Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction Review (PS3)

Familiarity is a trait Playstation 3 has been lacking this fall with new potential franchises Lair and Heavenly Sword stealing headlines, for better or worse. This name recognition deficiency is about to vaporize with the release of Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The fifth R&C game in five years and first on Playstation 3 is arguably the most anticipated title on the Blu-ray savvy console this holiday season. And as expected and hoped for, the PS3 debut for the pointy-eared Lombax and his slender metallic sidekick is a technologically glorious return to the series” platforming roots.

Shooter-centric gameplay shift introduced in the fourth game, Deadlocked, was met with mixed results. Deadlocked was still fun, to be sure, but sorely missed were the straightforward platforming elements defining the series. With Tools of Destruction, Insomniac Games has taken one step back in order to take two steps forward by dramatically toning down the shooter elements and injecting a healthy dose of platforming goodness taking advantage of the Playstation 3’s processing power and SIXAXIS controller.

Tools of Destruction delivers almost everything we’ve come to expect from a Ratchet & Clank game, only substantially better: massive and diverse worlds, cutting edge visuals, and devices and weapons not fit for our world. The first world seen prominently in preview screenshots could have been lifted straight from the Fifth Element. Towering skyscrapers, massive villains and swarms of airborne vehicle traffic breathe new life into Ratchet & Clank’s surroundings. Multiple interstellar destinations offer a diverse range of areas to explore; from a space station to swamps to a tucked away pirate lair.

The selection of available weapons has been reworked to be more intuitive and more destructive, if that can be imagined. Aside from Ratchet’s melee axe, each weapon is upgradeable in a variety of ways such as range, destructive impact, and ability to build additional Raritanium when used. If this precious metal sounds familiar, it should. Raritanium made a couple brief appearances earlier in the series, and has now evolved into a must-find commodity in order to strategically upgrade weapons to their full potential. Ironically, actively upgrading weapons outpaces growth in enemy strength making it possible to blow through most sticky situations without ever losing a single life.

Bolts are also must-find commodities required to procure bigger and badder weapons, making investigating every corner of every level for containers holding bolts mandatory. There are quicker ways to rack up bolts, such as collecting “Leviathan Souls” from mini-bosses or meeting statistical goals in the Imperial Fight Festival. Neither of these tactics is required to progress through the game save for a couple scripted scenarios, and in the case of the Imperial Fight Festival, is always available for a visit once initially discovered.

Select weapons are capable of far more than laying waste to Ratchet & Clank’s enemies. For example, the Gelinator gun can be filled with a jJello-like substance that when shot creates a cube of bouncy gel. Ratchet is able to use the cube like a trampoline to reach higher ledges, and also use the cubes to traverse otherwise impassible water hazards. Not to be outdone are Clank’s invisible friends, the Zoni. In a couple rare instances, Clank is able to control these cute little guys to step on switches and allow him to levitate or slow down time. These alternate weapons and other devices are a nice change-of-pace from the “kill anything that moves” mindset.

Another change-of-pace is fairly infrequent which is sure to delight legions of SIXAXIS critics. Insomniac Games opted to use the SIXAXIS controller for diversionary objectives and not core gameplay controls. For brief instances lasting usually a minute or two at most, the SIXAXIS is used to steer a falling Clank through aerial traffic, guide a Zoni-provided laser from Clank to cut through weak walls, or blast spaceships in a Last Starfighter-inspired battle while traveling between planets. The only mandatory platforming appearance of SIXAXIS controls appears when using the Tornado Cannon. Instead of guiding fired tornados across the screen with the analog pad, all tornado control is used with the SIXAXIS. For this very reason I saw little, if any, motivation to mess with this gun after shelling out a considerable number of bolts on it.

The return to platforming does carry some small nuances and gameplay inadequacies. Level design is fairly enclosed and restrictive, forcing Ratchet & Clank on a far-too linear path highlighted when viewing the map. At times there may appear to be a shortcut through to another area, only to have jumping attempts to reach it rudely met by an invisible barrier. By forcing players down restrictive paths, Insomniac was able to build in several sequences where the camera switches to an irregular, fixed perspective for a different effect. Most of the times this camera switch is tolerable; though, in a few distinct instances the scenario screams for the user-controlled camera to return.

Faulting Insomniac Games for these minor issues is difficult when the high definition visuals in Tools of Destruction are up there with the best ever seen in a platformer. Not because these issues should be ignored in lieu of other achievements, but because it is hard to remember or care about them upon being mesmerized by Ratchet’s new lifelike flowing fur, Clank’s shiny shell, and just about every other design worthy of a feature-length CGI movie. Although the story is uninspired and contagiously skip-able, the high definition presentation makes every cut-scene worth repeat viewings.

Fight back the urge to let the linear levels, infrequent fixed camera, weak story, and one misguided SIXAXIS implementation snag deter you. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is a welcome return to the series” platforming roots and even more welcome addition to the often overlooked genre. Sony should be ecstatic to have this familiar duo back in their active library of games and headlining the Playstation 3 software line-up this holiday season.

– Dan Bradley

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