October 23, 2007 // 2:00 pm
- A lack of reasons for PS2 owners to upgrade to the more expensive PS3 is often said to be why Sony's latest console isn't performing as well as everyone predicted. Big name Sony franchises simply haven't been appearing on the PlayStation 3 as regularly as we all thought they would, with Sony focussing on new properties such as Resistance, Heavenly Sword and Motorstorm. Insomniac looks to be putting things right with its second PS3 exclusive, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. Should PS2 owners be thinking about trading in their aging console?
The first thing to hit you when you start the game is how good it looks. Every new console brings about the same old discussion over if game graphics will ever catch up with CG movies, and Tools of Destruction is perhaps the best example yet. It would be foolish to even suggest that the game is approaching Pixar quality visually, but the characters and game world are among the most visually impressive I've ever seen in a video game. Everything is curved, smooth and beautifully animated, giving the game the look of a CG movie, even if it isn't technically as impressive.
After ten minutes or so, when your real neck starts to ache from all the virtual looking around you've been doing (yes, there's a tonne of stuff flying around all the time) what really matters is the gameplay; thankfully this is Ratchet & Clank back to its best, in what is more of a true successor to Ratchet & Clank 3 (Up Your Arsenal in the US) than Deadlocked ever was. The third game is perhaps still the finest action platformer on the PlayStation 2, so a next-gen follow-up in the same vein is more than adequate.
This time around the plot centres on the evil Emperor Percival, who is hell-bent on wiping out all the Lombax - Ratchet's species. When the adventuring duo escape from Metropolis just as an armada is pummelling the city (attempting to destroy Ratchet) they stumble across the Lombax Secret, which leads them on a path of discovery that will teach them of their past.
From here it's pure action platforming gameplay through and through. While many class the series as a platformer, it's really more of a third-person shooter with jumping thrown in. In fact the game plays considerably better when using the optional FPS-style control system, which suits the action packed gameplay and reduces some of the camera problems that crop up when using the more traditional control set-up.
Weapons play a huge part in the game, as always, and the selection will please fans who felt disappointed by what was on offer in Deadlocked. By the end of the game you'll have access to 14 weapons, eight devices, eight gadgets and five items. And in Ratchet & Clank tradition each of the weapons can be upgraded, both through general use and by buying upgrades from the vendors located on each planet. While the purchase of new weapons requires bolts (the game's currency), upgrades are bought using raritanium, which is almost as common as the bolts that every object and defeated enemy drops.
There really is no other game that has such inventive weapons (bar perhaps Resistance, Insomniac's other PS3 title). They're all useful, but I found myself getting quite attached to the shotgun-like Shard Reaper, and called upon the help of Plasma Beasts (beasts that leap out of green plasma) and Nanoswarmers (deadly bee-like swarms) on numerous occasions. Ammunition is rarely an issue as you'll always be next to a pick-up of some sort or a vendor more than willing to trade with you.
And the weapons are just part of what's on offer. Your gadgets are used at specific points in the adventure, but devices can be used whenever, helping you out when you need it most. The most talked about is quite clearly the Groovatron, the glitterball that sends all enemies into a dancing frenzy. Every enemy in the game has its own dancing animation, no matter its size. The others aren't quite as inventive, but the helpful Mr. Zurkon robots (defensive droids) and Leech Bombs (drain enemy health to replenish yours) came in handy quite frequently.
Over the course of the game you'll travel to solar systems full of planets, each one with its own unique look and distinctive inhabitants. Particular favourites of mine include any that feature the cyborg pirates (which you can infiltrate with a disguise and piratey swagger) and the prehistoric island that is packed full of dinosaurs that fill the screen. You'll also take part in arena fights hosted by series favourite Captain Qwark. The bumbling super hero is once again on hand to provide some light relief as you fight the most dangerous creatures in the solar system.
Clank is soon to get his own PSP game, but he's not just a bit-part player in Tools of Destruction. He has his owns side story that sees him solving puzzles using robots known as the Zoni. These magical guys can be commanded to perform various tasks and unlock special abilities that Clank didn't know he had. Of course, we also learn more about Clank in the process, but telling would ruin part of the story.
Negatives are few and far between, and to some degree I'm hunting for them rather than there being blatantly obvious flaws. At times the game suffers from some bland design that causes a few areas to look rather underwhelming - it's not that often, but hurts what is otherwise a stunning looking game. At certain points you'll also play in space combat sections. While these look great they don't play so well, and I'd have preferred them to be optional or completely removed from the game.
Sixaxis motion control (when Ratchet uses Clank to fly and during various mini-games) is passable, but not great. Thankfully it can be turned off, but then it makes the various sections seem rather trivial. Multiplayer of any description is completely absent. It's never been a huge part of the series, but it would have been great to play some deathmatch games in the beautiful environments seen throughout the game. We'll let Insomniac off this time, but it better be in the next game.
So, in summary Insomniac has delivered one of the first PS3 games that is absolutely worth picking up. Whether you're a platformer fan or fancy some frenetic blasting action, Tools of Destruction fits the bill. Combine the enjoyable gameplay (that's fun for all ages) with some of the best visuals the PS3 has seen and you have a game that every PS3 owner should own. It also might just convince a few fence sitters to take the plunge on Sony's new console.