Ratchet's initial E3 showing didn't wow us. There simply wasn't anything "new" to talk about the game. However, we recently played an updated build of the game, showcasing some of the later levels in the game. We saw some original new ideas, fantastic SIXAXIS controls, and a level of humor that surpasses anything we've seen from the Ratchet series. With its famous good looks still intact, we can confidently say that Ratchet & Clank Future is going to be a solid addition to any PS3 owner's library when it comes out October 23rd.
The game is based upon four facets, according to the team at Insomniac: mystery, adventure, variety and spectacle. The mystery comes from looking into Ratchet's origins, and the mysterious new powers that Clank attains. The adventure comes through a "whole new galaxy" to explore, one that's promised to be the largest yet. Variety comes from brand-new mini-games, and a variety of new powers that Clank will take advantage of. Finally, the spectacle can be easily seen in these screenshots (check out our gallery for more): this game is pretty as heck. "We believe we're on par with computer animated movies," a representative from Insomniac said. In many ways, they're getting close. The world of Ratchet & Clank Future is incredibly rich in color, and we're glad to say that the game extends to worlds far beyond the Metropolis level we've seen. In the updated build, we saw an icy planet, a lush jungle swamp, and a space shooting segment, all running at a smooth framerate. The target, we're told, is a silky smooth 60 fps.
Beyond the visuals, we got a chance to play some of the later levels in the game -- and they are far more interesting than the beautiful, but simplistic, E3 presentation. In one level, we talked to an NPC that wanted us to collect Leviathan souls. In order to do so, we had to find and track down these giant beasts and obliterate them. We were thrown into an environment that was far bigger than anything we've seen in previous Ratchet games. Although Metropolis forced you down a clear, narrow path, Tools of Destruction felt much larger, giving the player a lot more places to explore.
In our search for the Leviathan, we got our hands on a couple of the weapons. Tools of Destruction promises the largest arsenal yet. One of the weapons we got to try was the Predator Launcher. It acts like a rocket launcher, but it can lock on to multiple targets. On a large enemy, it will be able to lock on to various points on the enemy, making it a devastatingly powerful weapon.
We tried the well-publicized Groovitron yet again, and was amused at how everything seemingly dances. Enemies, both large and small, organic and robotic, will dance. The dinosaur's dance was particularly amusing -- and it gave us enough time to use the Predator Launcher on it. Supposedly, there will be multiple songs that the Groovitron will use.
Later on in the level, we were able to try out one of Clank's new abilities: Robo-wings that act as a glider of sorts for Ratchet to use. Once we activated the wings, we had to follow a flying creature and fly through rings in order to get to our destination. Navigation was handled completely by SIXAXIS and it certainly felt natural. With these wings, the massive level become suddenly became much easier to traverse. Thankfully, for those that don't like motion controls, the game gives you the option to turn them off and simply using the analog stick.
Eventually, we found our way to a factory that was filled with a Jello-like substance. Using a new weapon, the Gelatonium, Ratchet was able to create brand new bouncing platforms to go higher and higher. The mechanic works great, and we can't wait to see it used in more difficult areas. Simply shoot the weapon in a direction, and a bouncing platform of goo will form. You can choose to shoot again, and it will grow even larger, making it even bouncier. Your supply of goo is limited, so careful use of the ooze is required to make it all the way to the top. In later areas, we're told, enemies will eat the goo, adding a bit more challenge to the platforming experience.
On the icy planet, we got to go against a different kind of enemy: pirates. Here, we saw one of the cutest additions to the franchise yet. Ratchet can don a pirate costume, where he will walk around with a peg-for-a-leg. Pressing X will act as a taunt, usually an "Arg!" This costume is much more than just a visual novelty, though. It will allow Ratchet to go through Pirate-dominated areas unscathed. While mingling with the pirates, Ratchet can listen to their conversations, many of which refer to events and characters from previous Ratchet games. Not only that, Ratchet will be able to unlock a Pirates-only door, which requires Ratchet to do a pirate jig. Yes, a dance. By looking at the movements of his fellow pirates, Ratchet will repeat a dance sequence, Simon-style. One potentially fun application comes through the SIXAXIS controls: when the pirate screams "shake yer booty," you must actually shake the controller.
Some other weapons we tried include a tornado launcher, which allowed you to launch a tornado at enemies. Interestingly, the tornado can also be moved using the SIXAXIS -- a nice touch that adds an appreciable level of depth to the controls. At one point, we hid behind a crate as an enemy gunner fired at us. We launched a tornado at him, taking out the turret he controlled, and the swarm of supporting enemies that followed. Nice.
Another new tool that Clank can utilize is the Geo Laser. At selected areas in the game, players will be able to break structural weak points in a wall. In the level we played, some giant icicles were in our way, and we had to destroy them. In order to do so, Clank analyzed the walls, pointed out the weak points, and we had to use the SIXAXIS to trace a line from weak point to weak point. Not revolutionary, but the motion controls once again worked well, and added a nice bit of variety to the gameplay.
One of the weapons that we enjoyed the most had to be the Plasma Beat, which shoots an innocent-looking goop. However, when enemies go near the slimy puddle, a menacing beast will jump out of the pool, lunge forward, and tackle the enemy. It's surprising, and highly effective.
Other notable weapons include the Death Springs, deadly Slinky-like creatures that will seek and destroy everything in a room. The Visi-copter is a SIXAXIS-controlled helicopter which can not only attack enemies, but self-destruct to damage any nearby enemies. Mr. Zurkon is a partner character, who follow Ratchet, make some color commentary ("Mr. Zurkon is only to destroy.") and will target anything that gets in his way. While these weapons have the potential to make Ratchet too powerful, these weapons will have limited quantities of ammo. Essentially, these "combat items" act as "get out of jail free" cards and are meant to be used sparingly. Unfortunately, one weapon that didn't make this game is the Rainbow Afronator. You can imagine what it was meant to be.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always been defined by its weapons and its humor. We're glad to say that it seems Tools of Destruction ups the ante on the comedy. A ton of visual gags are thrown into the world, many of them subtle. For example, when enemies hit you, they will laugh. Giant robots will have fish bowls for heads (and yes, the fish will simply flop around after their robotic shells are destroyed). If you look carefully enough, you'll see small details, like pirates that make snow angels in the background. All of this comes to life through beautiful animation made possible by the PS3.
We're glad to see Ratchet & Clank Future finally provide the freshness we wanted to see. The team has learned a lot from their experience with the franchise, especially with the negative response to Deadlocked. While Tools of Destruction certainly won't be the most innovative game on PS3, it will still offer hours of fun and funny gameplay. We can't wait.
Stay tuned to PS3 Fanboy for continuing coverage all next week of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. See behind-the-scenes footage, concept art, and interviews during Ratchet Week, continuing next Monday.