Reviewed: October 23, 2007
Released: October 30, 2007
I can’t help but think that if Insomniac had released Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction last year when the PS3 launched that the system would now be as hard to find in stores as the Nintendo Wii. Instead, they chose to release Resistance, a fairly unoriginal FPS title that, while good, doesn’t even come close to the magnificence that we see in their latest release.
I’m not the biggest platform gaming fan out there. In my top five genre preferences these types of games come in third…maybe forth, so the simple fact that I was totally unable to tear myself away from this game for 16 straight hours should tell you just how amazing Tools of Destruction really is.
For this next-gen debut of one of gaming’s most beloved duos Insomniac chose not to tamper with the gameplay, and instead focused their attentions on refining what was already an exceptional 3D engine, fleshing out the visuals, including an epic score, and tossing in more outrageous weapons that we could ever imagine. After all, Ratchet and Clank has always been about those great weapons.
For this latest installment we dive surprisingly deep into a rich story that explores the origins of Ratchet, the ancient war with the Cragmites, and a new and threat, the evil and treacherous Emperor, Percival…snicker…Tachyon. Ratchet and Tachyon are the last of their species, and both are on a quest for a legendary and powerful secret Lombax weapon that was used to wipe out the Cragmites, but for entirely different purposes.
The race is on and so is this epic adventure that spans multiple planets, black holes, asteroids belts, space stations, and even alternate dimensions. You’ll meet new characters and even a few old friends, and do battle with a variety of new and creative aliens. You’ll even do battle with space pirates…arrgghhh.
I could write about this game for hours, but that would be time better spent playing the game than reading about it, so I’ll be brief. The single best feature of Ratchet and Clank is variety. Not only will you travel to more than a dozen exciting and visually stunning locations, you’ll get to fight armies of creative enemies using an arsenal of inexplicably cool weapons.
The game features all the standard platforming elements starting with collection. You’ll smash hundreds of thousands of boxes before the game is over, each releasing assorted bolts, nuts, springs, and other metallic scrap that you collect as currency used to purchase new weapons, ammo, and improved armor. Raritanium is the other collectible. These rare mineral shards are used to upgrade your weapons.
Each weapon has a hex-map of upgrades that you can strategically unlock in a linear fashion, with each purchased hex unlocking any adjoining ones. There are special hexes with super-power-ups that will require you to purchase all surrounding hexes. There are more than a dozen hex upgrades for each weapon and it can costs thousands of credits to complete a total weapon upgrade. And even then you can still level upgrade your weapon through frequent use.
The arsenal is bigger and more original than ever, but as always, Ratchet always wields his trusty OmniWrench 3000, that can be used for melee as well as tossed for some boomerang action. You’ll even get to use it as a wrench to spin a few bolts from time to time. As the game progresses you will earn new weapons and purchase even more. Some weapons like the Swingshot will auto-equip when fired in proximity to a grapple point but most will need to be selected using the Quick Select menu.
The Quick Select menu is divided into three pages of eight items, weapons, gadgets, and devices. You hold the triangle button down to pull-up the menu then cycle the pages with R1 and L1 and select the item by moving the left stick toward the icon. It can be awkward at first but at least the action in the game freezes while you are rummaging through your inventory. By the end of the game you will most likely have acquired more items that will fit in your three pages of quick selections, but you can always swap out your favorites and even reposition them in the menus to your liking.
I’m not sure if I accidentally stumbled on the perfect weapon combination or what, but for some reason I found myself using and upgrading two weapons from the time I got them until the end of the game. The first weapon launches a swarm of auto-locking missiles able to lock onto multiple targets or concentrate the fire on a single large target. Once this weapon was fully upgraded and leveled up there was little reason to switch to anything else unless I was out of ammo.
The second item was even more useful and even gave the game some added strategic value. You can plant these posts in the ground and a swarm of explosive nano-bots will start to buzz around. A laser targeting system will lock-on and fire these bots at any nearby enemies causing little explosions and massive damage. Once you learn how and where to position these poles you can take out amazing numbers of enemies while you hide safely behind cover. If you plant enough of them, you can even take down big bosses.
Occasionally, you’ll have to get up close and that is where the whip comes in handy. Capable of delivering an electrical zap and even send out a shockwave when fully upgraded, the Shock Ravager is a great weapon for running into a cluster of smaller enemies and swinging wildly. Warning – it doesn’t work on enemies that are already electrified.
There are dozens of fun and creative gadgets and weapons, each with unique functions and wonderful results. You can launch a tornado at your enemies, great for sucking them into the air and throwing them around as well as smashing boxes and crates, and you even get to steer the funnel cloud with your SIXAXIS motion control.
Speaking of the SIXAXIS, Insomniac has implemented some extremely creative functions for the tilt and balance abilities of the PS3 gamepad. The first take place as you are skydiving through layers and layers of crisscrossing traffic in the opening Metropolis level. Just think of the scene in The Fifth Element, but rather than Bruce Willis driving a taxi through traffic, you are floating side to side or diving or pulling up to avoid speeding cars and trucks. This is repeated a few more times in the game as HALO jumps, only on these drops you are avoiding missiles and AA fire as you skydive into a battle zone.
Then you have the hacking tool, a device that allows you to unlock doors. It’s similar to the hacking we did in previous Ratchet and Clank games, only rather than riding rails to reach the unlock point we now have a circuit board that tips and tilts to mimic the motion of your SIXAXIS. A charge of energy is emitted from one point and must reach the end point (sometimes two or three endpoints). As the charge travels across the circuit board you must tilt the controller to roll a metallic ball around and bridge numerous gaps in the circuitry. It’s easy at first until you have to coordinate two or three charges at once.
Another great use of the SIXAXIS are the moments where Clank can sprout Robo-Wings and our heroes can sail around the levels, free to explore or unleash death from above. The thing that amazed me the most was that you only fly for perhaps a combined 10-15 minutes in the entire game but the controls are infinitely more precise and reliable than LAIR, a game where you fly for 99% of the game. I was able to steer through rings, dive bomb enemies, and even make precision landings on the backs of giant dinosaur creatures.
One area of missed potential was the Gyro Cycle. About halfway through the game and another instance near the end of the game you will get to ride this vehicle which looks like one of those three-ring gyro seats they have at Space Camp, only this is in a spherical force field and you roll around the levels like a marble. What better opportunity to use the SIXAXIS, but instead we are resigned to steering with the analog stick.
In addition to the Gyro Cycle you will also get to travel by pirate ship, space station shuttle, warp gates, and of course, numerous and totally fun rail grinds. Sure, you’ve already done this in Sonic but never like this, with alien ships blasting away sections of the rails or trying to switch to the proper rail of a three-rail monorail to avoid oncoming trains. The rails themselves spiral and twist and can even cause a bit of motion sickness, especially on one level where it twists you upside down for an inverted boss fight.
But the best vehicle has to be your trusty spaceship, only in Tools of Destruction you don’t actually start off with it. You’ll be hitching rides for the first few missions until you reach your home planet where you find the remains of a wrecked Lombax spaceship. This triggers a mission where you have to find several key parts to repair the ship so you can continue the adventure.
Space travel is usually just a sequence of cinematics of your ship flying through a wormhole, used to disguise the load times for the next planet, but on a few occasions you will get to engage in some extremely exciting space combat that is worthy of being in its very own game. Seriously, Insomniac’s next game had better be a space shooter. You’ll get to fly forward moving your ship around independently of the crosshairs, or you might find yourself playing as Clank, back in the gunnery chair protecting your six. The action is matched only by the intensity of the distractingly beautiful scenery.
But the list of gameplay features continues, again with more variety. Fun gadgets allow you to morph your enemies into penguins or toss up a multi-colored disco ball that sends anyone in the vicinity into uncontrollable fits of bad disco dancing. You can use the pirate holo-disguise to gain access to Pirates Only rooms, but only after you have passed the pirate dance contest where you must match the dance moves DDR-style and even wiggle the SIXAXIS to “shake your booty” and celebrate your…err…piracy.
And we can’t forget Clank. If Ratchet were Michael Knight then Clank is KITT, not only with prim and proper accent and unequivocal politeness, but also in his own usefulness and resourcefulness. There are several sub-missions where you will get to play as Clank. During these missions you will encounter the Zoni (sounds like Sony when spoken in game), a mystical race of alien-robots that work with Clank. Alone, Clank can levitate and even do a karate chop, but when teamed with the Zoni he can attack in force, open doors, and even manipulate objects to repair elevators or computers using a circular menu much like Ratchets Quick Select menu.
As you can see, there is so much originality and variety in Tools of Destruction that you simply can’t get bored. A respectable autosave and checkpoint system keeps you from ever repeating too much of any part of a level should you die, and even when you do restart you keep all your bolts and anything you have done up to your death like hacking a lock stays done. For me, dying meant just that much more time to earn more bolts so I could save up for that 300,000-bolt armor.
My feelings for the graphics in Tools of Destruction were summed up perfectly by a single line within the game delivered by a certain plumber before he flushed himself down the toilet. “I almost didn’t recognize you in high def.” Sure, it’s an insider joke poking fun at this next-gen debut but it also speaks far more to the visuals than words or even the screenshots. Simply put…this is the best looking game on the PS3 to date.
Obviously, Ratchet and Clank have the edge on the competition since Insomniac isn’t trying to recreate reality. When you base your game on a fantasy sci-fi theme you are allowed to blow the doors off the entire spectrum of colors and create some of the most breathtaking vistas ever seen in any form of entertainment. The space battle through the asteroid belt looked like the opening to Star Trek Voyager, only this wasn’t pre-rendered…I was actually flying through those thousands of little rocks that make up a planetary ring.
The Metropolis level is huge and beautiful with multiple layers of city buildings, futuristic architecture, and thousands of cars streaking about the city. The prehistoric planet puts Jurassic Park to shame with lush vistas and terrifying dinosaurs. You can sail above this landscape flying in formation with the pterodactyls or land on the back of a dinosaur so big it has landmasses attached to its back. We’re talking the scale of the bosses in Shadow of the Colossus.
Each planet has its own theme, environment and architectural style whether you are on the prison planet, the jungle planet, the asteroid belt with central space station, or my own personal favorite, the comet. Yes, you actually get to land on a comet where the pirates have setup a base, and the only thing cooler than looking at this comet from afar is to stand on its icy surface. It’s a moment not unlike the scene in Armageddon only a whole lot cooler as you look out and see the vaporous trail of the comet creating a haunting, yet beautiful atmosphere for the action about to unfold.
Special effects bring out the best in the PS3 with glorious particle effects, fire, explosions, glowing green goo, shiny floors with reflective surfaces, and one of the best (if not only) real-time flight and combat sequences into a black hole. This could be the showcase level for the game. The game is already the showcase title for the system.
Tools of Destruction supports 480p and 720p, and while I would normally complain about the lack of 1080p support, I simply can’t imagine this game looking any better than it does, even at 720p and a rock solid framerate. Combined with the fantastic art design and overall presentation, Ratchet and Clank is a flawlessly perfect treat for the eyes.
The only word that I could use to describe the soundtrack for Tools of Destruction would be “epic”. Every moment of the game has some wondrous piece of music that is used to enhance the experience. You have the oppressive themes of the prison or the action themes for Metropolis. There is sci-fi music for the space battles and a great pirate theme that is so close to Pirate of the Caribbean I thought I would have lawyers knocking on my door. And don’t even get me going on the small, but delightful collection of disco tunes that pop up for the pirate doors and disco gadget.
During those rare moments of silence you are left to bask in the awesomeness of the environment, the sounds of wildlife, the wind, the water, the explosions…it’s all there and in glorious 3D Dolby Digital. Every weapon and every gadget comes with its own clever and original sound, often two or three sounds depending on the level of enhancement.
The voice cast is an inspiration to anybody making a game that wants to tell a great story through dialogue. You’re likely to recognize several actors listed in the credits, but regardless of game, every voice and every character is pure perfection, full of life and plenty of humor. As always, you’ll want to eavesdrop whenever possible. Walking into a pirate camp while in holo-pirate garb will afford you the opportunity to hear some hysterical dialogue and make sure to listen to all the announcements on the prison PA system. “Prisoner so-and-so…please report to torture chamber 7…we have a present for you.”
I was able to finish Tools of Destruction in just over 16 hours. I probably died a few more times than I should have, but at least I always had the funds for upgrades and new weapons and armor. If you rush through the game and avoid those stacks of boxes you are guaranteed to come up short when it’s time to go shopping.
The Gold Bolts are back and hidden better than ever…at least until you get the pirate map gadget that reveals the locations of everything on every planet. This is a great tool for when you go back and replay the game on the far more difficult challenge mode. At least you get to keep your weapons and armor from the first pass through the game, but the enemies are far more vicious.
Gold Bolts can be used to unlock a variety of skins you can use to replace the in-game character of Ratchet. It’s a nice touch although it can be a bit odd to see other characters replacing our hero. There is also a skill point reward system used to unlock cheats, artwork, movies, and other bonus items. And for those who like movies with gladiators in them, you can spend hours in the combat arena trying to win and unlock progressively more difficulty challenges.
Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is as close to a perfect game as the PS3 has seen to date. If variety is the spice of life then Insomniac has created a next-gen spice rack and filled it perfect visuals, awesome sound and music, creative weapons and gadgets, great gameplay, and tied it all together with an amazing story that will leave you on the edge of your seat as the final credits start to roll.
If you own a PS3 then you owe it to yourself to play this game and experience the true definition of next-gen game design. It doesn’t get any better than this…at least not yet…