Bringing the Lombax Back: Ratchet and Clank Collection Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3
As mentioned in the Infamous Collection review, Sony’s line of PlayStation Collections is a perfect opportunity for those who have missed out on some of the biggest franchises in the console’s history to redeem themselves. In terms of the Ratchet and Clank Collection, which includes all three of the duo’s original adventures, it gives gamers the chance to experience some of the best-loved games from the PlayStation 2. Considering the PS3 doesn’t come with backwards compatibility (unless you have one of the original models), this could be some gamers’ first chance to experience playing as the beloved combination of Lombax and miniature robot.
The Ratchet and Clank Collection, if nothing else, offers an intriguing look into the games of yesteryear. The original Ratchet and Clank, Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando, and Ratchet and Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal were released in 2002, 2003, and 2004 respectively, and through playing each game you can tell the noticeable improvements made from one to the next in terms of visuals, features, and overall gameplay. Whilst the first Ratchet and Clank takes on the guise of a platformer with the inclusion of projectile weaponry, Up Your Arsenal tends to focus more on guns and explosions, and platforming, though still present, takes a backseat. Going Commando, too, focuses more on combat than the first game, but sits somewhere in the middle of the first and third entry in the series in terms of gameplay styles.
Perhaps the biggest question regarding the collection is how 10-year-old graphics hold up on modern day televisions, especially larger HDTVs. In truth, Insomniac Games and Idol Minds have done an admirable job at remastering the trilogy, as all three games look incredibly smooth even by today’s standards. There are some instances of texture and item pop-up, especially in the first game, but the bright colours and varied environments of each planet in the series shine through. As you play through the collection in chronological order, the increase in texture details is readily apparent, and by Up Your Arsenal, the visuals are some of the best seen on previous-generation consoles.
There are issues, though, such as characters clipping into environments, cameras disappearing inside walls and scenery, and one instance in Up Your Arsenal where the entire screen turned orange, almost as if a curtain had been draped over the television. Furthermore, targeting reticules and health meters appear in cutscenes during Up Your Arsenal, and sometimes the audio/visual sync drops out, most noticeably in Big Al’s Roboshack in the first game. One particular annoyance throughout all games in the series was the bolt-collecting sound, which is particularly migraine-inducing with its constant ding-ding-ding barrage. This did seem to get lessened as the trilogy progressed, but whether this is a conscious effort on the developer’s part or merely the player becoming accustomed to the noise is unknown.
It’s not all bad news, however, particularly for those who have a slightly puerile sense of humour. As can be guessed from the titles of Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal, the developers have a penchant for including innuendo within their work, and there were definitely moments where I wondered if these games really were as heavily aimed at children as the aesthetics hint at. There is a lot of humour for the younger audience as well, with a good deal of slapstick comedy and some enjoyable characters, and generally the dialogue and narrative would fit in well with any modern Saturday morning cartoon. The villains, from Chairman Drek to Dr. Nefarious, might have dastardly plans, but never tend to stray into the questionably dark areas the Batman animated series’ Joker might have done. Overall, the stories in each game are pretty straightforward, with Ratchet and Clank having to save the galaxy from various plots which would otherwise end in the galaxy’s destruction.
To do this, the duo travel to numerous planets (read: levels) per game, with each having upwards of 15 different locations to visit. Each has its own theme, be it jungle, desert, cityscape, or something else, and more often than not each planet has its own variety of enemies with differing attacks and tactics required to defeat them. Through the early stages of each game the levels are almost like a shooting gallery, as most enemies only take a couple of hits to defeat and their attacks are easily dodged. As the games progress, though, I found each one in turn suffered from some dastardly difficulty spikes, of the kind that bring about frustration rather than determination to beat them. The difficulty seems to ramp up usually toward the second third of the game or so, but there never seems to be any indication this is about to happen. Most games tend to have a fairly gentle difficulty curve you can detect if you look hard enough, but each Ratchet and Clank seems to prefer to let you swim gently with the current for a while before chucking you into the middle of a whirlpool without warning.
This problem is increased by the unforgiving nature of checkpoints in each of the games. Particularly, in the first game no notice is given when you reach a checkpoint, leaving you unaware of where you will respawn if you die. In the latter two games you are alerted in some way, but the checkpoints are still widely spaced across each level, leaving a reasonably large amount of traversal to get back to where you were, depending on the point where you died. Enemies respawn, but you need to repurchase ammunition, and any extra supply crates along the way are non-existent if you opened them on your previous attempt. People complain these days that games are too easy, but if cheap tactics like this are the alternative, I’ll take too easy every time.
The combat mechanics don’t really make your time with Ratchet and Clank any easier, although they do become more intuitive as the series progresses. In the first Ratchet and Clank, strafing isn’t available until later in the game, and even then only when hovering with a jetpack. In Going Commando strafing is possible whilst holding down a button, but it isn’t until Up Your Arsenal that strafing is Ratchet’s natural movement, an addition which makes combat feel a lot more comfortable. Throughout the series, though, first-person mode causes Ratchet to become static, leaving him wide open to attack. This isn’t a problem for most guns, as the third-person mode works fine, but when you need to zoom in or aim with some precision, be prepared to take some damage.
Thankfully, the sheer number of weapons and gadgets on offer keep each game in the series feeling fresh throughout, particularly once you’re able to improve the weapons by killing a certain amount of enemies. Going Commando allows you to upgrade your weapons once, whilst Up Your Arsenal gives each weapon five different stages, each more powerful than the last. The final stage of each weapon in Up Your Arsenal is often a super-powered version of the original, which gives a certain incentive toward weapon loyalty. Most weapons are gained by default by completing sections of the story, though each game offers a selection of optional weapons that can often be purchased for an extortionate amount of bolts. In the first game, this requires grinding through the levels multiple times, but the second and third games offer challenges which reward the player with bolts. These challenges include races and space combat in Going Commando and arena battles and obstacle courses in Up Your Arsenal. Almost all of these missions are optional, but the bolts gained from successful completion definitely help you out, especially toward the end of the game when purchasable armour and weapons become more expensive.
Gadgets are gained for free, and in the first game take their place alongside weapons on the selection wheel, which can make for some embarrassing moments when you have a skeleton key equipped rather than a shotgun in front of a group of enemies. Gadgets in the other two games are used more contextually, with a button press enough to use some of them. This allows the game to flow better and lets players concentrate more on shooting rather than puzzle-solving.
Each Ratchet and Clank title contains more than enough content to justify a solo purchase, but when all three are included in a single package for a discounted price, this is an opportunity platforming fans shouldn’t pass up, particularly if they are interested in the history of the genre. If you can see past some of the antiquated design decisions, there is an enjoyable game to be found with some amusing characters, well-designed environments, and a good selection of weaponry to be experimented with. For games approaching (or have already reached) 10 years since release, each entry in the series holds up well in terms of visuals, and the HD upgrades have been handled admirably. Whilst the aesthetics give the impression that Ratchet and Clank is a series for children, the innuendo-ridden humour and some fiddly puzzles, combined with some sadistic difficulty spikes mean other choices might be more appropriate.
The Ratchet and Clank Collection is a worthy, if flawed, entrant in the PlayStation Collections line of releases, and is a good opportunity to experience the trilogy for those who have so far missed out. The collection scores 3.75 out of 5 due to a selection of graphical and design issues across all three games, but these can be attributed to age more than anything else, and shouldn’t be enough to put off either fans of the series or the genre.
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