Monday, December 30, 2013

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus

In recent years, Insomniac Games had been experimenting with the Ratchet & Clank formula. These experiments gave us Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which allowed up to 4 players in a campaign simultaneously, and Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, a (sort of) tower defense game that allowed up to 2 players in co-op (which also had a heavily delayed Vita port despite being a Cross Buy title). While I found these to be enjoyable in spite of them being different from typical Ratchet & Clank games, I had been wondering if multiplayer was the new direction for the brand or if the original formula would ever be revisited, which only sort of happened with HD remasters of the first four games being released (the last of which became bundled with Full Frontal Assault’s long-awaited Vita port when Cross Buy was taken advantage of). Earlier this year, Insomniac and Sony teased an image of a gateway, which after some speculation was revealed to be for the subject of this review, Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, announced as not only a return to form for the Ratchet & Clank series, but also as the final game in the franchise to be released for PS3, at a budget price of $30. This piqued my interest, since while it was also stated to be a shorter game than most previous entries and advertised as being an epilogue to the Future trilogy, I liked the idea of returning to the series’ roots for this entry and seeing what Insomniac had in store for fans of the series. Though this may be a little late since I got the game as a Christmas gift, I thought the game was very well handled and served as a proper send-off for the Future trilogy and for the franchise on PS3.

While making repairs to a ship they were piloting, Ratchet and Clank receive a call from Talwyn Apogee, who informs them that they are in danger: the ship is going to be under attack by a criminal named Neftin Prog, whose aim is to get his twin sister and fellow criminal, Vendra Prog, the main cargo of Ratchet and Clank’s ship. Wanting Ratchet and Clank to be safe when facing Neftin, Talwyn wants the two of them to be assisted by Cronk and Zephyr, who turn out to be sleeping when the duo finds them. After Ratchet and Clank wake Cronk and Zephyr up, the four of them face problems caused by Vendra before making sure her holding is secure. However, Neftin shows up and, with help from hired Thugs-4-Less thugs, successfully retrieves his sister before taking off, forcing Ratchet and Clank to go after them. As the two try to track down and stop Vendra and Neftin, a much larger plot begins to reveal itself.

Vendra Prog, one of the new antagonists.

While the game may be short (around 5 hours or so), it does manage to tell a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end, as well as a good deal of character development, not only for Ratchet and Clank, but also for the villains, Vendra and Neftin Prog. However, you won’t be able to get the most out of the plot without having played the Future games, let alone the games that came before them (a specific section of the game reveals the fates of certain characters, including previous villains, though based on what was acknowledged, you can safely skip the handheld entries if you haven’t played any of the games already). Of course, the franchise’s sense of humor has also been preserved, as some cutscenes and bits of dialogue know how to provide a good laugh every now and then.

As with the recent iterations of Ratchet & Clank, the graphics are really amazing. The game’s cartoonish art style blends well with the more realistically rendered fur/hair on the characters among other things, not to mention the lighting in certain areas of the game that gives the worlds Ratchet visits more life to them. I also find it interesting when I see certain small details on a character, be it what makes up a character’s clothing or the physics applied to things such as hair, Ratchet’s ears, or other visible parts of a character’s body such as antennae or particular facial features. Not only does the game impress in the visual department, it also continues to impress with the music, which is good about not only setting up a mood, but also being mildly catchy and not distracting during gameplay.

Speaking of which, as I have said before, the gameplay is more akin to earlier Ratchet & Clank games, but with a few tweaks to change things up a bit. In addition to having a small, but manageable, arsenal of weapons to accommodate the shorter length, some gadgets are tied to certain button combinations, which made sense to me as they were separate from the regular arsenal and helped to streamline the weapon and item selection. One of the new gadgets, the Grav-Tether, provides an interesting twist on the gameplay, in that it can be used to create beams between two appropriate points, which you can then ride to get to another point in the level further away (though which direction you go in depends on the order in which you connected the two points); you can even have multiple beams going on at the same time, which encourages strategic usage of these beams. There’s also a new gameplay mechanic involving a gadget called the Rift Cracker, which alerts you to a dimensional rift at certain points of the game, which are usually found in certain barriers. Once you find one of these rifts, you can send Clank into the Netherverse, where he must make a Nether follow him back to the rift and break down the barrier to allow you to advance in the level. These levels are interesting, in that they are side-scrollers, the main twist being you can shift the gravity of the stage to solve puzzles and guide Clank to reaching or escaping from a Nether.

Neftin Prog, another of the new antagonists and Vendra's twin brother.

Other gadgets within the game include a Jetpack, which allows you unlimited flight (unless you have no fuel or are in a no-fly zone), and the Hoverboots from previous games, which, when acquired, provide the opportunity to move even faster within a stage. Of course, the game still has the usual insane weaponry to be found in a Ratchet & Clank game, which can range from the Omniblaster to the Nightmare Box, which can scare enemies, to even the Winterizer, which can turn enemies into snowmen. These can be upgraded with repeated usage, at which point they become more powerful; weapons can be further enhanced at GrummelNet vendors by using Raritanium dropped from enemies or found within the area, including such benefits as additional ammo and increased rate of Raritanium drops, though some are unique to specific weapons (ex. how long the Nightmare Box can stay active and the range at which it can scare enemies). When upgrades are applied, they can even make the returning Mr. Zurkon weapon, which was already funny, even funnier, since he is eventually joined by his family, providing even more laughs on the battlefield.

There are also hidden collectibles within each level, in the form of Gold Bolts and pieces of a Holoplan for the RYNO VII. Once you complete the Gold Cup in the Thugs-4-Less Destructapalooza, you gain an item that will allow you to better locate most of them on your map, and it is well worth doing so. Though the Gold Bolts don’t seem to have much of a purpose aside from a Trophy, the RYNO VII is a weapon worth scavenging for the complete Holoplan, since it can take down some enemies rather quickly (while playing Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” no less).

The RYNO VII: Now with more Mussorgksy.

Another positive aspect of the game is the voice acting, which has only gotten better with each main game. Characters such as Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), Clank (David Kaye), and Qwark (Jim Ward) each retain their respective voice actors and display a lot of experience in their voices (though Jim Ward doesn’t seem to get to do much). However, while Talwyn Apogee is a returning character from the Future series, she is no longer voiced by Tara Strong, rather being voiced by Ali Hillis, although I honestly didn’t really notice much difference in the performance, which means she did a really good job emulating the character. Though some other minor and returning characters put on good performances, I also liked the ones from Nika Futterman and Fred Tatasciore, who voice Vendra and Neftin Prog respectively; the two of them seem to put on a rather convincing brother/sister dynamic for their respective characters, which really helped to sell their character development.

There is, however, one thing I didn’t like about the game, namely an experience I had regarding expository dialogue. When I landed on the first planet after the introductory level, as I was exploring the level, Talwyn was explaining something important about where I was, only for me to die before I could hear it. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry and that the dialogue would start over again, as I have seen in plenty of other games, however I never got to find out whatever it was I needed to learn, forcing me to have it looked up online so I could better understand the plot. I’m not sure how much of that was player error, since I was not familiar with the level’s layout at the time, but in any case this really bugged me for a bit after it had happened.

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus is another welcome addition to the Ratchet & Clank franchise. It may be short, but it manages to do a lot within that short time frame. The level design is good, as is most everything else. Despite its length, the game also manages to provide something of a challenge (though I admittedly played on the Cadet/lowest difficulty since it had been a while since playing the last game). If you are a Ratchet & Clank fan, this is definitely a game to pick up, provided you have played the Future games (+ All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault) and read the comic. If you have not yet played a Ratchet & Clank game and are considering doing so, I would tell you to play the first game and go from there, since the Future series is when it becomes a bit more continuity heavy, although, as I previously stated, you can safely skip the handheld entries.

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