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Curse my edgy teenage self

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    Ratchet & Clank

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Curse my edgy teenage self

    I never played the original PS2 Rachet and Clank because teenage me was too "mature" for kiddie games and I didn’t want any of your damn vegetables. I had Nazi’s to democratize in Call of Duty and drug dealers to combine harvest in San Andreas, why would I, I grown up badass fifteen year old man want a cartoon mascot platformer like I was still playing the N64 in the loungeroom? I had a TV in my own room and knew how to find all the good porn, you can’t tell me how to live, Dad. Your quaintly childish fluffy meer-rabbits and doe-eyed robots mean nothing compared to my ravishing public hair and whispy moustache.

    In short, like most teenagers, I was a stupid teenager. I was so caught up in being allowed to watch movies with disembowelments and listen to music which openly worshipped the devil I let my inner child die, and now he’s flipping me off from beyond the grave because Ratchet & Clank‘s 2016 reboot/remake/movie tie in is fantastic.

    This is by far the best feeling 3D action/platformer I’ve ever played and it’s not even close. Ratchet’s movement feels smooth and agile with incredibly responsive jumping controls, gorgeous climb hopping animations and smooth strafing. Your weaponry is wonderfully explosive and there’s a decent amount of auto tracking so precision is never required to progress through the stunning chaos. Once Ratchet meets up with the titular Clank his mobility enhances repeatedly and steadily throughout the game with drastic improvements to how movement is handled. Double jumps and rope swings give way to boost jumps and propeller glides and eventually to thruster launches and fully fledged jetpacks; the world opening up with every new idea. Everything is animated with incredible fluidity and flair to the point where simply smashing boxes feels amazing, even a dozen hours in.

    You have no idea how good running through this shrapnel is gonna feel

    Rambo and Clank

    Weirdly enough platforming is oddly optional with the vast majority tied into extra paths and challenges for collectables and upgrade materials. Instead Ratchet and Clank focusses on the thing we all look for in children’s games; relentless mass murder. Change bolts for bits of spleen and this is probably the most violent game ever made, but since its adorable chunks of metal we call it "action packed". This isn’t an effort to cash in on Banjo-Kazooie‘s team mascot dynamic, it’s a game about weaponry, destruction and combat. And it’s glorious.

    Sprocket and Donk doesn’t settle with enjoyable box breaking; it breaks faces just as well. Rather than doing a straight 1 to 1 remake of the original game, the arsenal is basically a greatest hits of the entire series. You start with basic blasters, sniper rifles and grenade launchers before expanding out into a fun bag of disco bombs that make enemies dance, plinko bouncing ninja stars, a beam which transforms foes into sheep, and fistfuls of kamikaze explosion bots.

    Ammunition is fairly restrictive so you’re constantly forced to mix things up, and the challenges are just intense and layered enough to keep things exciting. Some combos are always effective, such as the groovitron, pulsemine, explosion drone and assistance bot combo to start literally any engagement, but I found myself switching strategies for different problems. Rocket launchers and snipers for artillery. Flamethrowers, throwing stars, and the sheepinator to mince fodder rushes. The pixel gun and grenades to deliver more focused damage to bigger targets. Priorities shift with the makeup of any given mob and executing the right weaponry switches is exciting every time.

    I wouldn’t call this a hard game, but it’s challenging enough to keep you on your toes. There’s a good balance between always feeling powerful and also never being more than a few heavy hits from defeat. Failure is rewarded as all experience and upgrade materials are maintained after death, but the visceral satisfaction of the chaos keeps successes feeling fantastic. I think there may be some rubber-banding, I usually breezed through parts I initially failed at on the retry without playing much better. This absolutely happens in the hoverboard races with the other racers practically stopping on the last lap, so I wouldn’t put a little unnecessary meddling past Insomniac.

    The absence of war does not mean peace

    Like most 3D action platformers Spanner and Crash loves gameplay change ups where stuff doesn’t explode so much. There’s hoverboard races, spaceship shootouts, light beam puzzles, rail hopping roller coaster segments and Clank. They’re far too easy to feel substantial as side content, but they’re effective changes of pace from the mayhem and are sifted through at a steady, welcome pace. My favourites were the light beam puzzles which are quite Sudoku-like in being a satisfying linear process to solve rather than an actual stressful logic puzzle, but they all serve their purpose.

    The relationship between the protagonists is the most unbalanced since Portia De Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres got together. With all the rampaging it’s easy to forget Clank is even there with how spaced his segments are. About half of these interludes belong to him and his two different modes; camera-facing escape sequences which are the most 2002 thing ever, and interesting albeit simple puzzle solving segments. All up he has a mere 6 scenes in the spotlight, but they do their job of breaking up the chaos without feeling like some entirely different game. Ideally he would have had either a third "mini-game" to shine in, or his puzzles needed another gadget to learn since he maxes out with a mere three tools, but he is a welcome element nonetheless.

    It’s like a playing a movie. Literally.

    One of the more interesting things about Wrench and Thud is its pretty graphics, and specifically why they’re pretty. Don’t get me wrong I could make an entire segment out of ¡°ooooh skybox, sploogin’ ‘splosion, wowzers so shiny and chrome¡±, but the interesting thing here is that this is a movie tie-in on a scale I’ve ever seen before; this is built out of actual film assets. The film and game developers actually shared assets together since the animation suites were compatible and it’s gorgeous.

    Skyboxes designed to look good enough to be focussed on? They’re in the game. Vehicles that are so perfectly smooth they could be in a movie? They’re in the game. Faces designed to look instinctively adorable to 6 year old kids at any distance? They’re in the game. This is like playing a Pixar film because the assets are literally designed to compete with that scale of product. These are art styles and designs which are interesting enough to be loved for over a decade being rendered into film quality standards which is then actively playable. On a sheer fidelity level this is honestly the best looking game I’ve ever played and I haven’t been this utterly gobsmacked since Crytek were in their prime.

    The facial animations however are not at film quality; dialogue scenes are flat and the end game collection rush made me painfully aware of Ratchet’s persistent doe eyed "hero smirk". It also runs at 30 FPS so if you’re one of those 60 or nothing folks you’ll have issues, and also why did you buy a console? I’m a neutral in the war, sure higher rate is better but I have no issues with 30. If there was a 60 FPS version which didn’t look as good, I’d stick with this. I had a couple a slowdowns when while using all of my passive weapons in unison on particularly large mobs from time to time, but that felt as much like my brain not comprehending the utter chaos as anything else

    Bang your head like a gong ¡®cause it’s filled with all wrong

    Despite being insanely fun, varied, consistently excellent and unbelievably beautiful, the reboot/remake/tie-in does have some troubles. There’s an overzealous "help the kids" mentality, where you’re constantly told what to do as often as possible whether you’re stuck or not. In general it’s irritating to be told exactly what to look for, but in an exploration heavy game it straight up defeats the point. The game often starts blabbing before you’re even finished exploring around for secrets and collectables; multiple times I had Ratchet yammer "Maybe there’s a trespasser terminal here?" before I was even done looting corpses. Said Trespasser puzzles have an autohack option to allow players to skip them, which is mildly insulting given all bar one are easier than some of the art projects my child does in kindergarten, but Clank chimes in and suggests the autohack before you’ve had enough time to even see what all the beams do.

    If you do happen to get stuck there are few things more infuriating than being nagged while you’re thinking. I misinterpreted how the Clank bridges worked in his last puzzle so with my flawed understanding the task was genuinely impossible. It’s my own fault for jumping to conclusions and not paying enough attention to the details of my earlier successes, the point is it took me a good 10 minutes to unlearn the incorrect lesson I’d taught myself. That whole godforsaken time Clank constantly reminded me "The solution to this problem seems to be related to the one moving element in the room", which of course resulted in me retaliating with "no kidding, now please depart" with exponentially increasing volume and profanities.

    The two quick select menus are a bit annoying too. One pauses the game while you switch your active weapon, and the other is a live assign a weapon to a D-pad direction which you can swap on the fly. It’s a good combo, the problem is that the weapon assigning process to the live change options is also unpaused. This means that you can’t change out an assigned key on the fly without becoming a sitting duck, and accidentally holding a swap button too long while panning the camera can easily reassign a chosen quickslot to¡­ other, which cannot be easily switched back. Not a massive deal no, but it was my only displeasure with the combat.

    Aren’t movies meant to be better at some things than games?

    As a beacon of journalistic integrity in the cutting edge media circle known as anonymous Gamefaqs reviews, I’ve done a little research into changes between versions, and the big one for me is the music. I’m not a videogame music guy in general, but I have heard the old music and it is banging. It’s like a sci-fi take on The Prodigy before they started sounding like the Peep Show parody of themselves. I have nothing to say about this new generic strings and tones soundtrack other than it is not that, and that is the most scathing critique I’ve ever given.

    Being tied to a movie rather than just a mascot video game from two thousand and bloody two doesn’t seem to have helped things narratively. Ratchet is the generic fantasy "I wanna be a hero" archetype and literally nothing changes for him throughout the whole game. Clank is a trash can. There’s not much narratively or character-wise to bring up between the heroes. The pacing is all screwed up too; a main character undergoes a heel-turn and a redemption in back to back levels and villains are dismissed to be replaced by later-series favourites in the last act. While satisfying for those who point at the screen and squeal "I know that guy!!!" it doesn’t work narratively.

    While the use of film assets came in handy with the visuals of the game, the insertion of direct film clips is not smooth even if the seams are minimal visually. There’s the famous "Recording is cancelled since you entered a blocked scene" which distractingly draws attention to the fact you’re not watching part of the game, but many scenes seem missing too. Entire arcs appear to have taken place in parts of the movie didn’t fit with a video game level, so they’re just gone. For instance the hero is suddenly back home seconds after being captured and discovering all villain’s evil plans in the previous shot. During the conclusion Clank delivers a dramatic call back line to something I’m 90% sure didn’t have the set up make it into the game. It’s a total mess.

    Not Pictured: Film Assets. Pictured: Context and Emotional Impact

    On the plus side, I liked the upbeat mood and I am a connoisseur of poop humour, so I got a lot of entertainment out of the low brow comedy. Sure there’s some stinkers like an anti-critic monologue (guess where a chump writing internet reviews comes down on that), but there’s a character named Skidd McMarx and that’s right up my urine soaked alley. I thought using a humorously vindictive narrator was a clever method of doing tutorials and overall I liked Captain Quark’s Zapp Branigan vibes, even if the hackneyed redemption was terrible.

    The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be

    I’m in the sweet zone here, I’m someone who is extremely into the gameplay and setting but also didn’t know it when the series was at its peak. If you cared about the characters, story, or old music, or loved every old level or weapon you’d rightfully be mailing boxes of poop to Insomniac’s head office daily (see, toilet humour fan) because a lot of that stuff is changed or cut, but what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me.

    It’s all brand new and everything that sucks is easily ignored and if anything awesome was cut, I never knew. What’s here is amazing, and that’s all I need. If you’re an ex-chump like me and you’re looking to make your edgy teen-self feel like a moron you really can’t go wrong with this. I’ve given out a lot of 9/10’s this gen but this is the first real middle ground between the elite topsiders and the high 80’s low 90’s rounding which has honestly been kinda the norm for me these last few years, and for that it gets my full recommendation.

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