Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction's chaotic fighting and enormous, colourful environments made it one of the first technical showpieces for PS3 in 2007. Two years on, A Crack in Time shows that the duo still has the polish, but has the gameplay progressed?
If you've played a Ratchet & Clank game before, or any number of other 3D action adventure games, then there's a lack of mind-blowing set-pieces or surprising innovation in A Crack in Time. It's all very been-there-done-that.
Sticking to the same Ratchet formula, you're sent on a linear quest through a mix of platform and action levels, beefed up with some fairly chaotic shooting and brain-aching puzzles.
A Crack in Time separates the cuddly-looking Lombax and his robo-sidekick from the very beginning, kicking off where Quest for Booty left off - with the kidnapping of Clank at the hands of the Zoni and Ratchet setting off to rescue him.
This means that throughout the game your control alternates between the two, with Ratchet's levels taking a more action-orientated slant, brimming with enemies to blast, while Clank's stages are more puzzle-based, and this is where you'll see some of the game's most interesting new features.
Clank wields a staff weapon which emits orbs that expand to create domes inside which time is slowed. Enemies move more slowly, as do bullets and projectiles. It's a great battle tool when used, for example, to slow down a nimble mech or the bullets from a machine gun. There are also platform sections where the platforms are moving too fast to be stood on and need to be slowed down as you leap towards them.
Clank also has to deal with time manipulation puzzles in which you press a switch to record your movements, then play the recording back to make an alternate version of yourself re-enact those motions while you do something else.
So you could record yourself walking over to stand on a switch on the floor and activate that while you press another switch, activating both simultaneously to open a door. Now imagine a room with two, three or more of these recording devices, and multiple versions of yourself running all over the place. It's a headache and Insomniac knows it, because there's a 'skip' option. You'll lose currency (used to by weapons) for doing it though.
Skipping over to Ratchet, his stages are pretty much the same deal as before. His weapons are just as wacky as usual, with a few new inventions this time around. The new Sonic Erupter is basically an alien frog attached to a trigger that unleashes enemy-wrecking belches. Another weapon fires small spikes into the ground, forming electricity beams between multiple spikes.
You can charge up and fire giant balls of electricity at enemies and control the enormous bullets' trajectory by tilting the Sixaxis. And all these weapons can be upgraded as you build up XP with use or find upgrades in optional mini-levels.
Ratchet's levels treat you to some fairly mental boss battles, too. One has a central unit firing missiles while four rapidly-spinning turrets have you playing laser skipping at the same time. All that, and you have to aim and shoot the bloody thing, too.
The chaos during these fighting sections fills the screen with explosions and broken shards of metal, which is always satisfying, but most of the time there's very little strategy behind it. It's brainless - you just pick a weapon and go mental until the ammo's done, then use another.
This lack of strategy makes it frustrating when you end up dead in the mayhem, because it doesn't always seem avoidable. And a dodgy checkpoint system can sometimes put you back a fair way.