UPDATE: Well, still no update on the Deadlocked HD. This is going to trickle into early 2013 (hopefully).
Post-impressions added for Up Your Arsenal, A Crack in Time, and Full Frontal Assault
Zelda? You played one you’ve played them all. Kingdom Hearts? Pfft – Darkness Darkness Darkness Heart Heart Heart Sora Sora Riku Mickey. Resident Evil? 3 out of 10 NUFF SAYD.
With the release of the Ratchet & Clank HD Collection in honor of the 10th anniversary of the series as well as Insomniac’s recent announcement to move away from traditional single-player experiences, I thought it was good time to reflect on one of my favorite series. Of the three PS2 character platformers, Ratchet & Clank was the series that resonated the most with me*.
The basic flow of the series is pretty simple; you travel from planet to planet shooting anything that moves with one of the weapons from your diverse arsenal. Defeating enemies would net you bolts which you could use to restock your current ammo supply or purchase new weapons. Occasionally your progress will be stopped by a need for a new gadget to open a door or disguise yourself from alien guards. All the while you could scour the maps for special gold/platinum/titanium bolts or perform specific tasks to gain skill points which could be cashed in for a variety of special items such as skins or in-game cheats. With each iteration, you saw minor tweaks and refinements which on paper didn’t seem especially notable but had a HUGE effect on how the games played.
I’ll try to keep this blog consistent with other ____ Quests by recalling my original thoughts/reactions of the game as well as providing new post-impressions.
Ratchet & Clank – Release Date: PS2 (November 2002), PS3 (October 2012)
My brother-in-law got a PS2 Christmas 2003 and Ratchet & Clank was the game I got to try. I didn’t have that much experience with the Spyro series, so I really didn’t know what to expect from Insomniac at the time. After a couple hours I was roped in by the crazy weapons and level design. When I got my PS2 a few months later, R & C was at the top of my list of games to go with it.
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeesh – going all the way back to the beginning was some roof stoof. I took for granted how far the controls have come in the series. Overall, the level design was smart and the core weapons were fun to try, but I ended up favoring the classics (blaster/flame thrower/rocket launcher) unless I was absolutely forced to use something else.
Pacing is much slower since you only had (at most) 8 HP, so if you decided to rush into a group of enemies guns ablazing, be prepared to play through that sequence over and over again since the checkpoints were pretty spread out.
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando – Release Date: PS2 (November 2003), PS3 (October 2012)
Having enjoyed the first game, when I learned that a sequel was already in the works, I was really excited. Going Commando is where the series moved to another level. Strafing, RPG mechanics, weapon modifications, arena battles– GC was the first game to introduce these mechanics. For people new to the series, this is probably the best starting point.
That’s more like it! I forgot how much of a leap there was between GC and R&C. Prior to replaying, I had ranked GC on the lower end of the spectrum but given what it did for the series I am definitely giving it the credit it deserves. Insomniac really had some fun by experimenting with new weapons like the Bouncer, Chopper, and Miniturret Glove to go with the standard set from the previous game.
The absolute best thing GC did was the new experience system. Killing enemies would eventually allow you to gain additional health and also evolve your weapons into more power versions. The action was now more fast-paced since any failure would still net you some progress in the longrun. It also encouraged experimentation with your growing stockpile. Platinum bolts could be traded in for extra weapon mods (like a lock-feature or added acid/shock damage) which only made you a deadlier killing machine.
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal – Release Date: PS2 (November 2004), PS3 (October 2012)
Three games in as many years? What could they possibly do this time around? UYA brought further improvements to the weapon upgrade system, streamlined the gadgets and from a story perspective, introduced the perfect foil for the series, Dr. Nefarious. What we got was quite possibly the best entry in the series.
Your weapons could now level up 5 times from their original to the final upgraded state (with 2 extra levels in Challenge Mode). The extra levels integrated the mod system from GC as well as provided a small damage/ammo increases along the way.
What set this game apart from the others was the story. The hooks in R&C and GC were enough to move you planet to planet, but UYA provided some depth to the characters, namely Captain Qwark. Full disclosure – I kind of hate Qwark. In the first two games he was a bumbling doofus trying to regain his fame and the PS3 entries have made him a less funny Zap Brannigan. UYA managed to get me to somewhat care about his character. Oh, he is still an idiot, but it gave you the impression he was semi-competent at one point in time.
Dr. Nefarious is a menace but is equally as bungling as Qwark. Ultimately his character is much more tolerable given he has a straight man in Lawrence to balance things out. Nefarious has set put on an all-out war against the “squishies” and it drives him to take revenge on the only person who could potentially foil his plans, Qwark. The backstory between the two rivals is told through various Vid-Comics scattered throughout the game. These sections play out as 2D side scrollers starring Qwark as he reenacts his greatest adventures. With help from his fists, some luck and some heavy editing, Qwark triumphs over Nefarious and it propels him to the popularity we see at the beginning of the series. However, in a lost episode, it was revealed just how much of a coward Qwark truly was. In the end, Qwark swoops in and takes credit for your deeds but you understand that is who he is and that will never change.
Ratchet: Deadlocked – Release Date: PS2 (October 2005), PSN (TBD Q4 2012)
Around 2004/2005, we started to see games attempt a grittier, darker tone (e.g. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within & Jak II) and Insomniac followed suit with Deadlocked. Choosing to focus more on combat, Deadlocked only had 10 weapons (paltry by series standards) but eventually opened up the series’ mod system to adapt to your play style. For the entire game, Ratchet was separated from Clank, but you were given two powered up Synthoid partners to help you along the way.
Of the PS2 entries, Deadlocked was certainly the least appreciated and its omission from the anniversary collection was disconcerting. However, Insomniac did say that a HD version should be available for download before the end of the year.
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters – Release Date: PSP (February 2007), PS2 (March 2008)
Looking to bolster its PSP lineup, Sony had some new developers give their beloved franchises a go. Most notably, Ready At Dawn found success with Daxter and the two God of War: Origin games while High Impact Games were given the reigns to Ratchet & Clank with similar acclaim. Of course when I finally got around to buying a PSP, I had to go with the Size Matters bundle.
Well…that was certainly a portable version of Ratchet & Clank. High Impact Games did their best jamming all the controls on the PSP but what we got was frustrating to play. Strafing was done by using the D-pad while normal movement used the analog stick. You controlled the camera with both triggers, but at the same time you need to press both together to stretch jump or high jump. All in all, it was clunky. Graphically it was fine, but one level in particular went way too far with a hallucinating effect.
The one major gameplay update was finding different armor parts scattered about. If you equipped a full set or a specific combination of pieces, your melee attacks would gain some elemental effects in addition to increased defense, but I would have preferred finding or purchasing full sets only.
I’m sure the PS2 port would alleviate some of those annoyances with the advantage of the extra triggers and second analog stick. In the end, Size Matters really didn’t bring anything new or exciting to the series.
One last note, fuck that last boss fight.
Secret Agent Clank – Release Date: PSP (June 2008), PS2 (May 2009)
High Impact’s next project was based off an in-game series spinoff (think a full blown Itchy & Scratchy game still set in The Simpsons universe).
The controls were simpler this time around since things were tailored to whichever character you playing which helped the game. Like with Size Matters, overall nothing really is added to the series with this entry.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction – Release Date: October 2007
Of the original Sony 3, Ratchet & Clank was the first to see a release on the current gen console. This game and Valkyria Chronicles were purchases I made before I even owned a PS3. With the new hardware, the game was graphically leaps and bounds ahead of previous entries but stuck true to the formula. The forced SIXAXIS added some unnecessary frustration.
What makes this entry stand out is the changes to the weapon upgrade system. The standard upgrade system that has been used since UYA was still in effect, but now you were given the opportunity to invest a new currency Raritanium (which had already appeared in the series, but was used for space combat upgrades only) into a skill tree for each weapon. Upgrade options included increased capacity/damage, increased bolt/Raritanium drops and ultimately an added elemental component. I thought this new system worked really well and hopefully it comes back at some point.
What I can only assume was mandated by Sony, Insomniac worked in the new SIXAXIS control into various aspects of the game. During the freefall sections, you were forced to tilt the control all about in order to avoid missiles when simply using the analog stick would have been much easier. Most glaring, however, was the Tornado Launcher. When you fired that weapon, a mini tornado appeared that could be moved using your SIXAXIS. Using it in a firefight was like trying to pat your head, rub your tummy and hop on one leg all at the same time while reciting the alphabet backwards.
Oh yeah, Mr. Zurkon – pretty great.
Now where is that trophy patch Insomniac?
Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty – Release Date: August 2008
The first ever download only entry into the series, Quest for Booty was designed to bridge the story between Tools and A Crack in Time. Ratchet sets out to find some way to locate his longtime companion with the help(?) of some rusty robot pirates and a mysterious treasure map.
There were already occasions in the series where Ratchet was without Clank, but Quest For Booty gave the developer a playground to experiment with how to potentially do an entire game for Ratchet without his trusty companion. At the beginning, you’re given a small portion of weapons from Tools but they are quickly Metroid-ed away. Most of the game is just Ratchet and his wrench. Your wrench could now attach itself to certain platforms which you could then lower or move them around to assist your progress. Additionally, you could pick up various objects like glowing slugs to act as a makeshift torch to avoid being attacked by enemies. You get your weapons back eventually and the game progresses like normal.
Is it necessary to play through? If you are coming into the series now and as a standalone purchase, probably not. The big story points are summarized during the install process for A Crack in Time. If this was added as an epilogue DLC for Tools it would be a much easier recommendation.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time – Release Date: October 2009
The final entry in the Future “trilogy”, A Crack in Time had Ratchet and Clank each embark on their own unique adventures for most of the game. Ratchet sought out the last remaining member of the Lombaxes and together they look for a way to bring their species back. Clank comes to grip with his ultimate purpose in the universe.
Prior to this quest, I had always felt that UYA was the pinnacle of the series given how much it solidified the formula. However, what A Crack in Time adds in terms of charm and mechanics (and factoring in the drop off the series has taken after its release), this is probably the best example of the series. Crack shares a heavy story focus for both Ratchet and Clank with each getting their own campaign until their goals inevitably crossing paths. After the events of Tools, Ratchet embarks to find not only his best friend but also is searching for a way to rescue his entire species from exile. Meanwhile, Clank comes face to face with his ultimate purpose for which he was created – managing the Great Clock which keeps the balance of time across the entire universe.
All the weapons are fun per usual (despite the inclusion of another Sixxaxis controlled projectile). The new mechanic was the Constructo line of weapons. Three of your weapons (a pistol, bomb glove, and shotgun) could be augmented with different mods which could for example change the type of ammo you fired or the shape of the explosion of your bombs. The best thing about the weapons had nothing to do with the gameplay, but was the how-to video that accompanied each new purchase. I mean honestly, can you watch these and not smile? (find example).
The Clank centric sections always played out the same in previous entries: Clank managed different minibots to attack enemies, remove obstacles, or open locked doors. Lather, rinse, repeat through each game until Crack. As a timekeeper in training, Clank ventured around the Great Clock making sure any time anomalies were fixed before they could cause any irreparable damage to the universe. Throughout the Clock, Clank encountered time manipulation puzzles which were where this game truly shined. Clank could make recordings of himself doing specific tasks that would repeat until they were overwritten. For example, you could run out to step on a pad that raised a platform. Then with your next recording, you could use the newly raised platform to reach the next task and so on and so until you finally reach the exit. The further you progressed, the more ingenious these puzzles got. Time manipulation was the latest craze with games like Braid and P.B. Winterbottom being released around that same time, but Crack was one of the first to use it in a 3D space.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One – Release Date: October 2011
Fresh off the success of A Crack in Time, Insomniac set out to try something new for the series – a fully cooperative experience. All 4 One promised easy drop-in/drop-out co-op for 4 players each taking on the role of one of the series’ most iconic characters. You could deal extra damage to enemies by focusing the same weapon on a single target. Not to forget the original appeal of the series, those who wanted to play through the game solo were given an AI partner to accompany them.
Well Jim certainly wasn’t a fan due to a multitude of technical issues and unfortunately I experienced every single one during my playthroughs. The game overall is a competent but many of the design decisions added unnecessary frustration. Locking progress to a single character seemed like a good idea, but if you wanted to take your Ratchet/Clank/Nefarious/Qwark online, you had to make sure there was an open spot for that character. The first time I tried to join a open spot for a character I hadn’t used, all I had was the basic blaster which was essentially useless.
The co-op combat did have moments of brilliance. If your party focused the same weapon on a single enemy, a meter would fill over that enemy eventually resulting in a burst. This burst would damage or transfer the weapon’s effect onto any nearby enemy in the radius. Focusing the Critter Strike or Frost Cannon was the easy path to victory since their effects leveled anything in their path. The new gadget, the Vac-U, added some interesting puzzles in the RYNO piece sections, but in regular gameplay, it was race to not be the projectile.
If you do pick this up (currently it is free with PS+), I recommend starting with Qwark. His shield is the most useful gadget of the 4.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault – Release Date: November 2012
Touted as a more tower-defense focused entry, previews about FFA have been mixed. Amazon even lists “departure from R&C: All-4-One” as one of the game’s main features. With a release date in sight, I’m anxious to see how this game turns out.
FFA in some respects is a step forward from All-4-One but doesn’t quite measure up to the rest of the series. The game initially tasks you with restarting the defense grids on various planets after they we sabotaged by the game’s antagonist. The heroes must venture out to reactivate key nodes on the map but are called back to their main base at various intervals to defend against oncoming hordes of enemies. Once the key nodes are reactivated, the actual defense grid you can access the actual defense center to power up the system. Upon completing THAT task, there will be a final rush of enemy waves to your base while the system resets. You receive a medal for completing levels with additional medals available for completing the map within a certain time limit and protecting all your generators.
The tower defense system is relatively simple. There are two lanes that must be defended and you have a growing arsenal of tools at your disposal such as turrets, mines and barriers. Additionally, the player can chose to fight the enemy waves outside the base in hopes to defeat them before hitting your defenses. At first, it’ll be a combination of the two as you race back and forth between lanes since the initial set of defenses aren’t enough to take care of things on their own. But once you get those sweet sweet Warmonger turrets, it’s easier to keep exploring the map for objectives as waves come in.
Player weapons are handled differently in FFA than other entries. You start each map with Scattered across the map are pods, which players must successfully “hack” to unlock new weapons. The hacking minigame is simple enough, just press X whenever the bar is over a blue area (with bolt bonuses for hitting specific targets in those areas). Hit all the areas and you’ll be given up to 3 options for a new weapon for that map’s arsenal. There are similar pods to unlock the swingshot and heavy weapons like the Warmonger. The frustrating aspect to this system is not being guaranteed the weapon you want under the circumstances. Weapons can be leveled up to 3 times. As a welcomed change from All-4-One, your overall progress is tied to a single profile. Earning medals unlocks different ranks which grant bonuses to the player (such as quicker movement and health regeneration) which encourages you to replay levels. The time goals can be tricky since all cutscene time is included in your progress so plan accordingly.
FFA does feature both competitive and co-op multiplayer. Campaign maps can be completed with a co-op partner. Having a second player to both unlock weapons and protect your base greatly alleviates some of the difficulty (especially on some of the enemy waves in later levels) and is almost a necessity if you are hoping to beat the developer time goals. The competitive mode is a variation on the main game’s base defense (either 1v1 or 2v2). Each game is divided into 3 phases: Recon, Squad, and Assault. The Recon phase has the teams securing nodes across the map which grant new player weapons and generate bolts to fund base defense/offense. The Squad phase allows the player to invest in defenses for their own tower or create waves to be sent to your opponent’s base. Lastly, the Assault phase pits the teams against each other until one base falls. You can invest bolts into upgrades to your defenses (like more powerful turrets) or your offense (like armor for your waves).
Overall, it is a fun game but it still left me wanting another traditional entry. If you do pick it up, I do suggest playing it coop (if you need a partner hit me up PSN: Isay_Isay). Since there’s not official Dtoid review at this time, my take on it is a solid 6-6.5. At $20 and given that a Vita version is included as well (whenever that actually happens), it’s easy to recommend.
If Insomniac does decide to continue its co-op/multiplayer focus in the future of this series, allow me to make some suggestions. Combine the combat focus of Deadlocked with the co-op weapon damage mechanic of All 4 One. The player profile stuff in Full Frontal was a step in the right direction in terms of your online presence. Storywise, have Qwark and/or Ratchet open up a boot camp for potential heroes and in the process the cadets are tasked with saving the galaxy after the instructors are captured. Call it something like Ratchet & Clank: Private Contact. Let players take on major objectives as they see fit. If someone wants to do something on their own, make it challenging but give them a big experience boost. If they want to be more strategic, it’ll be easier to complete the tasks, but experience is divided up accordingly.
I wish Insomniac luck with Fuse. By what I’ve seen, at its core, there is a fun game in there, but the shift in art direction took at lot out of what got me excited for the game.
Best Game: A Crack in Time
Worst Game: Size Matters
Best Weapon (Non-RYNO): The Bouncer
Best RYNO: V3 (UYA)
1. A Crack in Time
2. Up Your Arsenal
3. Going Commando
4. Tools of Destruction
6. Full Frontal Assault
7. Quest for Booty
8. Ratchet & Clank
9. All 4 One
10. Secret Agent Clank
11. Size Matters
Potential 2013 Quests:
*The correct order 1) R & C 2) Sly Cooper 3) Jak & Daxter #FACT