hiccups, much of A Crack in Time seems effortless. The amount of detail is phenomenal: the voice-actors do a great job, the graphics are some of the best on the system, and little touches throughout that add so much life and personality to a series already featuring two of gaming’s most genuinely likable protagonists. And, I’ll just come out and say it: backpack Clank is adorable. There. The difficulty can be on the easy side, but it’s a rewarding and funny trip that is well worth taking.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)