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.
Navigating through the levels would be almost impossible if it weren't for the quantum bombs that Clank has at his disposal. Fast moving objects can be encased in time bubbles, slowing them down so that Clank can get past them. The bombs will wear off after a short time or if you throw another, often making Clank's mission a dangerous one. His actual goal is to repair time, something done by using a chrono beam on planets. Here the game switches styles, with the beam being moved around with the analogue stick in order to target anomalies on the planet's surface. As you progress, moving from planet to planet, the task gets trickier, with enemies causing trouble and anomalies splitting (giving you more to shoot), but you'll pick up power-ups too, and be able to target bombs to clear numerous anomalies at once.
The Great Clock that Clank spends most his time in has one other secret up its sleeve: recording devices. These pads (usually in groups of two or three) let you record Clank's actions for one minute, then play them back. So, a typical scenario will see a number of pressure pads, each activating a lock or moving platform, which need to be triggered in a certain order so that normal, non-recorded Clank can then make his way through the exit. Certain puzzles will require you to record over existing recordings; these can be real head scratchers, but I never found myself horribly stuck - there is a hint system if you're struggling, though. The difficulty seems pitched just right so that you're tested enough to feel smart, and never so much that you're throwing your controller at the TV in a rage.
Once again there's no multiplayer to speak of, but there are loads of unlockables and secrets to find. Your first run through will likely take in the region of 12 hours (quite good compared to the average length of an action game these days), and fans will find plenty to come back for, even during the same run through - Clank's time fixing will open up areas that had been inaccessible, letting Ratchet get to previously hidden items. Trophies will be enough of a reason to replay the game for hardcore fans, and thankfully they are well thought out and require some real effort. Challenge mode also returns, giving you tougher enemies to fight against and in turn the ability to max out your weapons if you didn't manage to during the course of the campaign. Real dedication is required to unlock the big bonus though: the Insomniac museum. This special extra requires you to collect all of the Zoni in the game and then defeat a boss in an incredibly tough encounter, but will be worth the effort for real Insomniac die-hards.
For whatever reason Insomniac seems able to create better looking games when it ditches realism in favour of cartoon-style visuals. A Crack in Time looks brilliant for the most part, although the years since the first PS3 game have meant that I was less dazzled by the Pixar-like visuals than I was first time around. It's still a fine looking game, with certain areas truly stunning in terms of detail and art design, but it's not quite the showstopper the series' PS3 debut was at the time. Voice work from the key characters is top class, and even the bit-part NPCs rarely sound out of place. It's a great package all round, and the frame rate thankfully manages to stay pretty solid even with tons of stuff going on.
Fans of Ratchet and Clank will find A Crack in Time to be more of the same, with a few twists here and there. It's a fine end to the current storyline and packs in loads of content that will see you playing well beyond the closing credits. The lack of fresh ideas, especially during Ratchet's sections, will be seen by many as a negative, but there are so few games that nail the action platforming genre that it's easily forgivable. If you're looking for a fun, imaginative, family friendly PS3 game, A Crack in Time fits the bill perfectly.