Monday, March 30, 2009

Ratchet and Clank (2002) (PS2)

Having completed “Destroyed All Humans! 2” earlier this year, I had thought that I would play and review a more serious and intelligent SF game. Having had little luck there so far, I’ve ended up playing “Ratchet and Clank” instead, which makes a mockery of my original intent. I have played the other three sequels in the series on the PS2 previously, but had never had the chance to play the original until now.

“Ratchet and Clank” is about a mechanic, Ratchet, who finds a robot, Clank, while scavenging from a crash site for parts for his near-completed spaceship. Clank warns Ratchet that the galaxy is in danger from Supreme Executive Chairman Drek, whom is constructing a new world for his race out of several planets other planets that are, unfortunately, currently inhabited. Together, they set out to find Captain Qwark, a hero they believe capable of stopping Drek.

Although the plot is enjoyable enough, it’s not really the reason you would play it. The twists in the game are somewhat predictable, mainly there to help extend the game out to something approaching a reasonable length. The story is fairly pedestrian. The characters are not well-fleshed out, nor is it overly intelligent. However, the humour of the game does negate some of these problems quite a bit. It’s a fairly silly sort of humour, but quite funny all of the same – you wouldn’t mind children watching, and they would laugh if they were, but you would have a chuckle from it, too. The story is really a reason to give you a bunch of different planets to explore, and on that count, succeeds.

The main reason to play Ratchet and Clank is the game-play. “Ratchet and Clank” is the lovechild of the platformer and shooter genres, and takes the best parts of both for the game. The platformer aspect provides some quite good puzzles to nut out, and solving the puzzles provides you with some gadget for your collection or a gold bolt for your troubles. The gadgets used to pass obstacles provide some good mini-games – the hacker has you lining up tiny laser beams to open locked doors, while the hydro-displacer allows you to drain and fill tanks to allow you to solve problems, and the grind-rail boots has you sliding along twisted rails, and dodging mines and trains in order to reach the end of the course.

The shooter aspect of the game breaks up the exploration and platform-jumping by giving you a lot of enemies to tackle, and a variety of weapons to deal with them. Pistols, bombs, mines, flamethrowers, are just a few examples of weapons to use. There’s also some standout weapons, too – an electric coil gun, a guided missile launcher, a morphing ray which turns all of your enemies into chickens, and the RYNO – your very own handheld missile silo. Most of these weapons, particularly the RYNO and the upgraded versions of these weapons, cost quite a few bolts, so you will be playing for a while to save up enough to purchase these weapons.

Fortunately, in order to help you accumulate bolts, when you complete the game (which takes about twenty hours the first time through), you get the option of repeating the game again, taking with you all of the weapons that you own. In the new play-through, you get the chance to purchase upgraded weapons, earn more money than you did the first time through, and get any weapons or items you may have missed. Although this is quite good in theory, there are two problems with this. The first is that your enemies do not become more powerful in the second run-through than the first, which means that upgrading your weapons makes this much easier than the original run-through, and in your first and subsequent play-throughs you can easily take out most enemies with the wrench, which doesn’t really encourage you to use the variety of weapons on offer. In fact, using the wrench helps you save money more quickly.

The controls of the game are decent, but aren’t quite as good as those of future games. Strafing (moving left to right while facing in a single direction) is far harder than it needs to be, and you cannot strafe and use a weapon at the same time. Quickly selecting weapons is not consistent; sometimes it picks the weapon at the top of your quick-select wheel, other times it picks your previous weapon. Gadgets aren’t automatically selected when it is obvious that you want to use them; instead you have to get them from your quick select wheel or the menu. There are a few other minor niggles such as these that are fixed in future incantations which are missed, but don’t overly detract from the gameplay.

As for the graphics, they are quite ordinary, even by the PS2’s standards. Surfaces are not done well at all, and this is not good enough when the game encourages exploration for hidden items and the like. This becomes quite obvious when you are trying to find an elusive gold bolt, or start using your guided missile. The missile tends to fly through some surfaces, particularly in places where you cannot access on foot. There’s the occasional minor graphical glitch. And items that are meant to be circles are shaped like polygons with edges that could cut. Although these complaints do not disrupt the game at all, they do need to be mentioned because they do detract from the quality somewhat.

In short, “Ratchet and Clank” is a decent game, as long as you don’t mind your SF being humorous and somewhat less than rigorous in its logic or technology. The gameplay is quite fun, although the controls are not as good as they can be, and the graphics are definitely not the best available on the PS2. It can be quite difficult at times, and features some interesting weapons and gadgets to use, and to do everything in the game will take about forty hours or so. For those that are interested in this style of game, I would recommend the second or third entry in the series, as most of my complaints regarding this game are dealt with in the sequels (except logic and consistency, but that’s really a minor complaint). That said, even though I did enjoyed the later entries of the series more, the first entry in the “Ratchet and Clank” series is still worth a look. 3.5/5.

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