Friday, August 6, 2010

Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction: A wacky, silly, and ultimately worthwhile experience

When reviewing a game, I commonly feel it’s important to describe to the reader what type of game it is. That is, what’s it’s genre? Usually it’s a pretty simple task, but recently I came across a game called Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction and I got a little confused. My first instinct was to call it a shooter, since a main component of the gameplay involves shooting stuff. Y’know, with guns. But I realized that didn’t work, because to call it a shooter brings to mind games like Modern Warfare, Gears, and Halo - pretty much the polar opposite of R&C. So next I thought maybe I could call it a platformer – since you jump around from one platform to another. But that isn’t really right either, because that makes you think of Mario, and all that old school stuff. So that’s out.

Next I said, “Hey, maybe I can call it an adventure game!” It then dawned on me I’m not exactly sure what an adventure game is. I guess it’s a game where you explore places? Well, there are places to explore in R&C and items you can find, but that’s not really the driving point of the game. Finally I thought maybe I’d just call it a kiddie game, but that has more to do with the art direction and overall visual style rather than how the game actually plays. So finally I said forget it. I guess it’s kind of a mixture of all of those. But in game like this, none of that matters. You’ll soon find yourself wrapped up in an experience like none other on the PS3.

Anyone with passing interest in the Ratchet & Clank series probably knows of its wacky and cartoonish nature, which colors everything from the graphical style, music, and voice acting down to the very gameplay mechanics. Ratchet is the last known surviving member of the Lombax race, who possessed great technological prowess but mysteriously disappeared centuries ago. Tachyon is the emperor of the universe and hails from the Cragmite race.

He bears a deep-seated grudge against Ratchet and believes the cosmos isn’t big enough for both of them. Ratchet tries to unearth the truth about what happened to his race while trying to keep one step ahead of Tachyon. And all the while, Ratchet’s robot buddy Clank is being visited by strange creatures only he can see. The story is funny, cute, and entertaining, but isn’t the main draw of the game.

R&C’s shining point is its wacky weaponry and gameplay. You blast high powered beehives at your foes, freeze them with your shard blaster, or fly a radio controlled helicopter to rain destruction upon the opposition. You also have the Groovitron, a giant disco ball that causes enemies to start dancing so you can sneak in and get an easy kill. You can even dress up as a pirate and dance a jig. As you travel around from planet to planet, you’ll encounter icy locales, lush jungles, molten surfaces, and even take part in a few Star Fox style flying missions.

But the gameplay’s brightest spot is the weapon upgrade system. When your weapon reaches maximum level, it gains a new property that takes things to a whole new level. For example, a fully upgraded missile launcher can blast a corrosive liquid that deals major damage to any enemy that walks through it. I found myself wanting to max out as many weapons as I could to find out what new property it would gain, and it never felt like a grind. You can also buy upgrades to your weapons at the store, giving them more ammo, faster shooting rate, etc.

Tools of Destruction generally takes a lighthearted and humorous approach to its main story, characters, graphics, and music. The graphics and art style is cartoony but still looks great and the voice acting is done well.

But how’s the replay value? Going in, I wasn’t expecting much. But I found there’s an emphasis on trying to find all the gold bolts and hidden items in each world. Plus, there is a challenge mode which allows you to keep all your current weapons and stats but gain access to even more powerful upgrades which are super expensive. It’s like a new game plus. There’s even an arena where the player can take on certain challenges. The main game itself isn’t terribly long but it has more replay value than you might think if you’ve never played a Ratchet & Clank game.

The difficulty is lacking but given that the game is marketed toward a younger audience it’s understandable. Though I still think the game would have benefited from having a little more challenge. The story and characters are well done but have room for improvement. The story itself isn’t bad; there’s not a lot of depth but the developers didn’t completely shaft it.

The characters are endearing but static: they tend to only display one particular character trait. Captain Quark is a humorous parody on superheroes and Clank is docile and inquisitive. Ratchet is the only character who shows more than a shade or two to his personality. If you’re buying a Ratchet & Clank game it probably isn't because of the story and characters, but a little more depth would certainly be welcome.

All in all, Tools of Destruction is a triumph in gameplay and wacky cartoony imagery, and it doesn’t really matter what genre it fits into. If you’re a fan of platformers and 3rd person adventure games, you’ve just found one of the best on the PS3.

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