Ratchet and Clank's debut on the PS3 is one of the most anticipated games on Sony's fledgling console. Though it's arriving only a year after Insomniac released the best launch title on the PS3 (Resistance: Fall of Man), Ratchet and Clank: Future Tools of Destruction oozes so much polish and love that you would have thought it had been under development for years.
Going with the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy, Ratchet and Clank doesn't necessarily try to reinvent the franchise in its leap to HD. It merely takes everything that defines an R&C title and refines it to diamond-like perfection. Sporting some of the most fantastic graphics on any next-gen platform yet, Insomniac once again proves that they know the tech of the PS3 inside and out. But, they don't forget the important bit parts of what makes a game a Ratchet and Clank game: tight platforming, inventive weapons, and surprising amounts of genuinely humorous dialog.
Part of what makes Ratchet and Clank so great is its fast-paced and satisfying gameplay. Sporting a ridiculous amount of weapons and gadgets, there is so much variety to just combat alone that you will never be without some new way to blast, incinerate, or transmogrify your enemies. Beyond just shooting monsters to tiny pieces, the game also features some of the most satisfying platforming gameplay in years. It is easily the best platforming action in a next-gen game so far (although the competition has been sparse).
One of the reasons the platforming and combat in Ratchet and Clank is so fantastic is the game's tight and responsive controls. Platforming games in particular live and die by their controls, and with a couple minor exceptions, Insomniac has absolutely nailed it. Platforming levels are fun and inventive, while maintaining a decent challenge throughout the game. In combat, the controls are equally tight: within moments of getting your hands on the controller, you're jumping through on-coming fire while blasting robots like you were born with an Alpha Cannon in your hands. Conveniently though, if you don't like the default control schemes the game also offers alternative ones and the ability to customize some of the basic aspects of the controls (no full button remapping though).
Speaking of the weapons, a tome could be written just about all the different guns in Ratchet and Clank. Offering literally dozens and dozens of weapons, Insomniac brings back updated versions of many of the old classics from earlier R&C games as well as enough new weapons to arm a small country. For the uninitiated, the R&C series has always been known for their wacky weapons and this game is no different. You have grenades that can turn enemies into darling penguins, the Groovitron -- a disco ball that for a short period makes everybody in the vicinity dance (including NPCs and bosses), a Tornado launcher which launches a powerful maelstrom that is controlled by the Sixaxis, and all kinds of different laser guns, rocket launchers, and beehives. Well, not ordinary beehives. Really really pissed off nano-bees that attack everything in site. Amazingly, almost all the weapons stay viable options throughout the game, allowing you to really mix up your combat experience by trying out all the different Tools of Destruction (had to do it).
The most interesting part of the weapons in Ratchet and Clank though is the ability to level them up via combat and customize your weapons through a grid-like upgrade system. Weapons become more powerful and gain new abilities as you use them in combat which helps keep weapons useful throughout the game, even the ones you get in the very beginning. Also, you can customize each weapons using a grid system that allows you to pay to make them shoot faster, carry more ammo, deal more ammo or even become whole new weapons. While in the end you can get all the different upgrades for each weapon, the path in which you take them is up to you. Personally, I ended up taking different upgrade paths for pretty much all of the weapons depending on their default ammo clip size and rate of fire.
As much fun as the weapons are, it would be amiss not to talk about the story. While a couple of the more damning R&C reviews wrote off the story as boring and uninteresting, you can rest assured that this is classic R&C here -- maybe a bit more mature than in the past. Not to say this is Bioshock, but the story is entertaining and engaging enough to hook your attention. A rare trait in video games, the story is genuinely humorous. This time around, you're called in to once again help out Captain Quark who's been stuck in a city that's getting destroyed by heavily armed robot shock troops (since when are they not heavily armed?) who, incidentally just happen to be looking for you. As the story develops, you find out a bit more of Ratchet's mysterious past as well as what happened to all the other Lombaxes in the universe, as well as meet a variety of interesting and entertaining characters. By the time the game ends, the story has wrapped itself up in a satisfying manner while still leaving room to grow in the next game (and rest assured, there will be one).
When it comes down to trying to find problems with the gameplay in Ratchet and Clank, you really have to start digging to find anything major. Probably the biggest issue in R&C is its relative ease of difficulty, particularly during the first half of the game. Platforming remains fairly challenging throughout, but combat is pretty easy due to the amazing amount of resources they give you. You get so much health and ammo, that you are rarely ever at less than half life or out of ammo for your favorite guns. Around the half-way mark, it definitely starts to crank up the difficulty by making the enemies considerably more powerful and numerous, but it's a shame the difficulty ramp up is so slow. It's not a huge deal, but hardcore action/shooter fans may find it a touch too simple in the beginning to really hold their attention (especially if they've never played an R&C game before).
The polish shown in both Ratchet and Clank's gameplay and the story is also evident in its graphics. While early demo impressions displayed both framerate issues and significant v-sync tearing, Insomniac has managed to do away with both of those entirely. Running at 720p, the game rarely dips below 60 fps and nary a v-sync tear can be seen, even when entire sky scrapers are being torn down around you and dozens of enemies are firing at you. The variety in the different levels is fantastic as well, with each world looking different and unique, while not being so schizophrenic as to take away from the overall cohesive look of the game. The characters themselves are nicely detailed and everyone/thing in the game has great animations. This is especially evident when using the Groovitron since every single monster in the game responds to it with its own unique dance (even the final boss). The lush graphics, tight framerate, and high level of visual variety comes to make one of the very best looking games on the PS3 right now, if not the best.
In the end, there is just no denying that Ratchet and Clank is right now the single best title on the console. Offering a lengthy (15-20 hours, more for completionists) campaign and a Game+ mode which lets you keep all your weapons and restart the game at a much higher difficulty level (it even offers MORE weapons to find), this game has an unusually high level of replayability for a single player title. And that's not even mentioning the plethora of hidden Gold Bolts and Skill Points (think Achievements) that are spread throughout the game! Collectors should be kept busy for untold hours trying to unlock all the different costumes, cheat codes, and concept art.
This, combined with Ratchet and Clank's absolutely fantastic gameplay, lush vibrant graphics, and some of the best motion controls on the system add up to an inevitable conclusion. You must buy this game. Consider it the best reason to own a PS3 yet.
PS3 Fanboy score: 9.5