I can understand why some people won't be overly impressed by Insomniac's latest Ratchet and Clank adventure. If you've been playing the series since its PS2 debut back in 2002 you may well be growing tired of the action platforming formula. You might be wondering if secondary character Clank's levels will ever be entertaining, or if the dev team can continue to think up crazy new ideas for weapons. These are all valid concerns, and for some A Crack in Time won't quell them. For others, though, more of the same with a smattering of new ideas is exactly what's required. With the excellent, tried-and-tested weapon-based platforming action Ratchet provides, some clever Clank levels and the high production values we've come to expect from the series, A Crack in Time is one of the most solid and enjoyable PS3 exclusives of the year.
A Crack in Time serves to wrap up most of the loose ends from the plot that spans the series' history. The story begins with Clank imprisoned, having been taken by the ghost-like robots, the Zoni. These little guys have a hive mind, making them incredibly powerful in large groups, but the evil Dr Nefarious convinced them to take our lovable robot sidekick in order for him to access data hidden in Clank's memory banks. It's all got something to do with a giant clock sitting in the centre of the universe, which Clank is linked to in some way. Nefarious wants to be able to use the clock's power for his own dastardly means, but Ratchet and Clank, and a few other allies, have their own ideas.
By far the biggest change from previous games in the series is how Clank now has more or less equal game time to Ratchet. One level blasting away aliens as the furry Lombax (Ratchet's species) is followed by a slower, puzzle-laden sequence as Clank. Ratchet is once again extremely nimble, and has access to loads of weapons that are upgraded as they're used and modifiable through collectables. There are numerous control set-ups, with gamers able to choose to play through with a fairly traditional platforming control scheme or with a dual stick third-person shooter setup. I've always opted to play it as a shooter, as the combat is such a core part of the experience, but the choice is yours.
Early on as Ratchet you'll encounter a new Lombax character who introduces you to hover boots. These let you whiz about levels at high speed and hover after launching yourself off ramps, and certain sections of levels require the boots in order to progress. You also have the trusty grappling hook from previous games, which enables you to traverse large chasms littered with hook points. You also have the ability to latch onto objects and move them. This generally comes in the form of removing batteries from sockets or moving platforms so you can successfully make it across large gaps, but it works well and is the kind of thing that makes the series more than just a shooter.
Fans of previous games will be familiar with the arena combat, which sees Ratchet facing off against waves of enemies, and the space exploration and combat from Tools of Destruction returns as a way to move between levels. Space combat was never a strong point, and here it only serves as a mildly entertaining interlude, never reaching the heights of the core gameplay. Your ship can be upgraded by collecting Zoni that are found in each of the levels, and you'll be forced to do this at certain points. Early on, for example, you'll need to upgrade your boosters in order to make it through a force field that surrounds a planet you need to land on. This system encourages exploration of the smaller planets, mopping up Zoni as you go.
Clank's levels are completely different and in some ways the more enjoyable aspect of the game. For one, Clank isn't such an expert with weapons. He doesn't carry guns, which changes the gameplay style considerably, resulting in more melee combat using his chronoscepter (essentially a big stick that can control time). He's got a basic slash attack and projectiles that can be reflected, and he can also attack after jumping for extra damage. That's it as far as combat goes, but Clank's levels are so much more than that. Clank is able to triple jump and hover, so this allows for more challenging platforming sections.