GDC 08: Hands-on with Secret Agent Clank

First things first: For any of you out there that have played through (and loved!) Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, did you ever reach a hidden part in the game that gives you a secret password to unlock something in the upcoming PSP game Secret Agent Clank? Even the Sony people at the fancy PlayStation lounge here at GDC didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked them about it. But I know it is real. Anyone? I swear I am not crazy.

Anyway, sorry for the sidetrack. Any validation of my sanity is greatly appreciated.

To be honest, I had not heard that much about Secret Agent Clank except for the aforementioned secret code. I wasn’t sure when it was coming out or even what kind of game it was.

As a ginormous fan of the Ratchet & Clank series I was more than excited to hear the PSP game calling my name at GDC. But how was it? Does it live up the standards set by the revered series? Hit the jump for my hands-on impressions.

Clank is cute. I always thought that from the other games in the series, but now it is more than official. In Secret Agent Clank, the previous robot sidekick gets his own game and shows that he is not just a guy that rides quietly on the back of some other main character. In this game, Clank leads the charge in a ridiculously adorable tuxedo, complete with some pretty amazing special moves that even rival some of the massive weapons Ratchet gets to handle.

Secret Agent Clank is an action platformer — in that regard it is very similar to fellow PSP game Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. Even graphically the two games share a lot in common (colorful graphics, rich worlds, etc.).

Despite the aesthetic similarities, Secret Agent Clank could easily stand on its own as a unique game.

Most obviously, instead of Clank participating in missions where he can barely fight, Secret Agent Clank finds Clank as some kind of super spy. While I loved the Clank-specific missions that focused more on puzzle solving in older Ratchet & Clank games, seeing Clank kick some serious alien ass is pretty cool (the first time he used kung-fu made me giggle like a school girl).

According to the Sony people, Ratchet and Quark are eventually playable in the game (but in small doses, just as Clank was in previous games), but the demo I tried out was all Clank.

In it, you have to sneak into a museum and find clues to help free your friend Ratchet, who has been wrongly arrested.

Immediately, the game feels very different than older Ratchet & Clank games in that you have to use stealth kind of a lot. Even though Clank is a force to be reckoned with, he is not powerful enough to defeat most of the oncoming enemies, so running in with weapons flailing will almost always result in a “Game Over” screen. I am not a big fan of stealth in videogames, but, similarly to stages in the Sly Cooper series, the gameplay feels right.

While there are going to be a ton of spy weapons to choose from eventually, the limited choices in the demo were actually pretty fun. In keeping with the spy theme, Clank is equipped with a tie that turns into a boomerang, cuff links that double as bombs, and even a pen that shoots ink, perfect for incapacitating those pesky security cameras.

While I am not sure how new weapons are going to acquired in the final version, the demo hints that they may be purchased in a very similar fashion to previous Ratchet & Clank games, by using the numerous amount of bolts you pick up from defeating enemies and breaking crates (yup, bolts are back!).

One of the coolest parts of the demo (and something I hope becomes a big part of the final game) was something called “stealth finishing moves.” By sneaking up behind an enemy, Clank can push a series of buttons (think hacking in Mass Effect) and kill the enemy instantly. Fail, however, and your character is captured automatically. This huge risk for reward mechanic is a welcome addition and really helps mix-up the already interesting gameplay.

There really wasn’t a lot to see of Secret Agent Clank, but what I did see I liked a lot. The game has the potential to appease hardcore Ratchet & Clank fans and still offer enough originality to stand on its own. The overall action of the game felt a little slow when compared to the non-stop carnage of other Ratchet & Clank games, but that may be owed to the fact that stealth is a big part of the experience.

I am excited to get more hands-on time with this game as it nears its tentative Summer 2008 release date. Fingers crossed the final product lives up to the potential.

Chad Concelmo