REVIEW: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

As this is the first full review on The Chaos Fold, I’m going to take the time to explain my methodology.

I review games based on their play value. If I buy a game that is graphically amazing, but with lackluster controls, a piss-weak storyline, or flawed design principles, I’ll say “Skip it” or something along those lines. If I play a game and enjoy it thoroughly, and believe it is worth the price of admission, I’ll say to buy it or possibly rent it. No arbitrary numbers or star ratings.

And now, without further ado, on with the show.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction comes with two notable things on the package. As soon as I bought it I took note of the whimsical box art, and the New York Times quote on the back cover.

“…the first game to truly deliver the long-sought ‘You are playing a Pixar movie’ experience.” -New York Times

Needless to say, I was skeptical. I was buying the game on launch day and even I didn’t think it could live up to such high-flown praise. In essence, though, they’re right.

Ratchet & Clank Future delivers from the first cutscene to the last an experience that is definitively Pixar. What Insomniac has crafted here, is a work more than the sum of its parts. The story follows a predictable arc, wherein Ratchet, the titular Lombax hero and his robotic backpack companion Clank are required to save the universe from the evil Cragmite Emperor Percival Tachyon. Tachyon, with his walking throne and “TC” scepter, provides an over-the-top performance that belongs in the annals of video game villain history. The banter between our hero and villain, cast suitably as the last Lombax and last Cragmite in the universe, respectively, is one of the game’s high points.

The graphical polish on the game may be its most defined feature, as it does very much deliver the Pixar movie aesthetic to a defined perfection. Ratchet’s expressive facial animations rival those of Half-Life 2, with tiny details such as visible fur, and glistening eyes that make the game immersive in its own way. The character design, from the “old” war bots Cronk and Zephyr to the armored Drophyds, that reveal themselves to be tiny helpless frog-like creatures once you demolish their form, fit the style and the sly humor perfectly.

The gameplay itself is running/jumping/shooting at its finest. It isn’t without its flaws, however. At certain points the camera control is wrested from the player, which can and does result in avoidable deaths. If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll want to do is change the control scheme to Lock/Strafe, which is more of a third-person-shooter scheme than the default. There are also a handful of bizzare geometry glitches that can lead to Ratchet being stuck in an endless motion loop, that necessitate a restart of the game.

Perhaps the least forgivable flaws are the intentional ones, by which I mean the SIXAXIS motion controls. Some of these work well, and are actually enjoyable at times, such as the robo-wing flying sequences and the HALO jump freefall sequences. Others, such as the Monkey Ball-tastic Decryptor sequences and the contrived Pirate Jig sequences made me quickly turn the SIXAXIS off. Without it, you can’t use the Tornado Launcher, which is possibly the most pointless weapon in the game anyway, so no major loss, there. With SIXAXIS off, even the most pleasant of the motion sequences are made much easier.

In terms of difficulty, Ratchet & Clank Future provides minimal challenge, which isn’t as bad as one might think. An experienced platform gamer might be able to play through without dying once, though that is not likely. Most of the platforming is very forgiving, with plenty of tools at your disposal to prevent nasty falling doom. The shooting, likewise, is more of an exercise in knowing the right gun for the right situation, and strafing around to dodge the ponderously-slow enemy fire.

If that sounds bad, let me qualify all that with one big statement: Ratchet & Clank Future is the most fun I’ve had playing a game all year. It doesn’t have the epic storyline of Halo, or the immersive ambiance of BioShock, nor the inventive action of Portal or the stunning conclusion of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. What it does have, is a purity of form, and a polish that makes every moment enjoyable. No other game this year had me laughing as much and as often as Ratchet & Clank Future. Are there flaws? Yes. Do they detract from the game’s worth? No.

If you own a PlayStation 3, you need to get Ratchet & Clank Future. This is a game that proves the system’s worth more than any before it.

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