On the surface, like a standard-issue platform game on the surface, but look deeper and you'll find that Ratchet & Clank delivers one of the more unique gameplay experiences you'll find this year. In the game, you play as Ratchet, a fuzzy animal creature with a knack for fixing things who's been drafted somewhat reluctantly to battle the evil Chairman Drek who's mining and destroying planets throughout the galaxy to build a new planet for his minions. You're joined in your mission by a small robot named Clank who's deceptively small size masks a lot of abilities. As the game begins, you step into a space-ship and fly to another planet. Once you land on your first planet, you'll see it's been over-run by an army of robots who are stripping the planet and are after you and Clank. Obviously, they must be defeated before the planets are destroyed. When you hit the robots, they explode into bolts, which you can collect by running over them, though they also float towards Ratchet thanks to his magnetic outfit. You run around the levels, collecting items, using cool weapons, taking challenges, and most importantly, blowing up a lot of things.
While the platforming action is fun and challenging, the real innovation comes in the weapons which add a new dimension of to the gameplay. Ratchet starts out the game with 2 cool weapons at the start including a wrench which he swings to blast opponents and a bomb glove. More can be purchased later on and there are more than 30 different weapons and gadgets in the game. These include flame-throwers, a standard blaster, hooking weapons, electric shocks and the Glove of Doom which kills enemies from afar with little danger. Crates are scattered around each level which you can hit to find extra lives, weapon ammo and bolts. However, some of the crates contain bombs which explode immediately when struck and these are dangerous but can be useful when you want to destroy a stack of crates. What's cool is that in addition to running, Ratchet can slide, climb and jump through the various levels with little problem. However, you also have a secret weapon strapped to your back: Ratchet, who sprouts propellers and allows you to fly and clear large gaps. Even though his commentary gets annoying, Clank can be upgraded as well later in the game with additional abilities and is a surprisingly useful companion.
Ratchet and Clank's weapons are cool, but it's huge, expansive environments are any key element to its appeal. The game structure is very open and free-flowing, though there are goals that need to be completed before you can progress. While there is a path that you should follow on each level, most of the game is non-linear so you can explore and find hidden areas if you want. Even though it's not always obvious where you need to go next, exploring the levels and trying different things means that you'll usually find the way eventually without too much effort. Each level represents a unique planet, there are challenges that need to be completed for each one, which means you'll constantly face new things. Some of these are simple, while others require the use of a specific gadget to complete. For example, some of them require you to turn a crank that causes a bridge to rise and lock into place. Other tasks include climbing and jumping on magnetic walls, jumping from side to side as you go up and then gliding back down the other side towards the next platform. These elements are implemented seamlessly thanks to the intuitive controls and the various tasks you need to complete gives Ratchet & Clank plenty of variety. So while it's a long game, the different tasks and new weapons means that the gameplay rarely feels repetitive.
Ratchet & Clank controls beautifully because the character responds to your movements flawlessly. Aiming your weapons isn't that difficult, though you need to be aware of your ammo, since each weapon only has a small cache. While some of the techniques are hard to master initially, the first few levels serve as a long tutorial to help get you up to speed. While there are loads of gadgets, Ratchet & Clank does a good job of instructing you in how to use them. The in-game interface is excellent, allowing you to view maps, change your weapons and listen to the helpful advice. Unfortunately, the camera system isn't as good as it could have been and you'll spend a lot of time adjusting this manually since the default viewpoints aren't always ideal. You also have to look around a lot, which is annoying, since the large levels make it easy to get lost. This definitely hurts the game's flow to a large degree. Ratchet & Clank is disappointing, and constantly fiddling with the camera is annoying. However it becomes second nature later on. It's unfortunate that the camera leaves you vulnerable, because the game looks sterling otherwise. Luckily, you begin to compensate for this after awhile and the game becomes less onerous. Even though the large levels are good for exploration, you can frequently find yourself lost in them as well. Luckily, the maps are there to point you in the right direction, and are easy to understand, it's just a matter of remembering to use them early on until you figure out the layout of each area.
Ratchet & Clank looks razor sharp with absolutely breathtaking environments that seem to go on forever in the distance, especially on the city levels which are alive with kinetic energy. These levels are filled with small space ships flying overhead, robots flying around and other characters making you feel like you're immersed in a cartoonish world. Despite the problems with the manual camera system, the game changes perspective frequently and the transitions are handled effectively since it's mainly in the heat of battle that this really becomes a problem. Each planet has a distinct look with unique scenery and weapons. The colors are bright and beautiful and the objects such as trees and buildings are richly detailed. Ratchet & Clank's character designs are consistently excellent and the space-feel gives the game a unique look that effectively transports you into a futuristic cartoon fantasy. The explosions and firepower are quite impressive, making a satisfying burst of color when they're used. The robot and character animations are beautiful, with a satisfyingly frenetic pace that only suffers from some occasional jaggies. Good voice acting is always appreciated, and the actors in this game do an excellent job, performing their funny lines well enough to make the characters seem alive. The music is light-hearted and fits the look and feel of the game well. Overall, the game has an excellent look and the attention to detail is evident throughout. Even seemingly small details look fantastic, giving the game a cohesive feel that's satisfying and making this one of the best looking PS2 titles to date.
While there are seemingly dozens of these
kinds of games coming to market, Ratchet & Clank is one of the best games on
the market. It starts off slowly with a tutorial section that seems to take
forever to get through, but once you get through it, the fun really begins. This
is one of the better platform titles on the market. The attention to detail
shows in it's highly polished presentation, excellent production values and
tweaked gameplay that should please discriminating players. Once you acquire the
more advanced weapons, learn the controls and reach the more intense later
levels where you can blow up piles of robots, the control issues that are
initially frustrating and annoying become less of a factor and the game itself
opens up. The later levels are definitely worth the effort to get to, so be
patient and you'll be rewarded. The flaws are comparatively minor and definitely
shouldn't stop you from enjoying this addictive title. So while it suffers from
a slow pace and some camera problems, this can be overcome with patience and
persistence. It's not perfect but Ratchet & Clank is a challenging,
innovative and entertaining adventure that should appeal to a broad section of