Sunday, April 17, 2016

Game Diary - Ratchet & Clank.

It's been a long time comin'.  By the time we recorded the podcast this weekend, all I'd seen of the game was its opening, as Ratchet is thrust down a linear hallway towards his meet-cute with Clank, and Clank flees from his creators on his way to bump into Ratchet.  All I could say about it, when we recorded, was that it's sort-of like Ratchet & Clank by way of Uncharted, and that it.  Is.  Gorrrgeous

I was wrong, for the record, about R&C being linear.  It's not, in the same way earlier titles weren't linear affairs either - it opens up into proper, classic Ratchet & Clank after those opening minutes, and thereafter you are flung in to a greatest hits album of the most memorable levels from throughout Ratchet's 14-year canon.

Look familiar?

By that I don't mean that Ratchet & Clank is replete with nods to its history (though it is) and self-referential (it's that too).  By that I mean that in Ratchet & Clank on PS4, you will play levels from Ratchet & Clank on PS2, Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal and the Future duology.

And not a re-imagining of that level or a re-mix of that level.  It is the exact same level.   Just way prettier.  Like the Metropolis level from the original game.  That's in here - complete with the exact same Captain Quark-branded obstacle course and the train ride.

Ole Faithful.

The exact same train ride.

What differences in design there may be, I cannot perceive.  Old muscle memories from last century take over, springing up that ancient obstacle course and bouncing across the exact same geometry we mastered in past games.  Similarly, there is only one weapon in Ratchet & Clank that isn't directly pulled from previous entries - the Pixelizer.

The Pixelizer slaps enemies with damage and turns them in to block-mosaics of themselves.  The cube pixels will tumble apart if you kill an enemy with the weapon (or shortly after pixelizing them), but mechanically it's a shotgun.  Short range, wide spread, very effective against a large number of smaller enemies.  Elsewhere, you have played with every single one of these weapons before and why does the blade launcher have to appear in every R&C game anyway?  It's the last weapon you turn to when you've exhausted the clip in everything else against a boss.  "Oh well, out of rockets.  I guess I'm throwing ninja stars at you for five minutes now."

So there are, I suppose, complaints to be made.  As a consumer - as a video game consumer in particular, which is a breed that finds nourishment almost exclusively in the new and unusual - there's something almost offensive about how Ratchet and Clank re-uses now-ancient levels, how there's almost no flying around in a ship, and despite all that how this is the first major Ratchet title I can recall that doesn't have an arena to battle waves after waves of enemies in.

There's a lot to finger-wag at, here, but I can't hate Ratchet and Clank.  In fact, I love it.  I absolutely love it.

Direct-feed.  Dynamic lighting and motion blur.

I loved pretty much every moment of playing it, and whenever Dark Souls got a bit too tough (I'm stuck between a boss and a miniboss, at the moment), I'd switch over to this digital comfort food.  This is chicken soup.  It is a nice mom-and-pop style burger with all the fixins, and good fries.  

Ratchet and Clank is still around after fourteen years because, damnit, this is some good stuff.  Exploring the Gadgetron headquarters is still cool.  Swooping along grind rails, swinging from tiny points a mile above a roiling ocean and hopping along platforms over a lava pool is still a thrill.  Searching for brains for a demented scientist on a far-flung jungle planet is still cool.  Repelling an invading force by swooping through the skies in my retro sci-fi lookin' fighter, taking down water-collecting ships above a tropical paradise is still awesome.  

Ratchet and Clank are Sony's Mario, and I love them. 

Every time Ratchet hops out of his ship after landing on a new planet, the camera zooms in to his face as he looks up at this strange alien world, ready to blow the hell out of whatever may threaten, a slightly devilish grin on his face. Clank gazes placidly over his shoulder, largely indifferent to how spectacularly badass the two of them become when combined.  

There remains, to this day, something wholly wholesome and satisfying and comforting about running up to a stack of boxes, flinging one's self into the air and crashing down with a slam of one's Omniwrench, sending a twinkling galaxy of precious bolts scattering, and absorbing them.  The cash counter leaps up - that much closer to affording the Omega variant of The Peacemaker.  There's still something absolutely intoxicating about levelling up a weapon through use and unlocking a new, powerful modification for it.  

So offering me Ratchet and Clank at 1080P on my PS4 is very welcome.  Offering a somewhat-truncated version of the games we so fell in love with is... far better than nothing, and more reasonable when you're charging $20 less than a full-release game.  

I love Ratchet and Clank on PS4.  I'm very happy it's here.  I'm very happy to have it in my library, and I'll be very happy to return to it in the future.  

When Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time appeared back in '09, it got pretty good reviews - but most critics also complained that it was more of the same.  I agreed that it was more of the same, but felt that more of an awesome thing was still awesome.  The critics, for the record, love Ratchet and Clank on PS4.  For example, here is its Metascore, right next to the Metascore for Dark Souls III

If there's one thing the PS4's Ratchet and Clank says, very clearly, it's that more of the same is still awesome, when it comes to Ratchet and Clank - and I want more of this same.  I want to pay sixty bucks for a full-release R&C with Rebel Galaxy-esque flight around solar systems.  I want the arena back, and I want the option to switch from helicopter-Clank to jetpack-Clank when I want to.  

I just really hope those critics (and the movie, which, based on what I've seen from the game, will not be very successful) push enough consumers to convince Sony and Insomniac that Ratchet and Clank are still the mascot the PlayStation brand needs, and deserves. 

I want to see a Ratchet & Clank game that blows the lid off my mind with how awesome in can be - instead of just reminding me how awesome the franchise was, and how good-looking games on the new gen can be.  

I want more of this, and I want that sense of discovery again.  I want my cake, and then I want to eat it. 

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