This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Ratchet & Clank.
"You know, Yahtzee? I don't think you’ve ever given the new console generation a fair chance." What do you mean? When I get together with the Xbone and the Pisspoor, and rhythmically smash their heads together while screaming "Why are you all holding us all back? You bastards, you bastards, you bastards!" they could change my mind in an instant. All they have to do is explode and stop blighting the universe with their presence. It's always been the lack of backwards compatibility and the utterly callous disregard for gaming history that gobs in my porridge. It's like they burnt the house down for the insurance money, and then spent it all on an overpriced chromed refrigerator to live in instead.
And it leads to awkward situations like the one Insomiac Games found themselves in. With a movie of their long-running Ratchet & Clank series in the winds, they must've jolted awake one morning and gone "AGH! All the games are exclusive to PS2 and PS3, so all our new fans, who've come in for the movie, with shiny eyes and fat wallets, can't buy any of the fucking things without a time-travelling pirate ship! We better slap something together for the PS4, sharpish!", which is quite an impressively long statement for every single member of the dev studio to make in unison.
So now we have the inevitable reboot-with-same-name, Ratchet & Clank. And this is new ground for me, the series has passed me by up 'til now, 'cause I'm not an ickle baby boo-boo, who wants to play games about fuzzy animal characters with a permanent case of Dreamworks eyebrow. I didn't even know there was a movie coming out till the game discreetly mentioned it, immediately, at full volume, and then twice more on the box blurb. But the same box blurb promises that the game is equally enchanting for both fans and newcomers to the series, so that's alright then.
Ratchet & Clank is representative of the ever unspecific action-adventure" genre, a cartoon sci-fi knockabout that's like The Fifth Element had a baby with Bucky O'Hare, after spending a little bit too much time hanging around dodgy internet communities. An evil organization plots to unleash an army of killbots on the galaxy, but a reject killbot, that's Clank, escapes and crash lands in the back garden of a fuzzy and highly marketable wannabe space hero, that's Ratchet. Ratchet agrees to fly Clank to the big city planet, so he can warn them about the incoming invasion and by the time they get there the invasion's already started, so so much for that. Note that this leaves Ratchet and Clank with precisely zero purpose, or particular reason to stay together. I've had longer taxi rides, and didn't end up forming lifelong partnerships with the driver.
And I suppose this is the inherent problem with an attempt to swiftly re-establish the canon of the previous forty-seven games in one go, that we seem to be skipping quite a few steps. The bond between the two leads is treated as something automatic and preordained, not least of which by the fucking title of the game, rather than developing naturally over time. I'm willing to bet that that was more the case in the original Ratchet & Clank, because people liked that game, and we would not be having a film if people haven't liked it, thus is exposed the inherent paradox of this reboot. Explain to me the logic of a reboot attempting to bank on nostalgia for the very games it is attempting to erase from canon. It constantly references the old series, there's even a sidequest around collecting trading cards of characters and weapons from previous games, so essentially the game is saying "Hey, remember how much better we did this the first time around? Good, now forget all about it!"
Speaking as a newcomer, without the context of the established canon, Ratchet's a boring little shit. The term Mary Sue comes to mind, like the face of an irritating relative. The perceived need to hurry the plot along means that he's barely got his trousers on before he's hailed as a galactic hero and everyone wants to be his friend, except for the one guy who betrays him, for literally no reason, except that he's jealous of how totally bloody great he is. I rarely got a sense that the character was facing adversity. There's one scene after the villains blow up a planet where Ratchet immediately runs home blubbing, because he failed one fucking thing in his glittering three-hour career, and that lasts for all of a fifteen-second cutscene before he gets back in the saddle. Incidentally after the planet explodes, there's a rather hasty line of dialog to the effect "Lucky the entire planet was evacuated in the fourteen minutes of advance notice we were given!" which screams "last minute change" to me. What made you chicken out on depicting implied genocide, lads? Were you afraid the kiddywinks would be influenced into building planetary death ray cannons?
So about that gameplay. It's third person action adventure, with a little bit of everything. A bit of combat, a bit of platforming, a bit of puzzles. A surprisingly faithful callback to the era of the original game on the PS2, still to my mind, the high-water mark for consoles, and may my nadgers get slammed in a car door if it isn't so. It made me slightly nostalgic for games like Psychonauts, and every single 3D game Rare ever made. What really surprised me was how difficult the game could get. Have we become so softened by the ongoing blandification of AAA games that smash the autosave button like it's a virgin bumhole in a prison shower that we can be thrown by perfectly straightforward combat mechanics? I really started to miss the concept of dodge-rolling, when I see an enemy bullet closing in, and my best defense is hoping that I'm already moving out of the way. Mind you, there are some things that stopped being prevalent for a reason. Such as interrupting your shooty platformer for a difficult fight with the laser directing puzzle that brings the pace to a screeching halt. Thankfully there's the option to skip those, but not without admonishment. "Are you sure? You will never get the achievement, and gain true fulfillment in life".
Weapon variety is the big selling point, and varied they certainly are, if leaning a bit too hard on the wacky humour. Like the gun that rather artificially turns enemies into sheep, that just doesn't have the lasting humour value of that gun in Painkiller that pins enemies to walls and makes all their arms and legs fall off. I don't like how weapons level up with use, cause it results in the scenario wherein after working long and hard to max out the weapon, suddenly you don't wanna use it anymore, because you don't wanna waste the experience when your butane powered dogshit cannon doesn't yet have the diarrhea bonus.
All in all though, there are certainly worse distractions on the road to the grave, but the quality of Ratchet & Clank in itself is almost made meaningless by the circumstances surrounding it. If you were already a fan, then I’m all but certain you’ll have played better ones, and if your weren't and you do like the game, then where do you go from there? "Gosh, I'd quite like to play the rest of the series now." "Well you can't. Hardy har har. Film coming to cinema near you." So working our way back to where we already were but before you fucked it all up is what you call progress, is it, consoles? "No! It's what we call 'let's buy another yacht!'".
- Scratch it and Wank: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mind you I suppose R&C could have become friends during the thousands of years it would take to complete a single interstellar journey
- Fly me to the smouldering remains of the moon