Yeah, there’s a mod for that.
If you somehow haven’t paid the Ratchet & Clank universe a visit, you’re missing out on one of the most consistently-excellent, stunningly-presented, smoothly-running, enemy-infested, crazily-beweaponed and just plain fun, goofy, and satisfying game series out there. Happily, you can jump right into any game in the series without feeling lost—a neat quirk in a franchise bulging at the seams with terms like “Zoni”, “Lombax”, “Dimensionator”, and “Raritanium".
[image1]Wrapping up the story-arc that kicked off with 2007’s Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, this ninth iteration of the series caters to both grizzled, crusty veterans and complete, sopping-wet newbies. For the uninitiated, there is a dubiously-concise summary of recent events, delivered in the smug, less-than-totally-reliable voice of Captain Quark, who is to the Ratchet universe what Zapp Brannigan is to the worlds of Futurama, including his monolithic sense of self-esteem.
This new tale of a can-do Lombax and his ‘bot starts off with our two embattled heroes parsecs apart… and Space is only half of their collective problem. You’ll find Time itself working against you—and working for you, once you get the hang of things.
While Ratchet spends most of the game doing what a Lombax does best, it involves a lot of customizing your weapons with joyously-ridiculous mods, cruising eye-dazzling galactic sectors in cool space-fighters, ‘grinding’ on long, unlikely, convenient, twisting rails that have no earthly business in the spheres of terrestrial architecture, and bashing the literal nuts (and bolts) out of screen-cluttering hordes of enemies. His lost robotic sidekick Clank whiles away the hours by doing unnatural things with Time, delving into his own cybernetic subconscious, and learning the true will of his creator. And just when it might get a little too heavy, Quark swishes around in drag (apparently, there’s a mod for that, too).
Of course, our two separated heroes eventually unite (if gamers are doing their job). But before that happens, A Crack In Time gives players a new type of challenge in the form of Clank’s clever temporal challenge inside the vast, sprawling environs of The Great Clock. Located “at the exact center of the Universe, give or take fifty feet”, The Great Clock looks like an exploded-view schematic of a mechanical timepiece, all its rings and cogs and assorted mechanatia floating loosely-grouped in deep space… and all of it blown up to mega-space-station proportions.
[image2]Ratchet & Clank veterans are by this point so used to Ratchet blowing shit to nuts-and-bolts smithereens that it might seem a little strange to watch Clank whack the shattered remains of a smashed computer-terminal… and see all the pieces fly back together into their original seamless whole. It’s a neat trick, but it’s only a one-button throwaway, and it’ll be second-nature within a minute; the real meat of Clank’s game is found in the time-manipulation puzzles.
To wit: Let’s say Clank finds himself facing a room full of switches and/or elevators that must be thrown and/or ridden in order to open a door at the far end. The problem: It takes Clank stepping on a switch—and staying there—to keep said door open, and there aren’t any suitable objects to use as deadweights, and Clank can’t be three places at once. The solution: Oh yes, he damn well can, thanks to the game’s clever (and occasionally hair-tearing) ‘record-and-play’ feature.
Players can effectively use multiple copies of Clank as a team, by stepping on colored pads with Clank, ‘recording’ up to a minute of normal platform-style gameplay, ‘stopping’ the recording… and then making a second (or a third) such animate copy before finally turning them all loose. Even after you grasp the basic idea, it’s a challenge because you must choreograph the movements of three or four Clanks moving around, throwing switches, riding platforms… and if even one of those Clanks is out of synch by even a split-second, it can throw a—sorry!—wrench in the whole works.
In a nice touch, players who perhaps get really stuck on a particular time-manipulation puzzle can, after a few bungled attempts, opt to bypass the challenge (at the cost of losing the reward for completion, of course). And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been sorely tempted to bypass one or two of those suckers myself.
[image3]Not all the time-manipulation is sectioned off in formal, stand-alone puzzles, either. It can be used on the fly in the form of literal ‘time-bombs’, that can be thrown with a flick of the shoulder buttons even in a high-tension combat situation. Upon detonation, they form a temporary dome of slowed time—like something out of The Forever War—which can be used to defeat packs of converging enemies, dodge salvoes of incoming fire, or thwart rapidly-spinning bits of the scenery (which can be safely jumped upon in their slowed state).
Ratchet, meanwhile, spends the majority of his (and the game’s) time kicking ass and taking names in his tried-and-true fashion. His arsenal of upgradable weaponry is impressive and entertaining as always , a mix of old favorites and new goofiness. There’s the much-loved Groovitron, which holds both foe and friend alike in choreographed-dance thrall to a hovering disco ball. The lovable, deadly ‘Mr. Zurkon’ mod provides a hovering robot wingman with a deep, metallic voice, a gleefully-homicidal streak, and a penchant for croaking out badass one-liners: “Mr. Zurkon needs no nanotech to survive; Mr. Zurkon lives on fear.”
There’s also the expected arsenal of things that arc electricity; things that flash-freeze enemies; bombs that actually do the sensible thing and explode a sort of gun-mounted fugu-looking thing that emits a thundering, air-splitting, subsonic belch (bonus points for firing when its cheeks are puffed to the max); projectiles that sear, slice, boomerang and ricochet through the air; and a vortex-gun that simply plops an interdimensional vortex right in the air above, allowing tentacles from some totally-other place to grope and snatch your enemies at random. You can also turn your enemies into monkeys, so… yeah.
A Crack In Time seems to always keep things fresh. Colossal battles on alien worlds or space stations never seem to slow down no matter what ridiculous numbers of things onscreen are charging, flying, burning, slogging through slow-time detonation zones, blowing up, or dancing by Groovitron coercion. Ratchet can take to the stars in his ship, flying around astounding-looking space sectors filled with enemy fighters, capital starships, asteroid fields, comets, and dozens of little planetoids to explore. Here the game takes on a sort of Super Mario Galaxy vibe. Cinematics are top-notch, side-quests, gags, and game-series in-jokes abound. The Championship arena challenges are good for a few hours by themselves… and whenever you ‘get’ to share the screen with the blustering, lovably-douchey Captain Quark, it’s easy to forget that you’re supposed to be the star of the show.
[image4]There are some downsides to the game, in a sense all the more notable against A Crack In Time’s general excellence. First off, there’s a fair amount of treading on ‘familiar’ (i.e. ‘re-used’) items, weapons, and mechanics. Second and more troubling is the rare-but-extant camera and occasional, inexplicable ‘invisible barrier’ difficulty. The former is especially problematic on smaller planetoids in the space-exploration portions of the game; nothing game-killing, but a nuisance nonetheless. Finally, it’s a just a wee bit disappointing that the time-manipulation mechanics don’t always follow even their own minimal, established rules. If pop-and-deploy platforms can be made to operate more slowly inside a time-bomb detonation, shouldn’t fast-closing doors also be subject to the same laws? (See? It’s a glowing indication of A Crack In Time’s overall quality that I’m edging dangerously close to Comic-Shop-Guy levels of dorky dissection, here).
If you’re a returning visitor to the Ratchet & Clank Cosmos, rest easy that those Insomniacs have again pulled off a solid, humorous, and hugely entertaining experience. If you’re completely new to the series, here’s one of those sappy-but-absolutely-true game-reviewisms for you: This is one of those games about which, not too far in the future, I’ll probably be thinking, "I wish I could play that game again, for the first time." Maybe, someday, there’ll be a mod for that, too.