Ratchet & Clank  
Hands-on preview of Insomniac's amazing platform.

HarryThis is going to be a hot year for the platform genre. Whether your favorite system is, you'll see great things this fall. Nintendo will be launching their awaited Super Mario Sunshine this September, Microsoft will bring a mascot for their system with Blinx, and what about Sony? After the extraordinary Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy released last year, Sony is bringing two big platforms to their 128-bit system this tall: Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper.

Thanks to SCEA, we had a chance to enjoy playable levels of both games, and well, we survived to tell you our impressions. We'll start with this preview of Ratchet & Clank, but stay tuned on Ps2fantasy.com for a preview of Sly Cooper during this week.

Insomniac Games, the creators and developers of the awesome Spyro The Dragon series, have been working on Ratchet & Clank for almost three years - a lot of time, let me say, and the results of all their efforts are surprising. Ratchet & Clank is a platform, but crafted in an extremely original way.

The Story Before telling you all the truth about our experience with the game, you could be interested to know the story that those creative minds at Insomniac have written for Ratchet & Clank.

Ratchet is a cute-looking yellow creature who lives in a little planet of a forgotten solar system; he is a mechanic and he's good at repairing any sort of things - yes, a bit like Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, but with much more fur.

Clank is a small robot of the evil armies of Chairman Drek. Chairman Drek is the ruler of a polluted planet who wants to build a new planet for his race using the best parts of the other worlds in the galaxy. A computer glitch makes of Clank a robot with a conscience. Clank learns Drek's evil pans and manages to escape the factory, but his ship is attacked by Drek's armed robots and it crashes on Ratchet's homeworld.

Luckily, Ratchet is a brave furry guy, bored of the life on his little planet. Together with Clank he will travel from planet to planet, in search of a way to stop Chairman Drek's evil plans.

Playing the game... As I said before, Ratchet & Clank is a surprising platform, from many points of view. Like Jak & Daxter, it shares the atmosphere of the last generation of Disney movies, and that's good.

The graphics, are the first thing that can really hit you. The game is incredibly smooth, and it offers visuals that are just breathtaking, another proof - after games like Jak & Daxter or Ico - that the Ps2 can render enormous environments with no issues in the hands of skilled developers. The level that was playable in my demo was a sci-fi futuristic city in the Planet of Caldera, reminiscent in his style of the cities seen in Lang's Metropolis, but much brighter and full of joyful colors. Dozens of vehicles flying at different heights were moving through the skyscrapers of the city, in an extremely realistic simulation of futuristic traffic, while at any moment it was possible to see till to the farthest skyscraper of the city. Speaking of loading times, in Ratchet & Clank they are simply non existent. Probably, in the final game, loading times will occur during the travel from one environment to the other - Ratchet and Clank have to explore many worlds during the whole adventure - but within the same level the game continuously stream the data off the disc, thus providing a continuous gaming experience.

Ratchet & Clank is just...

All the characters and the 3D models are built with thousands and thousands of polygons. Ratchet is a sort of big, yellow rat-cat-opossum, with big tender ears that moves smoothly as he walks. The animations are wonderful, even smoother than those in Jak & Daxter, and the real-time facial expressions of the cute Ratchet are just a pleasure to look at. Clank is an old-style little robot with two big, expressive green eyes. Ratchet carries him as a bag on his shoulders; Clank can buy and equip upgrades and gadgets during the adventure; in the demo, it was possible to buy the Helipack, a modification which transforms Clank into a James Bond's funny gadget which lets Ratchet glide or perform higher and longer jumps. Non playable characters and enemies looks great, and all are animated and characterized with the same care used for Ratchet and Clank. Insomniac did a magnificent work here.

Playing the game is an exhilarating experience. Ratchet responds finely to the controls, which are easy to learn and master. After a few minutes, I was completely comfortable with the game. The left analog sticks moves Ratchet, while the right one moves the camera. X is used to jump, Circle is the fire button and Square is used to swing Ratchet's deadly wrench. R1 is used to crouch, while L1 activate the first person mode, in which you can't walk, but you can aim carefully with one of the long-range weapons available and look around.

While it's also a shooter and it includes elements of the RPG genre, Ratchet & Clank is first of all a platform. In the demo, I basically had to find a way to reach the many platforms and skyscrapers scattered throughout the city level. Ratchet can perform many special moves that fans of platforms will just love. For example, he can glide, use special "jump slots", basically opposite walls in which you have to jump back and forth to get on the top of the slot, and he can perform back and side flips and grab ledges.

The combat system is extremely intuitive and as exciting as the one of pure action games like Devil May Cry. Using Ratchet's wrench is insanely amusing, but using it together with one of the fire weapons it's even better. Since the fire weapons are addressed to a different button than the wrench you can do things like shooting at enemies while in the air and then give them a final blow with your wrench, hitting their heads. The possibility to shoot in first person is also extremely welcome, since it helps a lot when it comes to kill flying enemies. Unfortunately, it's extremely easy to run out of ammunitions, so you can't just go around and fire at any object in front of you, at least in this demo. Ammunitions can be bought at shops or can be occasionally found into crates scattered throughout the level. In the demo, there were just four of the 35 weapons which will be included in the final game; there was a blaster, useful to destroy flying enemies in first person, a flamethrower, great to kill a group of enemies who surrounded you, and a Rocket launcher, the Devastator. But the coolest weapon, even if not the most effective, was probably the Glove of Doom, a glove (of course...) that creates a bunch of little robots who go towards the enemies and explode when they are close enough. You can switch weapons simply pressing the triangle button: a quick select menu pops up, with no need to open your inventory screen.

Ratchet & Clank is a pure platform...
...but it's also pure shooting action!

Ratchet & Clank also features many elements more typical of RPG games. For example, you can equip different objects on the different parts of Ratchet's body, thus customizing your character. Also the use weapons and the need to buy them in shops is rather unusual for a platform. In order to buy an item you need a sufficient amount of Bolts, the "money" in the game. Bolts can be obtained destroying enemies, crates or can be simply found here and there in the level.

Ratchet & Clank is currently slated for a November 2002 release in North America: a date to remember, and not only for the fans of the platform genre.

- Harry (July 9th, 2002)