Ratchet & Clank HD Collection Review
The PlayStation 2 Ratchet & Clank games have sold millions of copies worldwide. That might be surprising if you consider the series follows the exploits of a gun-loving humanoid cat-thing-person and his diminutive robot friend as they travel strange galaxies and combat even stranger foes. No, Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto it’s not. If you were to judge it by its aesthetics alone, the vibrant colours, and cartoon-ish graphics might lead you to believe they are a series of *gasp* kids games made solely to be played by kids. Of course, if you have any passing experience with these games you know this absolutely is not the case (but then you probably don’t need to read anymore reviews and have already bought the collection). Digging just a little bit deeper, it’s easy to see that the Ratchet & Clank games feature some of the best game design and writing seen on the PS2. Thanks to the HD Collection, which includes Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, and Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, that’s now also the case on the PS3.
What I Liked
The Games Remain Unchanged
If you’ve experienced them on the PS2, then I have good news, because they’re just as enjoyable as before; these games have aged quite well. If you’ve never experienced a Ratchet & Clank game, they all follow a very similar formula: a problem crops up, usually one of galactic importance, and Ratchet the Lombax teams up with Clank the Robot to hop from planet to planet while gathering a large and increasingly bizarre assortment of weapons and gadgets, all in order to defeat the villain of the day. It’s simple, Bowser-kidnaps-the-Princess-and-Mario-has-to-rescue-her-simple, but it makes for an effective game. Like a Super Mario title, Ratchet & Clank games depend on fun and highly refined gameplay to hook players, though they set themselves apart with clever story-telling and brilliant Douglas-Adams-esque humour. Ever seen a Pixar movie? It’s a lot like that. You can be satisfied playing it with your children knowing that the worst thing the game can show them are poops jokes and robots being blown up with laser guns, and you’ll still get plenty of chuckles out of the subtle adult humour thrown in.
Though structurally similar, each game in the collection has its own particular quirks. The weapons and gadgets, dozens of which are available, change in each game (though a small amount of cross-over exists if you know where to look for them). Just like when playing one of Insomniac’s Resistance games, it’s always exciting to see what kind of weird and creative weapons are going to appear. The drawback is that there’s no guarantee your favourite weapon is going to appear in the sequel. Did you enjoy the Gadgetron Pyrocitor in Ratchet & Clank? Well, unfortunately the galaxy in Going Commando is supplied primarily by Megacorp, and their closest analogue is the Lava Gun. Each game also has is own sort of sub-game to enjoy, whether it be hover-bike racing, mining for crystals, making a giant Clank stomp around like Godzilla, or accomplishing objectives with the Galactic Rangers in war zones, there’s always something to do outside of the main game. Oh, and have I mentioned the extras? Aside from the gadgetry and the countless bolts you use to buy them, there a number of rare “precious metal” bolts to find, skill points to earn by accomplishing advanced feats, and other assorted miscellany to be found in the New Game + or “Challenge” mode. The games aren’t terribly long individually, but when taken together in the collection, adding in replays to seek out all the secrets, and the fact that Up Your Arsenal features a decent, if simple, multiplayer mode, you realize that you have an awful lot of content.
With regards to the HD upgrade, the game looks good and runs smoothly (aside from the occasional slowdown when the action gets particularly heavy on-screen). The music is mostly forgettable aside from a track or two, but remains unobtrusive. Thankfully, the sound effects and voice acting make up for it; the explosions, laser beams, rocket ships and all that nonsense all sound amazing.
What I Didn’t Like
The Games Remain Unchanged
Aside from the bump up into HD, there’s nothing different here. Which means all of the problems present in the original games are still there. Now, just as a disclaimer, I want to say that these problems are mostly minor ones. Insomniac knows how to make a solid game, and that remains the case. There are issues, though, as no game is absolutely flawless. I was just disappointed that there hadn’t been any attempt to fix them, especially considering how closely Idolminds worked with Insomniac in order to port them. For example, none of the original cinematics have been given the HD treatment. In-game cutscenes are fine, but nothing else fits my screen, being letterboxed on either side with big black bars. To top it off, some of the subtitles are missing during cinematics, particularly in the original Ratchet & Clank. Lastly, there a are a couple of frustrating checkpoints throughout each game where death meant you had to do a large amount of back-tracking to return to a certain point, though they’re particularly egregious in the first title, as the latter ones became more balanced. These are minor technical issues that I had hoped would be ironed out, but they aren’t. Far from being a game-killer, I was just a bit disappointed.
The only other dislikes are more to do with the game design itself. For one, grinding out bolts to buy weapons and upgrades can be tedious. It’s the worst in the first title, where bolts are hard to come by even in New Game +, but it remains a problem throughout the series. It’s not as bad in the two sequels, where the Challenge Mode adds a multiplier for killing enemies without taking damage, but the prohibitive weapon costs just mean that you have to collect far more bolts. Another issue is that the games are pretty easy aside from the occasional weird difficulty curve. For the most part, you can just breeze through each segment of a planet with the latest weapon. If you’re having trouble, it’s likely because you haven’t bought the newest gun or armour and just need to grind out more cash. However, the level design adds to the general ease. Each planet map looks pretty free and open, but they generally all boil down to one or two paths branching off from your landing point. Go down each path and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have acquired whatever item or key you need to progress the plot. The later two sequels attempt to diversify this a bit by adding small rotating planetoids to traverse and large fields and tunnels to explore while mining out rare crystals, but they’re quite repetitive and largely optional. Oh, I suppose the vehicle sections add diversity, but they’re usually where the strange difficulty curves pop up. Hoverboard racing in the first game is about as much fun as pulling teeth. The hoverbike mini-game in Going Commando is slightly better, if only because the AI isn’t as punishing. The space battles scattered throughout the first two games are okay, but the ones in Going Commando can be tedious if you don’t grind out upgrades. Thankfully, they realize this series works best on foot and these sections were dropped in Up Your Arsenal, aside from a couple of mostly optional areas where you fly a (thankfully) maneuverable hovercraft.
This is all extremely nit-picky, though. These games are well-crafted and a lot of fun. It’s just that these complaints come in the face of about ten years of game advancements, giving me a lot of time to stew over the admittedly minor flaws.
Where’s Ratchet: Deadlocked?
The fourth PS2 Ratchet & Clank title is nowhere to be found. It bothers me when a collection of a beloved series is released and key titles are missing. Where’s Jak X in the Jak and Daxter HD Collection? Why isn’t there a voucher for the PS1 Metal Gear Solid in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection? Though Ratchet: Deadlocked HD is coming to the PSN this fall, it was very disappointing to see it passed on for this collection.
Not As Good As: The Jak and Daxter Series.
They’re both strange shooter/platformer hybrids starring a duo of cartoon characters in fantastic worlds, exclusive to the PlayStation, and they both feature an amount of cross-over between series. Despite this, I’ve never felt that Ratchet & Clank is as good as Jak and Daxter. Both games are beautiful, well-crafted, and have great senses of humour, but Jak and Daxter always edge out the win for me. I find the characters more engaging, the plot feels more intimate, and the gameplay more fun. In my opinion, the only thing Ratchet & Clank truly have over Jak and Daxter is that Insomniac still makes new games in the series, whereas Naughty Dog hasn’t touched their brain-child since 2005.
When all is said and done, this a brilliant deal. Three top-tier PlayStation 2 games, remastered in high definition with trophy support and online PSN capabilities? For only $29.99? There’s not a lot more to be said than that. These games are fun, and great ways to kill time. They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty close. If you’d rather have your kid shooting space aliens with a charismatic
cat-thing-person Lombax instead of killing terrorists in Call of Duty, this is a great option–especially since you’re likely to have just as much fun playing the games yourself. If you’ve never played a game in the series before, this is a great way to start.
The Ratchet & Clank Collection was reviewed with a copy provided by Sony.