Monday, 23 May 2016

Clank up the volume and remake a Ratchet

Ratchet & Clank (2016)

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

For those unaware, this is what the developers are calling a re-imagined game about a movie about a game. Typical marketing buzz word of nonsense? Kind of, but try ignoring the movie part and focus on the actual game. It's pretty much a remake of the classic action and platforming game on the PlayStation 2 from 2002. Insomniac Games have gone back and remade, added new stuff and generally made the original into a 2016 title. It's a game that goes along with it's cinema counterpart and serves pretty much as a videogame for the movie of the same title. Luckily the game is by far the best of the two.

Launched at a fairly reasonable price, Sony seem to be pushing the R&C franchise this generation too. I've lost count of how many they've released through the years on PS2, PS3 and PSP. To be fair, I only played R&C1, 2 and halfway through the third game on the PS2 before I was tired of the formula. I absolutely loved the first game, which is why this release intrigued me so much. How on earth they continued to make almost six games on the PS3 alone, with this space duo, baffles me to say the least. They must have been extremely popular with kids or something.

The launch trailer and gameplay videos showing the remade areas from the original instantly caught my eye and I went all in to play this at launch. I was once again blown away by pretty visuals, however when the nostalgia overload had calmed down, I was left with something of an empty shell. Let me explain.

After a rather underwhelming intro you are introduced to Ratchet's home planet, Veldin, where he works as a spaceship mechanic. Immediately the beautiful visuals pull you in. There's a lovely, almost Pixar level, quality over everything. Looking like a computer animated movie for children running in realtime, with a cartoonish vibe to it's colour scheme and design. There's lush, green vegetation and futuristic, shiny and metallic building structures on huge, alien planet surfaces to explore. Each time you travel to a new planet you're waiting in suspense as to how pretty and different it will look. Waiting eagerly to explore it as you get to control Ratchet again!

However, when your eyes have grown accustomed to the beautiful visuals, the cracks begin to show. Although visually crowded at times, especially when when you consider the vast amount of enemies the game can throw at you. There's a kind of uninteractive and sterile feeling to the environments. They aren't as large as they first appear, the actual play area often feels restricted, and when they're not crowded with details they feel kind of empty and boring. It's like you're playing the old 2002 version, and it's empty PS2 detail level, with a fresh coat of paint over. Everything just serves as walls with a few destructible items thrown in, other than endless crates and enemies.

The pre-determined path through each level too, makes it feel restricted, when all I want to do is climb around and explore everything. Sure, there's some free roaming areas, but the game never focuses on letting you explore them with platforming. It's about following a route through hoards and hoards of enemy waves finding the next person of interest to talk to. Fundamentally there's little difference from the original PS2 game going on here. 

I could be wrong remembering this game as listed the genre "platformer". Or that the original had more of actual jumping on platforms. But literally the most difficult platforming I did in my 8-10 hour playthrough was: Jumping from one moving platform to another. Literally. From one that moved left, to one that moved right. This is a "shooting endless stuff up" genre game, not a platformer in any way. I'm guessing this is why my interest declined rapidly, much quicker than expected. My trigger finger can be itched in far superior shooters elsewhere. I'm not here to play a mediocre shooter with huge toy guns. I guess my younger self in 2002 was happy to blow stuff up to no end.

The story is so obviously cut from the feature length movie, which has received terrible reviews by the way, in such a way we only get these almost cryptic teasers of the whole plot. It's dull at best, but mostly just confusing and doesn't aid the already simple, unfunny and boring storyline in any way. Ratchet simply has no personality, Captain Quark, while somewhat funny, just drones on and it's really only Clank that seems to have some soul in him (even though he's a robot). In fact some of the Clank parts, which are puzzles to solve, help break up the monotonous shooting and are more memorable than the rest. Though I personally didn't really care for placing robots in a certain order to get places, it just wasn't fun either.

Hang on here though, I may be complaining, a lot. But I don't really hate the game. It's beautiful to look at, and some of the few exploring parts make for some great moments along the way. The huge and open brain collecting level and all the secret passages spring to mind as the more memorable adventure moments.The shooting controls solidly and is actually rather fun in smaller dozes. The sheer visual variety of each planet keeps you're attention up as you visit each one. R&C isn't really a very long one to complete once, and it's retailing at a fairly low price, so with that in mind it's great value for so high production levels. The game also entices you to replay it with all your upgrades in tact, a sort of new game plus. I guess it's one of those titles that does exactly what it says on the box, but could have tried much harder to add variety and new ideas.

I've probably grown away from R&C since 2002, maybe I've realized since that it wasn't really a good platformer, more of a good shooter with some small platforming segments thrown in for good measure. After all, the first Jak and Daxter was the better platform and adventure game of the two back on the PS2. Perhaps the endless popularity of first person shooters since has made me appreciate the shooting segments less. I suppose the game does exactly the same as it did originally, it really does feel like a remake, only in far, far prettier package. As such, it's a great opportunity for people that have never experienced the R&C games, especially the first game, to play this one. Just don't expect the platforming part to be anything challenging or engaging at all.



    + Plus points

    • Incredible, almost Pixar quality graphics and animation in-game.
    • Varied worlds, crowded with detail.
    • Tons of weapon and enemy types.

    - Minus points

    • Where's the platforming? It's underwhelming at best.
    • Endless waves of enemies that need blowing up, again and again.
    • Terrible storyline, cheaply cut into bits from the tie-in movie.