Version tested: PlayStation 3
Is it fair to criticise a sequel because it offers nothing new? After all, there would be no sequels if there wasn't demand for more of the same. Having ordered a meat feast pizza, do you complain because what turns up is just like the last one you had? Maybe you just wanted another meat feast pizza. Except with the pepperoni, ham and smingy brown stuff arranged in a slightly different order.
Ratchet & Clank fans who just want more of the same won't be disappointed with A Crack in Time. It's pretty, polished, funny, expansive, satisfying and rewarding, just like all the previous instalments in the series. There are hordes of enemies to batter and bolts to collect. There are puzzles to solve, doors to open, rails to grind on and jump pads to bounce off. Despite the global economic meltdown, business at the crate factory must be booming as there are endless piles of boxes to smash open - wooden ones, metal ones, exploding ones, more wooden ones.
There is a new plot, of course. Clank has been kidnapped by the Zoni at the behest of the evil Dr Nefarious, and Ratchet is on a mission to rescue him. Along the way he bumps into a grizzled old fellow Lombax, General Azimuth, and they join forces. Captain Qwark returns to provide comic relief, and there are plenty of good, occasionally Hitchhikers-esque jokes right from the start (opening voiceover: "Space. It's huge. So huge in fact that if you lost your car keys in it, they would be almost impossible to find.")
There's some nonsense about long-lost fathers, a bit of bobbins about a machine which can turn back time and a lot of conversations about what needs to happen next. These are largely redundant as whatever needs to happen almost invariably involves Ratchet visiting a strange alien planet, running and jumping around a lot and blamming a load of enemies to bits.
This is just as much fun as it's always been. Ratchet is a pleasure to play thanks to responsive controls, fluid animations, seamless weapon-switching and a camera which keeps up with the action. His new Hoverboots make it easier and faster than ever to get around, which is handy as some of the levels in ACIT are massive. The boots are also useful for jumping off ramps to reach high-up areas and special collectables. As always, there are enough of these to keep the hardest of the hardcore busy once the main game is complete.
The Hoverboots are the best of the bunch when it comes to new gadgets, but it's a pretty small bunch. The same applies to weapons. New additions include the Plasma Striker, which is a sort of rocket launcher with a sniper scope attached. It's particularly satisfying to use when you hit the precise targets shown in the scope, thereby causing extra damage. The Plasma Striker is also great when combined with the Cryo-Bomb Glove. This encases enemies in ice, leaving them immobile and you to pick off those targets with ease.
Some of the other new weapons are less useful. There's plenty of novelty value to the Sonic Eruptor - pull the trigger and the frog on the end of the gun will let out a huge burp, knocking nearby enemies to the floor. This might be fun at first, but you soon realise that temporarily stunning enemies with a comedy frog is not as effective as blasting their torsos open with your old friend The Negotiator.
Then there's the Dynamo of Doom, which unleashes a sphere of electrifying energy. You can move the sphere around and attack more enemies with it by tilting the Sixaxis. This is tricky to do while simultaneously keeping Ratchet clear of flying ammo, and as a result the DOD isn't really worth bothering with. Nor is the new weapon customisation system - the answer to whether you want to upgrade a weapon is always 'Yes', and though you can choose between various effects the differences are slight.
Most of the weapons in the game are old favourites, including the Buzz Blades and the Groovitron (be sure to try it out on the big lizardy boss Qwark runs away from in the Bronze arena). They're just as enjoyable to use as ever but you can't help wishing there were more new toys to play with, and more which weren't so similar to those we've seen before.
At least Clank gets a new weapon too. Ratchet's storyline is broken up by sections where you get to control his former sidekick, who's now equipped with a special sceptre. It can throw time bombs which create a sphere of slo-mo for a limited time - useful when you need to jump on a fast-moving platform, for example. It can fix time anomalies, or in other words be used to complete mini-games which involve shooting fast-moving spikey things. The sceptre is also good for whacking enemies in the same way as Ratchet's wrench, but there's not a great deal of combat in the Clank levels.
Instead the emphasis is mainly on solving puzzles, which is done by using a series of switches to record and play back time. For example, Clank can record himself running over to a pressure pad and standing on it to open a door. When he plays back the recording, a hologram version of Clank will perform exactly the same actions - leaving the real Clank to run through to the next area.
This might all sound simple enough but things get complicated once the puzzles start to feature multiple recording tracks, several pressure pads, rising and falling platforms and so on. Younger players may struggle to complete a lot of them without adult help. Adults who still don't really understand what happened in the last season of Lost will also struggle. Luckily there is an option to bypass puzzles if you get really stuck. Yes, this feels like cheating, and it will cost you some of the precious bolts you've collected, but it's a lot less depressing and expensive than kicking the telly's face off.
In any case, the puzzles are rather enjoyable. The record-playback mechanic allows you to work them out through trial and error, and they're complex enough to make you feel all smug and clever when you solve them. All the same, if you've played many action-adventure games you've probably completed plenty of puzzles like these before - there's nothing which really makes you think in a new way.
In between the Clank levels and the Ratchet missions, you get to pilot a spaceship around a free-roaming galaxy. You can visit tiny planets which are almost like mini-levels themselves, where you'll find special items such as Zoni to collect. You can accept sub-quests, such as shooting down a certain number of ships, to earn extra bolts. Occasionally you'll have to engage in obligatory special missions, such as a dogfight with ships guarding the planet you're trying to reach.
These intergalactic interludes aren't all that interesting. Your ship moves rather slowly, even with the thrusters on, and you can only direct it on a horizontal axis. The tiny planets are just like the regular missions, only on a smaller scale - chop up some crates, jump over some platforms, blast some enemies, collect your reward and move on. Even the dogfights lack drama, being pretty easy to win and familiar to anyone who's ever played a videogame with space in before.
Many of the other elements designed to break up the pace are instantly recognisable. Remember shooting down waves of ships from a fixed gun turret in all those other R&C games? You will when you've played this one. How about battling waves of baddies in combat arenas, then finishing up with a giant boss fight? Tick. That's not to say all the shooting and fighting isn't fun - it's just very familiar.
Which just about sums it all up. There's no question that Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time is a quality platformer, complete with a superb combat system, decent puzzles, fun weapons, pretty visuals and plenty of variation. If you've never played a R&C game before, you should, and this is a great place to start. If you're a fan who just wants more of the same, you won't be disappointed.
But I've been playing R&C games for years now, and I was hoping for something extra. That doesn't mean radical change - goodness knows no one wants Ratchet to "go dark" or start running round sandbox environments. I still want a meat feast pizza, I just want it to have a stuffed crust. And maybe some dips. Or in other words, a proper selection of exciting new weapons, original puzzles and a bit of innovation. It's not that A Crack in Time is all fur coat and no knickers. The problem is, it's all fur coat and the same knickers it's been wearing for seven years. Time for a change.
7 / 10