We have to applaud the fine folks at Insomniac for trying something new on the PSN. Somehow, they've managed to bring out a brand new Ratchet game, just one year after the release of the first PS3 incarnation, Tools of Destruction. Quest for Booty is a direct continuation of the previous game, but can be played without any experience with the franchise at all. The developers have promised 3-4 hours of gameplay, at a budget price of $15. However, is Quest for Booty worth your hard earned cash? Depends on how much you like the Ratchet franchise.
Although it may have a budget price, the presentation easily matches any full-priced console game. The visuals of Quest for Booty are actually superior to the ones found in last year's game. The water, for example, looks far more captivating in this installment. The lighting seems to be enhanced, and the lush color palette found for most of the game really looks quite stunning in HD. The voice actors all make their return, and Ratchet and friends are animated just as sharply as they always have been.
There's almost no indication that this is a low-budget affair -- at least, in the beginning. The game immediately follows the story of Tools of Destruction, leaving Ratchet on a quest to find clues about Clank's mysterious disappearance. While it's not necessary to have played previous Ratchet games, this one is definitely for the fans, as it primarily focuses on ancillary characters found in the previous installment. It is strange to have Clank so absent in the game -- and unfortunately, the always-lovable Captain Qwark is completely missing in this installment. Regardless, the fully narrated cinematic sequences really bring the story and setting to life.
Immediately, the game thrusts the player into some frantic battles aboard a flying pirate ship. Quest for Booty undeniably starts with a bang. In fact, the first half of the game contains some of the finest moments in the series history so far. The first two levels are incredibly well done, and show how refined the platforming design of Insomniac has come over the years. Even the grind rail sequences are interesting in this installment, thanks to a few clever puzzles that the team has crafted. The primary objective for Ratchet in these early areas is to restore power to five generators, and in order to do so, some gravity defying Mario Galaxy-esque sequences must be completed. They are an absolute blast.
The new gameplay mechanics all feel great, and make you wonder "why didn't they do this before?" Ratchet's ability to finally pick things up is much appreciated, and well used. Even better, a new device allows Ratchet to move platforms, doors and objects at a distance with a wrench. Certainly, this tool is integrated into puzzles in more interesting ways than any of the devices found in Tools of Destruction.
Platforming is definitely the best aspect of Quest for Booty. However, once the game shifts gears in the second half, it certainly feels a bit underwhelming. The beautiful design of the first two levels is abandoned in the final two levels, with dark, dreary colors that are simply boring to look at. There are a few great set pieces, but strangely, they bring the framerate to a noticeable chug, as the combination of real-time lighting, particle effects and number of characters on screen seemingly demand a bit too much from the PS3. Once the game becomes mostly oriented with combat, its shortcomings become increasingly obvious. The weapons are all taken from Tools of Destruction -- and only a small sampling are available. Even iconic weapons, such as the Groovitron, don't make an appearance in this game. The lack of weapon variety, and the limited customization options remove the tactical fun of previous Ratchet & Clank games. With no new weapons, and such an abbreviated list of options, one can't help but notice how shallow Quest for Booty's combat feels.
To make things worse, the already-short game revisits the first two levels once again at the end, instead of offering players new places to visit. With only four areas in the game total, the apparent lack of variety may have players feel short-changed. Instead of adding more clever platforming sequences and puzzles into these levels, they're turned into more grinding combat challenges.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Quest for Booty is that once the adventure feels like it's just about to begin, it very abruptly ends. While Insomniac says the game offers 3-4 hours of gameplay, it's probably closer to 2-3 hours. (There are multiple difficulties, though.) Fans of the franchise that were looking for answers to Clank's mysterious disappearance really won't find answers here. While a little more information is teased, it's clear that most players can skip Quest for Booty and continue to the next iteration without missing any crucial storytelling. The lack of revelations shouldn't detract from the excellent quality of the script, however -- once again, the team at Insomniac has crafted a cute, fun adventure that features a number of funny moments. (The best part? When Ratchet gets bleeped out for cursing. Watch for it!)
While we're disappointed Quest for Booty ends so abruptly, we still think it's a rather commendable effort -- one that Insomniac should be applauded for. While this short expansion episode has its flaws, it's still an incredible value at $15. The visuals are still beautiful, and the presentation is equal to any other retail game. The new gameplay mechanics work well, and the platforming, albeit short, is some of the best in the franchise so far. While it may only be a stopgap between the next "real" Ratchet & Clank game -- one we hope will actually have Clank in it -- it's still a recommended purchase for fans of the franchise. For newcomers, we'd still recommend Tools of Destruction for a far more satisfying experience, but for those that really can't wait for a new Ratchet game, this should more than do the trick.
PS3 Fanboy score: 7.5