Written by Melissa Shaw
Reprint from Fantasy Magazine
The new “Ratchet and Clank” game, “Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (CIT)” for the Sony PS3, has a lot to live up to. The series is renowned for its quirky humor, vast array of gadgets and weapons, gorgeous visuals, and fast-paced, gleefully destructive action.
This installment picks up where the last left off: our favorite Lombax, Ratchet, is searching for his little robot pal, Clank, who vanished just after they won the big boss fight in “Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (TOD).” (“Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty,” a short game that was released between TOD and CIT, was a Ratchet-only digression that, while it had a few entertaining moments, added nothing to the ongoing storyline.) Clank himself ends up becoming a caretaker of the Great Clock, a device that sits exactly in the center of the universe (give or take 50 feet) that maintains and repairs the stability of time. The main villain of the story, Dr. Nefarious (familiar to fans of earlier R&C games), is scheming to gain control over the Great Clock and thus time itself, so he can change history, wrong past rights, and rule the universe.
Like previous installments, CIT delivers lots of weapons (though the Quickselect menu is no longer customizable), enemies, worlds, spectacular visuals, and gadgets. The series’ humor is still firmly in place. Particular favorites include Mr. Zurkon, a homicidal “synthenoid” robot who loves to taunt your enemies (and sometimes your friends), and the battery bots, who complain bitterly every time their brief rebellions against being used as power sources are thwarted. The game also introduces mini-worlds with mini-games that feature various prizes, including treasure items and weapons mods. Clank’s role and abilities are expanded dramatically, particularly with an interesting self-cloning and time-manipulation gameplay mechanic that lends itself to some challenging puzzles. Story-wise, you finally learn more about Ratchet’s mysterious Lombax heritage (turns out he’s not the only one left).
The game is not without its flaws, however. You spend most of the game playing Ratchet and Clank separately, precluding opportunities for the character interactions that make up so much of the series’ charm. Also, the game is slow to get going. It opens with more than six minutes of cut-scenes, interrupted only by one brief training sequence in which you play Clank, not Ratchet. While the cut-scenes are entertaining and slick, they get between the player and the action, and the first four minutes can’t be skipped. The first third of the game feels a bit dumbed-down and slow compared to previous versions, more oriented toward the 8-to-10-year-old set than the older demographic it’s ostensibly intended for. (Minor spoiler alert ahead!) And while it’s likely supposed to be a pleasant surprise, discovering that not one but both of our titular heroes are essentially princes feels heavy-handed and too coincidental.
But the game steadily picks up steam as you progress, and by the second half, it’s worthy of its place in the R&C universe. The game gives you not one, not two, but three big boss fights at the end (although one is dependent on finding all of one particular treasure item, a time-consuming venture), and all are challenging and exhilarating.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag: sometimes orchestral and seamless, sometimes a jarring, retro 80s rock. Standout voiceover performances include Armin Shimerman’s as Dr. Nefarious, and Jim Ward’s as Captain Qwark.
Overall, while “Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time” gets off to a slow start, it ultimately delivers the humor, spectacular visuals, variety of weapons and gadgets, and lively action that fans of this series have come to expect.
Melissa Shaw’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. Melissa is a Clarion West graduate and a “Writers of the Future” contest winner. She is currently writing for an as-yet-unreleased video game.