Film tie-ins are one thing, but Ratchet and Clank is a film tie-in with a bit of a difference. With the film now out in cinemas, this is the game of the film - but the film is actually a cinematic take on the original game, making this the game of the film of the game. Confused? Don't be - all you really need to know is that Ratchet and Clank is one heck of an adventure, dripping with polish, humour, charisma, and, most importantly, bright colours. And you'll want to pick it up - whether you've played the original or not.
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The plot here centres around Ratchet, a young "lombax" (or "cat like thing" to you and me), who dreams of one day becoming a galactic ranger - like the idolised Captain Qwark. Idolised though he may be, Captain Qwark is more than a little bit full of himself - kind of like the game's take on Zapp Brannigan, if you're a Futurama fan - and the story here is told through his eyes, as Qwark recalls his feats of bravery and heroism - whilst playing down poor Ratchet with every chance he gets. Tagging along for the ride is the little robot Clank, a war machine robot gone wrong, who's on the run from the people who made him - and ends up being a key part of the fight against them.
Tying together platformer and third person shooter gameplay, Ratchet and Clank is nothing if not unique. While one second you'll be leaping from a platform to a narrow ledge, or grinding down a rail high up above a futuristic metropolis, the next you'll be diving behind cover to avoid enemy fire, before returning a few shots yourself. With levels that are packed with baddies of all shapes and sizes, waiting to pick you apart, there's more combat than you'd usually expect from a platform-style game - although this isn't your ordinary combat, either.
Rather than just having a bog standard pistol, Ratchet and Clank gives you a wide array of utterly bonkers weaponry with which to do battle with your enemies. From the fairly normal, like flamethrowers and homing rocket launchers, to the Pixelizer (which turns your enemies into a collection of pixels), the Groovitron (a disco ball hand grenade that causes your enemies to start dancing uncontrollably), and the Sheepinator, which turns your enemies into sheep - and is so powerful, you only unlock it later on in the game.
However, one of the downsides about Ratchet and Clank is that the difficulty level is a little bit all over the place - perhaps a product of giving Ratchet so many all powerful weapons, and not wanting the game to be a push over. Still, the game is home to one too many difficulty spikes, when the otherwise plain sailing all of a sudden becomes controller-puntingly frustrating - and never more so than when you come up against enemies with blasters. With some foes able to do anywhere between 8-12 damage in a single shot, and Ratchet only having a pitiful amount of health (around that time, we only had 30 HP), it doesn't take too much in the way of mental maths to figure out you really can't afford to get hit that much. And when you need to be able to see your enemies to shoot at them, which means leaving the comparative safety of the cover you were previously sheltering behind, you don't last too long while standing out in the open - even if you are hammering X as much as possible to make Ratchet barrel roll unpredictably through the air. With enemies that are accurate, and powerful, trying to fight your way through the hordes can soon become frustrating.
However, there are at least two ways you can make the fight a little fairer. The first is by switching the difficulty level - luckily, the game comes with three different difficulty levels, and the easiest halves the damage your enemies can do. It helps, too, that unlike other games (cough cough, Metroid Prime), at least some enemies don't appear to respawn when you leave an area, or when you die - so through sheer attrition alone, you can usually tackle most of the trickiest sections by picking the odd enemy off each time. The other method, however, is far cooler.
If you're faced with a group of enemies, there's one particular weapon you can call on that levels the playing field. His name is Mr Zurkon, and he's a genocidal maniac of a robot with a gift for trash talking, and an itchy trigger finger. Hovering next to Ratchet, you can simply hide behind cover while Mr Zurkon picks off your foes for you, firing off one liners as he goes - "Stupid furball, Mr. Zurkon does not need Nanotech; Mr. Zurkon lives on fear.", "I shall let you live little alien…psych! Mr. Zurkon lives only to kill."
One of the things that sets Ratchet and Clank apart, though, is just how open the levels seem to be. As opposed to most shooters, which take you through a fairly specific path, the levels in Ratchet and Clank are much more expansive - and you can often choose where to explore first. With a handy map accessible by click the touch pad (a mini map might have been nice, though), you can explore to your heart's content, with collectibles to be found, ranging from the elusive gold bolts, to equally rare crystals, that let you buy brand new upgrades for your weapons.
The fact the levels have a bit of flexibility to them means there's plenty of reason to return to earlier planets, too, and see where else you can explore. As you play through the game, you'll unlock a variety of power ups, from a jet pack, to grind boots, which open up new areas to explore.
And as is perhaps befitting of a game that encourages exploration, the planets and levels you'll be exploring are absolutely gorgeous. Bright, crisp, colourful, and detailed, Ratchet and Clank is easily one of the best looking games ever made - if there was a gaming equivalent of playing your way through a Pixar film, then Ratchet and Clank is it. Graphics may not be everything, but when games are this easy on the eyes, it certainly helps.
While it may technically be a re-imagination of an earlier game, Ratchet and Clank is a top-notch film tie-in, and one that stands on its own two legs, even if you haven't seen the film. With clips from its cinematic outing interspersed in the storyline, plenty of humour, ridiculous weaponry, and levels that offer a perfect mix of open exploration and structure, Ratchet and Clank is well worth a look. We just wish they'd ironed the few difficulty spikes out.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4