The Start Of A Long-Running Friendship
Insomniac Games were pretty much done with their previous game series Spyro The Dragon and wanted to create an entirely new game, codenamed I5 or Girl With A Stick for the Playstation 2, which was meant to be a cross between Tomb Raider and The Legend of Zelda. However the idea was scrapped simply because Sony played it and didn’t think it was all that entertaining. After going back to the drawing board and with the help of Naughty Dog’s engine used for Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Insomniac Games produced Ratchet and Clank, one of the PS2’s most iconic characters.
Time has certainly changed since their debut and as the sequels and hardware march forward with brand new features and gameplay mechanics that make them very addicting, playing the original Ratchet and Clank nowadays will have you miss all of those little things that make the sequels and the reboot so endearing. That’s not to say the PS2 classic hasn’t aged gracefully, it most certainly has and in some areas even excels the reboot, but this is unfortunately one of those games that hasn’t become obsolete per say, but isn’t as replayable or fine tuned as the later entries will be.
The plot involves a Lombax engineer named Ratchet, who’s sort of a cross between a Wombat and a Lynx, who discovers a robot defect from the starship of the main antagonist, Chairman Drek, and decides to call him Clank. Drek plans to extract large portions of different planets and build a brand new one to make up for his home planet being covered in pollution and overpopulated – destroying every planet he harvests in the process. That doesn’t exactly fly with our two heroes, so they make it their duty to visit each planet, help the citizens with whatever they need, and put an end to Drek’s madness.
Ratchet and Clank is a third person platformer run and gunner that gives you all sorts of tools and weapons to conquer every trap-filled planet – and dispose of the many types of the enemies you’ll encounter. Ratchet starts off with just a simple melee weapon, which is a giant wrench just to make it clear that he’s an engineer, and a glove that throws bombs, which he so happened to have. By accessing the numerous Gadgetron Vendors throughout each planet, you can buy more weapons with bolts, which is the currency for Ratchet and Clank games. These can range from a machine gun, to a flamethrower, to a vacuum cleaner that launches back smaller foes, to a ray that turns enemies to chickens, to a remote controlled rocket that’s good for destroying pesky flying enemies that love to fire barrages of missiles at you. The gadgetron vendors can also help fill up ammo, but if you can’t afford it, then you can always smash open crates containing either ammo or bolts. While this is mainly a third person game, you can also fire weapons from a first person perspective, but it’s a little on the sensitive side and targeting isn’t always accurate, even in third person.
The game is called Ratchet & Clank however, which means a couple of times during the adventure, you’ll also be able to play as Clank. When playing as Ratchet, Clank usually helps him out as a helipack or jetpack that makes platforming a bit easier, but the Clank only sections focus more on puzzles, where you have to command little robots to attack giant foes and open gates to let you through to the next area. Another couple of times in the story, you’ll have access to Giant Clank to wipe out larger tougher enemies with a simple punch, or shoot a barrage of missiles. There’s also this energy ball that Giant Clank can use to instantly obliterate an opponent, but it takes too long to use and needs to be recharged after you use it, so it’s not exactly practical. The Giant Clank segments as a whole only last few minutes, so it’s overall rather underwhelming.
Missions are given for each planet you visit, with most – if not all – of them simply traversing from point A to B; mowing down enemies that come into your path; and dealing with some challenging platforming. This includes using a number of gadgets that can either involve swinging across gaps, grinding on rails, walking on magnetic tracks, draining and filling up water in a given area, or hacking a door or an elevator by redirecting lasers. There are also secret collectibles to find in each planet in the form of Gold Bolts, which don’t really do anything aside from allowing you to purchase gold weapons after a certain moment in the game. These gold weapons add an extra perk or two to some of the weapons you already own, making them more powerful. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to upgrading your weapons like you can in the sequels, but this comes far too late in the game to be deemed useful by that point, and it’s a fairly hidden area, so that doesn’t help either.
Now while there’s nothing technically wrong with the original Ratchet & Clank, it does have a few issues, particularly being the first in the series. Let’s pretend for a moment that the sequels don’t exist and improve the gameplay substantially, and just look at Ratchet & Clank as a game itself. One major problem is that it can be excruciatingly difficult to earn bolts without performing an infamous glitch in Blackwater City, which makes it near impossible to earn a weapon called the RYNO that’s offered to you early in the game for the price of 150,000 bolts. Even when you don’t spend a lot on ammo or weapons altogether, the only way to earn that many bolts on your first playthrough is through grinding. As well as the RYNO being the most powerful weapon in the game, it feels like Ratchet & Clank painfully teases the player with the potential of total destruction.
Secondly, there’s a little bit of padding going on with the story to make it seem longer than necessary. Ratchet & Clank’s not a very long game anyway – it’s only around 6-8 hours – but there are a few planets in the game that don’t feel like they should be there. For example: the planet Oltanis has endless lightning strikes and Ratchet has to go on his own, only to obtain the Morph-o-Ray and a Gadgetron PDA to buy stuff on the fly at the cost of more bolts. The final level is also excruciatingly brutal for all the wrong reasons. The checkpoints are few and far between and it throws several of the toughest enemies in the game all at once, with attacks that are needlessly tricky to dodge. It’s sure to cause some rage here and there.
Thirdly, the two minigames that pop up from time to time aren’t that great. The dogfights in the spaceship are very basic, and the hoverboard races are downright awful for how slippery the controls are and how hard it is to catch up to your opponents.
Lastly, there’s the big issue with our main leads, well one of them to be more precise. Clank is fairly likeable with his intellectual witiness, but Ratchet, especially after a few hours into the game when a plot twist is revealed, becomes unnecessarily mean to his robot buddy. His attitude carries on like this throughout another few hours, where he finally realises he was being selfish and stupid, and the players can get back to the way things were. It’s no wonder why the sequels not only replaced Ratchet’s voice actor, but included a new personality to go with it.
Glaring drawbacks aside, Ratchet & Clank, especially for the first in the series is still good at making you feel like an unstoppable ticking time bomb – blowing up everything that comes in your pathway. Most of the issues that I’ve mentioned are merely cases of the original game just being inferior to the sequels: which take everything that made Ratchet and Clank good and multiplies it. The sequels also negate some of the annoying aspects of Ratchet and Clank, such as levelling up your weapons and giving you a more useful strafe feature – since strafing in the original game is somewhat cumbersome. Using all sorts of wacky weapons and gadgets is still enjoyable to tinker around and experiment with, and the game’s story and characters are simple and identifiable. With the PS4 reboot out now, there’s really no point in playing the original Ratchet & Clank anymore, but if you just want some pure nostalgia added to your line up, dust off that PS2 and pop it in for old time’s sake. Just be aware that the HD version you can get on the PS3 does have some slight graphical hiccups, such as the Suck Cannon’s meter almost always on the edge of the screen when it’s not supposed to be there.
Final Score: 3.5/5
Available on: PS2, PS3 (reviewed); Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment ; Developer: Insomniac Games; Players: 1 ; Released: November 4, 2002 ; ESRB: T for Teen
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ratchet & Clank purchased and owned by the reviewer.