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Ratchet & Clank Trilogy Review (PS3)

The brilliant Dave The Musical returns to CalmDownTom and his childhood with this retro re-release.

It’s always a bit of a risk announcing an HD collection – on one hand fans usually have been begging for an opportunity to replay games that were the epicentre of their youth; but on the other, memories always tend to be a little hazy when it comes to our favourite things and the little niggles that we had when we played them the first time round (“Oh come on, there’s no way I didn’t press that button quickly enough!”) can instantly come rushing back and the wave of nostalgia is quickly replaced by something much more infuriating. More than that, not all games age well: sometimes what was once the hallmark of innovation becomes simply a basic variation of a tired old routine when held up against modern equivalents. Maybe it’s simply better to leave some games in the past; far enough away that we’ll need rose-tinted glasses to squint at them properly.

Imagine my terror then when the Ratchet and Clank trilogy was leaked – as a die-hard fan of the original and current Future series, my nerves have been all over the place. Finally after several postponements, new release dates and an awful lot of chewed off fingernails, the collection arrived on my doorstep on Monday morning and I’ve spent the past week pretending I’m my eight year old self again.

There is no doubt that this game is a brilliant nostalgia trip for any fans of the PS2 versions. Actually, there’s no doubt that this collection is brilliant in general. For your money, you get the first three adventures and whilst the fourth game has been announced as DLC for North America we’re still waiting on confirmation as to whether Europe will be graced with its presence. For those who own the PS2 versions, a word of warning – if you’re holding your breath for bonus content, don’t. It’s not coming. This game is a straight up remake and if you didn’t see it the first time round you sure as hell won’t see it now. It seems a bit cheap actually, considering the giant 10th anniversary logo they plaster across your screen every time you switch it on. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as to why Ratchet: Gladiator has been kept out of this collection, but it seems unfair to not add a single extra bit of content. It’s like advertising the world’s greatest sweet sixteenth around the country and then when everyone turns up, just offering them a sponge cake. It’s actually quite disheartening to see.

In the original title you play as Ratchet, a Lombax mechanic (think cat with long ears and opposable thumbs) who finds a robot, Clank, crash landed on his planet. The galaxy is in grave peril because of an evil baddy and, armed with his trusty Omniwrench and a variety of weapons, it’s now up to the pair of unlikely heroes to save it.

The second and third games follow almost the same premise – plot wise, you’ll find yourself getting really engrossed. Nothing is done without a reason, and every character feels fleshed out, to the extent that some non-playable characters have become firm fan favourites. Ratchet & Clank is a platformer at its core but what makes it special is the combination of utterly insane weapons and gadgets. Sure, you’ll be leaping and jumping everywhere but all the while you’ll be turning enemies into ducks, sucking them into cannons and just blowing them up with sheer firepower. Ammo is plentiful so you’re free to just go wild with your weapons, and the cartoon-like graphic style of the game means you’re never too reticent to wreak destruction.

The gadgets you use are original too. In the first game alone, you’ll be expected to take part in a hacking puzzle, drain swimming pools and swing across ravines. It’s that constant feeling of originality that has meant Ratchet and Clank, shockingly, still feels brand new. The gameplay holds up as well as it ever did and I think it’s a tremendous credit to the developers that I can still play a decade old game and go “whoa, that’s a cool feature.” The levels are varied and expansive, your objectives are marked clearly and the game is just a lot of fun to play. Insomniac have never been afraid to experiment with the format of these games – with every addition they’ll try something new and because of that the games simply don’t feel formulaic. The basic premise remains constant but with each iteration the game makes itself better. More than that, Insomniac’s desire to never focus on a single game mechanic – they’ll throw racing, space battles, 2D platformers and arena fights into the same pot without even blinking – means that the series never becomes stale. Quality may be better than quantity, but ‘both’ is always the better option.

Which is not the say that the game isn’t showing its age: the camera feels very unresponsive at times and whilst Idol Minds have done an amazing job of upgrading the graphics – it really won’t look that much out of place amongst your other games – there is only so much they can do to a decade old series without completely starting from scratch. In certain circumstances, backgrounds will waver wildly, the ground will sometimes forget that it shouldn’t be halfway up a wall, mouths will move completely out of sync with dialogue and you can pick up ammo for weapons you have yet to purchase. But none of these are game-breaking bugs and, somehow, they give the game an almost quaint, nostalgic feel.

And then there’s the amount you have to do. You’ll travel through various worlds (literally) encountering more and more people who need more and more help. You’ll find yourself stuck in one place until you find something that will help you progress in the next, but it never feels like your average fetch quest and as soon as you’ve got somewhere the game won’t demand you retake the route – floating taxis and teleports are your friends and they ensure you can safely get to your target without too much retracing of your steps. It adds up to a fairly long couple of games, which should take you around 30 to 40 hours to beat, and that’s without mentioning all the completionist tasks. Every game comes filled with skill points, and sometimes the game will tell you how to achieve these, while others only tell you their name and location and others… well, you’ll just have to play it by ear. There’s also rare objects – golden bolts, titanium bolts and Raritanium (it’s rare, in case you didn’t guess) which you’ll have to search for in order to unlock new skins. In the second and third games, they even devote entire optional levels to hunting for treasures, be it in the desert or in the sewers.

And of course the trilogy wouldn’t be on the PS3 without trophies. It’s here that Insomniac’s influence on the re-mastered edition becomes clear because, much like the skill points, they won’t lay your achievements on a silver platter for you. Many trophies are hidden and you won’t pick up trophies for just bothering to play the game – no, if you want the world to see how well you’ve done you’ll need to work for them. It’s a mechanic that demands your attention and ensures longevity to the game that is unparalleled in this regard.

As for the audio – the music is fairly standard but you won’t be running around humming it for days to come. Ratchet and Clank’s strength has always came from their humour, which even a decade on is still fantastically well written. What’s especially impressive is the way they manage to keep things funny for both adults and kids. I remember playing this series as a kid and finding it hilarious, but when I play it now I’m finding new layers of humour that I just didn’t pick up on then. They’re subtle with their adult jokes (Take the North American release title of the second game as your evidence: Going Commando) and considering I know the dialogue practically inside out, it says a lot that I get a new chuckle with every cutscene.

So is this collection a smart move? The short answer is yes, for both fans and Sony. Ratchet and Clank have aged beautifully and although I sense they’re probably nowhere near as sprightly as they once were, the duo aren’t in need of their bus passes quite yet.

9 Qwarks out of 10

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