A written review of the first Ratchet & Clank game, which I wrote a couple of years ago (if I recall correctly). I did it in the same style as my review of Ben There, Dan That!, hence the Recommendation and Bottom Line at the end of it. I've made a few very minor tweaks to it, but otherwise this is exactly what I wrote back then. Enjoy!
Back in the days of the original Playstation, a small company in Burbank, California made a name for themselves with a series of cutesy 3D platformers featuring a purple dragon called Spyro. After three of these game though, the developers decided that they wanted to make something more complex and mature. So, breaking ties with their publisher, they started a new series based on the premise of letting players “blow s*** up”.
That company was Insomniac Games, and their new series was Ratchet & Clank.
The first game in the now double-digit sized series starts off with a malformed robot being created by an automated machine. The little guy sees something he shouldn’t, and runs away with this knowledge. During the ensuing chase, he crash lands his ship on the home planet of Ratchet, a human/cat-like thing who dreams of escaping his backwater home and exploring the universe. Naming the robot Clank, the two blast off and travel to various worlds in an attempt to stop an insane businessman from destroying the universe.
While the plot may be a little clichéd, the game’s sense of self-parody makes it seem otherwise. Pretty much everything, from the weapons to the characters, is treated with an almost childish sense of humour, and even the plot twist that takes place halfway through the game is handled in a rather light-hearted manner. The tone of the game is one of its major strengths.
Another highlight is how impressive the game looks, even by modern standards. The lead characters are exceptionally well-rendered (with a few high-resolution textures excepted), the bad guys are very distinct & individual and the different worlds all feel fully lived in. The levels really make use of the 3D revolution, with even the backgrounds in the distance being fully modelled. Coupled with the layouts, the numerous planets all feel exceptionally well designed, and there’s no shortage of things to destroy as you make your way through them.
This leads nicely onto the best part of the game - the huge variety of weapons. You start off with your melee wrench and a glove that throws gloves, but before long you’re able to buy a decoy device, a rocket launcher with projectiles you can actually pilot, a morph-o-ray that turns enemies into chickens and the cunningly acronymic R.Y.N.O. While several of these weapons have since been copied in other games, they still remain great fun to use.
The majority of the game consists of, literally, running around and blowing up anything that moves. There’s a good helping of platforming action, both as Ratchet and Clank, and additional sidequests in the form of hoverboard races and ship-to-ship battles, but in the end it all boils down to running around, avoiding enemy projectiles and filling the bad guys full of so much lead that they blow up in a shower of bolts, which you collect with a satisfying metallic jangling sound.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. It’s all done to a fairly professional shine, and the sheer variety of weapons means that if the game feels a little repetitive, you can just switch to a short-range weapon and engage the enemies up close and personal. Unfortunately, while the core gameplay works well, when you actually play it, you’ll find it isn’t as refined as it could be.
You’ll spend most of your time controlling Ratchet, and compared to other 3D platformers, he feels a little stiff. His movement speed is quite slow, and while he has a wide range of skills, they all feel a little awkward to pull off, which means that the platforming aspect of the game can be more of a challenge then it should be.
In combat, the core of the game, there are problems as well. The lock-on system has trouble staying locked on to enemies while you’re moving, meaning that you’ll have to constantly stop and aim at an enemy, which can be frustrating in the middle of a fire-fight. And since the camera can have trouble keeping up with you, occasionally you’ll find yourself having to shoot at enemies you can’t see.
There are also other sections of the game, such as the swimming or wall-walking areas, where the developer’s inexperience with a two-legged main character really does show. Such sections slow the games pace down to a crawl, and as you can’t really defend yourself while engaging in such activities, players will undoubtedly find themselves dying several times until they figure out how to compensate for the problems.
On the other hand, the game does have an excellent way of ensuring that players keep playing it with the addition of a New Game + system. By allowing gamers to restart the adventure while keeping all the weapons and money they’d collected in their first playthrough, players are given a helping hand to track down all the hidden bonuses that are locked away. Whether it’s hidden collectables or unlockable skill points (essentially a precursor to modern day achievements/trophies), there’s a lot of bonus content for players to find.
As the first game in a series that’s been going for ten years, it’s easy to look back at the original Ratchet & Clank and criticize it for not having the same basic features that its sequels do, like strafing or weapon upgrading. But if you take the game on its own merits, then there’s still an awful lot to like.
Bottom Line: If you’ve played any of the other games in the series, this will seem like a massive step back. If not though, this is as good a place to start as any.
Chris Marsden has a strange craving for fried chicken.