Ratchet & Clank – Second Opinion

Gene brings up an interesting question of perspective. But, in contrast to his thoughts, I was trying to justify to myself why I was playing Ratchet & Clank. I had passed up several opportunities to play the game's full version after being unimpressed with the demo handed out at E3. Specifically, I was totally apathetic to the by-the-numbers character design, and the idea of collecting "stuff" while dodging enemies, and jumping pits has lost some appeal over the years.

However, platformers are an undeniable staple of gaming, and always will be. Everyone has played and become familiar with at least a few, which makes them equivalent to being the "comfort food" of the videogame world. There's just something primally satisfying about trekking a colorful character around interesting landscapes while jumping from place to place. They may not be the most advanced games around and rarely push the boundaries of the genre, but it's tough to deny the appeal of a platformer done well. Once I got over my initial resistance to the disc's "me-too" appearance, I found Ratchet & Clank to be more than satisfactory.

The best parts of the game definitely aren't the story and characters, though. Gene's right on the money about that. The design of the two heroes is as bland as vanilla pudding and shows little imagination. A product of design by committee, perhaps. The story is little better, being completely standard stuff with little zip or zing to make it memorable. Forget about any kind of character development or surprising plot twists.

Fortunately, the gameplay saves the day by being extremely smooth and painless all the way through. Let me clarify this point a bit by saying that Ratchet & Clank's biggest virtue is not really stunning gameplay, but rather, the complete lack of any tedious or unpleasant elements. Playing the role of Gene's "yes-man," I agree that the disc is utterly frustration free, which is a very good thing. Collecting Bolts is accomplished almost subconsciously, and progressing through the levels possesses a natural and seldom-found flow. Special kudos go out to Insomniac for their super-cohesive layouts and impeccable pacing. You're never stuck wondering where to go or what do to, and the entire game is set up to be extremely player-friendly with copious checklists, maps and all sorts of really useful peripheral information.

My biggest (and really my only) complaint was that the levels and challenges didn't capitalize on the plentiful weapon selection. With Insomniac making such a big deal out of the 36 or so available weapons, it was a bit of a letdown to find only a small number of them useful. Besides the "tool" weapons that unlocked doors or moved bodies of water, I'd say that I relied upon four of the guns consistently, with the rest being nonessential filler. If there's a sequel, I'd like a larger number of the weapons to play integral roles, whether for killing specific enemies or to pass special areas. If they're not really going to serve a useful purpose, what's the point?

With that said, Ratchet & Clank is a solid game that provides a greater-than-average amount of enjoyment while committing no offenses. It might not be the most original game on shelves, but avoiding the rough spots, camera problems and gameplay errors so common to the genre is something of an achievement in itself.Rating: 8 out of 10