Tools of Destruction, Ratchet & Clank's first Playstation 3 entry back in 2007, was about as safe a game as one could make. The visual leap took full advantage of the PS3's technical muscle, but the gameplay elements, save a few fleeting instances, differed little from the three (and a half if you count Deadlocked) PS2 games. I loved playing Tools of Destruction, and I completed every corner of it just as I had all of the previous Ratchet & Clank games, but I didn't think it did enough to distinguish itself from its last-gen lineage. Behind the fun was the same old formula, regardless of its gorgeous presentation.
For A Crack in Time, all I wanted was a memorable experience. The series' staples (you know, outrageous and upgradeable weapons, crazy skill points, endless waves of bad guys, brief environmental puzzles, enormous bosses, a hilarious narrative, hidden collectables, a slew of planets to explore, and tons of post-credits content) graced each Ratchet & Clank with an air of welcoming familiarity, but it didn't bode well for nostalgia. I couldn't tell you which game had Clank ordering around robots, bizarre laser shifting unlocking puzzles, or a gun that turned bad guys into ducks. It all ran together, and while I didn't necessarily want a radical change to the formula, I did want an experience worth remembering.
Ratchet. Also, Clank
The narrative picks up where Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty left off. Ratchet and Clank have been separated, with Clank falling into the hands of Up Your Arsenal's Dr. Nefarious. Of all the villains in the series, I was wildly pleased to see Nefarious make a return at the end of Quest for Booty. His constant screaming, laughably terrible schemes, bipolar meltdowns, and (literally) malfunctioning brain made him of my favorite villains ever, and thankfully Armin Shimerman returns to provide Nefarious with his overly charismatic voice. Anyway, the narrative is full Captain Qwark's typical delusional behavior, silly robot humor from Clank's perspective, and Ratchet's usual save-the-world antics. A Crack in Time is gag heavy and rarely serious, though moments toward the later of the game part do well to create some dramatic tension.
Most of A Crack in Time is actually spent with the duo separated from one another. For Ratchet this doesn't exactly make much of a different. Most of what Clank did in games previous, such as provide a hovering mechanism or some other gadgets, are handled differently; Ratchet's still got the same moves, just without the best friend backpack. Chief among the new gadgets are the Omnisoaker, which, with its liquid-sucking capabilities, is good for solving a few environmental puzzles, and an upgraded pair of Hoverboots. Not unlike the hover board found in the later Jak games, Ratchet's Hoverboots are used for a host of speedy ramp jumping areas, and double as a faster method of traveling (which is great on second trips through to look for hidden stuff).
Combat, of course, is the still the star of the show. New weapons include the Sonic Eruptor, a pig thing that burps out blasts like a shotgun, and the Dynamo of Doom, which replaces Tools' Tornado Launcher as it rolls out giant sixaxis controlled energy spheres. As a complete package, combat in A Crack in Time is still a calamity filled success. Enemies aren't all composed of fish bowl head things and are far more diverse this time around, which helps in distinguishing what you need to be firing at who during a session of rampant chaos. While some weapons, like the Mag-net Launcher and the Cryoglove, may seem to run together in their purpose, the overall diversity and uniqueness of the selection feels much better this time around. To boot, a couple of the more basic weapons can also be modified by finding special attachments throughout the levels.
Words probably won't do my experience justice, but I was doing some completely insane stuff toward the end of the game. I'd drop a Mr. Zurkon, lay down a field of Tesla Spikes, throw a tentacle-laden rift inducer in the sky, Mag-net some of the larger enemies, and then unleash my cache of Doom Blades all over the place. It was all a ridiculous amount of fun and thanks to a healthy supply of bolts, ammo was rarely in short supply. Best of all, there is no one solution for a certain type of enemy. Sure, blasting off some Negotiator rockets might always get the job done, but jumping around and trying to do the same thing with your standard blasters might feel more rewarding.
Speaking of which, the reward button is pressed every other minute. Insomniac found no shortage of items or bonuses to congratulate you with, as just about everything you do adds up to something else in A Crack in Time. Skill Points and Trophy support are a given, but the true beauty in the process lies with leveling up your weapons. By simply using them, you can level each one up five times on your first play through. Each new level slides some stats forward and, at the end, adds additional functionality, which basically renders it a whole new weapon. That's old news for series vets, but worth mentioning for the simple fact that it remains a ton of fun.
A significant change arrives with the space faring sequences. Previously limited to rail-based shooting (prettier than Star Fox, but nowhere near as engaging), the whole system has been scrapped and rebuilt; Ratchet now flies his ship around various solar sectors at your leisure. Though movement is restricted to the x-plane, exploring each sector yields some minor shooting battles, a handful of "mini" planets to set down on and explore, as well as the big-planet exploration stuff you're used to. The miniplanets offer either a pure platforming based quest to collect a Zoni or an item, or a "kill ___ number of enemies without dying" challenge.
The space sequences, unfortunately, are one of the few parts of A Crack in Time that fall flat. Combat, especially against the boss ships, feels clunky. I never felt like I had a proper grasp of what to do, and it often turned into a strategy-less sequence of me firing off cheap missiles and then taking cover. The mini planets, for all of their throwback platforming bliss and madcap annihilations, aren't blessed with the incredible art direction found throughout the rest of the game. It's cool at first, but it all kind of runs together by the time you get to the last sector. Doing any of them isn't required, but it's sort of a necessary compulsion if you want to properly complete the game.
Everything I've just described may lead you to believe A Crack in Time is just another marginally different entry in the Ratchet and Clank universe, and if that were all that were there, I wouldn't argue. But Clank, for once, has an entirely different and wholly original set of things to do. In the past Clank has always been used to unlock doors, or get some arbitrary item that only he can access, but finally he's not only intrinsically linked to the narrative, but also literally steals the show with the divergence of his sections.
While there are plenty of slowing-down-time platforming puzzles and some basic combat, the beauty of Clank's portion lie with his time puzzles. Using a recording device, Clank will be able to record himself doing something, like standing on a switch that opens a door, and then rewinding time so he can run through that door as the previously recorded Clank hits the switch. The puzzles ramp up in difficulty fairly quick, and soon it won't be uncommon to have four Clanks running around, in perfect sequence, hitting switches and opening doors.
It came as quite a surprise that I found these sections to be the most engaging and fun parts of the game. I typically don't care for the litany of boring door-opening puzzles that Ratchet and Clank games seems to effortlessly lob at the player, but this one, each of which I took time to solve instead of just trying a bunch of random crap, proved to be much more rewarding. When I completed the last puzzle (which I initially labeled as the always optimistic “impossible”), I actually felt smart, which was the last thing I expected in a run and gun platforming game.
It also doesn't hurt that The Great Clock, where all of Clank's missions take place, is the most beautifully realized worlds in the series. The art direction at Insomniac has always been amongst the industry’s best, but the added context behind Clanks presence there and the sheer magnitude of it all is completely overwhelming. It's gorgeous in a way that I can't truly express without the abundant use of profanity, and endearing in a manner I certainly didn't expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. All of the planets in A Crack in Time are visually striking, and my hat's off to Insomniac for working the art department overtime to render beautiful and diverse worlds seven games into the series, but The Great Clock, along with most everything else Clank does, absolutely steals the show.