Ratchet & Clank is one of my all-time favorite game series and yet after recent years I can’t help but greet the announcement of a new adventure for the lovable Lombax and his robot pal with a bit of apprehension. I don’t begrudge Insomniac for trying something a little different with the franchise in these last two entries. After all, since the series began in 2002, there have been seven games following a fairly similar formula across multiple platforms (with Deadlocked and Secret Agent Clank deviating a little more than the rest). Shaking things up isn’t such a bad idea. And yet those games just didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked. All 4 One’s move to co-op might have been alright, but was hampered by the game’s isometric perspective and a lack of series gameplay staples (non-linear exploration and experience-based weapon upgrades being the ones that standout to me as the biggest omissions). Full Frontal Assault actually had some tight fun gameplay, but the competitive modes that the game was largely made for didn’t mesh all that well for me. I didn’t like the lack of narrative compared to the rest of the series either and to be honest I am just not the biggest fan of tower defense. The newly announced Into the Nexus promises a return to the classic Ratchet gameplay fans have been missing and after soaking in the available information about the game (via the PS Blog, the PS Blogcast and IGN’s preview), I thought I’d give some thoughts on whether this next game is worth getting all excited for again.
Developer Insomniac says this game will act as an epilogue of sorts to the Future saga previously comprised of Tools of Destruction, Quest for Booty and A Crack in Time. This is good news to me. While I still think Up Your Arsenal is the best Ratchet game, I really appreciated the Future series overarching narrative and one final game to wrap up its loose ends sounds like a great way to finish Ratchet and Clank’s adventures on the PS3. I was also delighted to hear about the return of Talwyn, Cronk and Zephyr. The latter two are always good for a laugh, but it is Talwyn’s return that got me most excited. I was a little miffed by her exclusion from A Crack in Time (I was told resources for animation played a part and Azimuth’s addition kind of pushed her out). I liked that a female love interest of Ratchet’s had actually carried over from one game to another and they had built a fun, endearing relationship over the course of the first couple of Future games, so I was saddened by her absence in ACiT. Anyway, it just makes me that much happier to hear she will return for Into the Nexus.
Based on the footage and information so far, the gameplay certainly looks the part. This is a single-player affair consisting of that classic mix of wacky weaponry and lighter platforming elements that made up the best games in the series. Into the Nexus promises plenty of fun new armaments for Ratchet to employ. The standout so far seems to be the Winterizer which looks to combine elements of the typical morphing weapon (instead of animals it turns enemies into snowmen) and the musical humor of ACiT’s RYNO V (instead of the 1812 Overture, the Winterizer belts out Jingle Bells during use). A grenade that creates vortexes seems like a new take on a classic weapon and I like the sound of the Repulsor which will hold enemies in midair while you take them out with some other items from your arsenal.
The gadgets teased so far look to keep the series platforming and puzzle elements intact while also adding new twists on the familiar gameplay. The Grav Tether reminds me a little of Portal 2’s tractor beams and Ratchet was also seen hopping about in Zero-G which looks like the next step in evolution for his Gravity Boots or perhaps the series spherical worlds. Meanwhile, Clank will be featured in new 2D puzzle focused platforming sections. Clank’s brainteaser-laden playable parts in A Crack in Time were his best in the franchise to date and I hope these new segments can match the fun of those while acting as a similar break from the more action-heavy Ratchet portions of the game.
So what’s not to like right? Well there are a couple of concerns. From what I’ve gathered this game is being made at the North Carolina studio (who made All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault), but under Creative Director and series veteran Brian Allgeier. I think the North Carolina studio gets a bit of a bad rap. There are a lot of people there that worked on the Ratchet games we all loved and they haven’t had a chance to just make a classic Ratchet & Clank game. So maybe it was the experimental nature of the other titles that held them back. Plus with Allgeier overseeing things, I don’t think this will be a much of an issue, but we’ll have to play it to find out for ourselves. The other issue is how big this game will be. It’s being called an epilogue. It’s releasing at $30 and is clearly not the full-sequel many of us may want. It is being described as much longer than either of the previous downloadable titles (Q4B and FFA), but not quite as long as ACiT. While not ideal, I don’t think this is all that bad either. While Quest for Booty’s length was an issue, I think the bigger problems were the lack of replay value and new weapons. Into the Nexus doesn’t just promise to improve on Q4B’s length, but add a host of new weapons and include the collectibles and exploration longtime series’ players have come to expect. So I think it will work out a lot better than Insomniac’s first foray into the downloadable space.
After really looking at the pluses and minuses regarding this upcoming Ratchet & Clank adventure, I can’t help but find myself extremely excited for the game. It might not be the ideal sequel I and many fans were looking for, but the return to the more classic gameplay and Ratchet’s more personal story look to be a great way for the duo to go out on the PlayStation 3… even if it is in a slightly smaller form than we anticipated. I guess we’ll have to wait until this holiday season to find out whether Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus lives up to the hype.