Six of the best
"You're given a new toy and, as a developer, and you want to try it out. Sixaxis is really cool," says Schneider. "Our philosophy is to give people options, and Sixaxis is one of those options." Just to clarify, you can use the analogue sticks to do any of the things you can do with the Sixaxis if you prefer.
Schneider's keen to emphasise that none of the Sixaxis bits are there for the sake of it. "We playtest everything so rigorously, and if it's not fun we drop it." For example, the Gyrocycle (a new vehicle which encases Ratchet in a sphere you have to guide around, Super Monkey Ball-style), was supposed to be controlled using Sixaxis. "Ultimately we decided it was easier and more effective to get the control set we wanted with the analogue sticks. Using the Sixaxis wasn't fun, so we dropped it."
Sixaxis survived as the control mechanism for the Robowings that Ratchet can strap on and use to soar around the skies. Before you're allowed to use them freely you must complete a short challenge that involves flying through a series of rings. It's Pilotwings, except you're twisting the controller instead of pushing buttons. It's tricky, but the controls are responsive and it's actually rather good fun.
Then there are hacking mini-games reminiscent of Super Rub-A-Dub, where you're rolling a metal ball between pairs of magnets and complete an electronic circuit. Again, it's challenging but stays just the right side of frustrating.
There are Sixaxis bits that don't work so well, mind you. One of the new weapons is the Tempest Launcher, which sends a small tornado spinning towards your enemies. Theoretically, you can twist the Sixaxis to direct the tornado while still using the left stick to move Ratchet at the same time. In practice, this is both impossible and rubbish. Schneider won't be dissuaded though. "We can't overstate this enough: the Sixaxis really allows you to get closer to directing Ratchet's arsenal, and Ratchet himself, than ever before."
Ratchet's arsenal, of course, has always been a highlight of the R&C games. As you'd expect there are a host of new weapons in Tools of Destruction, including one that turns enemies into penguins and another that can make enemies disco dance. You can combine them to create disco-dancing penguins if you like. This might sound a bit wacky, but it's genuinely amusing. For a bit.
Other new weapons include Mr Zurkon, a robot who tracks, shoots and endlessly trash-talks enemies. We like the Negotiator, a big fat rocket launcher as big and fat and satisfying as you'd expect to find in a Ratchet & Clank game. There's a new weapons upgrade system and multiple ways to combine different guns. "You hear a lot about sandbox gameplay, especially with Grand Theft Auto," observes Schneider. "We have weapons sandbox gameplay, when you think about it. You can play this game in so many different ways."
There's much more still to be revealed of Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. More weapons and a new vehicle. Levels where you get to play as Clank. An entirely new species. Some sort of PlayStation Network business they won't talk about at all yet. There's no multiplayer mode because, Schneider says, Insomniac learned its lesson with previous R&C games where it didn't prove popular. "Not to say you won't see Ratchet & Clank in a multiplayer capacity one day," he hints. But for this game, they listened to fans who said they wanted a bigger single-player experience rather than the option to blow each other up.
Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction is clearly a game for the fans. The sense of humour is back and the "dark" nonsense has been dumped. This is about running, jumping, collecting things, smashing things up, killing things off and firing big guns. Visually, the series has certainly taken a great leap forward. Those who were hoping the gameplay would do the same might be disappointed. But if you loved the first three games and want more of the same, this one's for you.