Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time Preview: Time Is On Your Side

What has Ratchet's robot buddy Clank been up to since being kidnapped by the Zoni at the end of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction? We go hands-on at Comic-Con to find out.

What Is It?
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time is the continuation of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. At the end of the previous game, Clank had been kidnapped by strange alien Zoni, and Ratchet was about to set off on an epic adventure to find his friend, after fulfilling contractual obligations for a semi-side story in the PSN downloadable title Quest for Booty.

What We Saw
For the first time at Comic-Con 2009, Insomniac was showing off some of the unique Clank gameplay. It was revealed that this entry in the series would feature more Clank time than any other, and they introduced a new twist on the time manipulation mechanic that so many games like to fool around with these days.

At the beginning of the game, Clank finds himself trapped in the Great Clock, a huge construct in the center of the universe that serves as a sort of Galactic CMOS battery. To help solve the various puzzles and riddles hidden within the Great Clock, Clank must use every ounce of his wits. Oh, and the time-stopping powers of the Chronoscepter. Those will come in handy as well.

Using the Chronoscepter, Clank can hurl balls that slow down time, neutralizing traps and making enemies far less of a threat than they normally would be. A neat trick that we've seen before.

No, the meat of the Chronoscepter's powers lie in the ability for Clank to record and playback his own actions, essentially creating duplicates of himself in order to overcome the various obstacles in his path.

For example, the first room of the Clank demo had a simple button to stand on to unlock a door. I stood on a special platform and used to the Chronoscepter to record myself running and standing on the button, played it back, and ran through the open door.

The next room was a little trickier, with two recording platforms, a button to open a cage, and another button in said cage used to unlock the door. I recorded stepping on the first button, then recorded myself entering the cage to unlock the door. Since only one recording can be active at any given time, I then had to perform the initial act of opening the cage myself, allowing the recording to get in and unlock the door, which I then ran through.

Timing is very important with this mechanic. You have to make sure you are recording yourself for the correct amount of time. The final room, which sees you jumping across a series of platforms while your recorded self sits on the door-opening button, can be frustrating if you don't record long enough, maneuvering the tricky jumps only to be faced with a locked door on the other side.

How Far Along Is It?
It's hard to tell with an Insomniac title, especially with Ratchet & Clank. The high level of polish we've come to expect is certainly intact, and the game is aiming at a 3rd or 4th quarter 2009 release. If I had to ballpark it, I'd say pretty far along.

What Needs Improvement?
More Clank?: Perhaps I am in the minority here, but I'm really not a big fan of the Clank gameplay bits in the series. I feel they take you too far away from the core gameplay that I fell in love with earlier in the series. This is purely a matter of opinion, so if you are a giant Clank fan, feel free to pretend this is listed under What Should Stay The Same, or perhaps buy Secret Agent Clank and leave us Lombax purists alone.

Perhaps A Bit Too Convoluted: If drunk grown men stuffed with complimentary cupcakes have trouble grasping the rather intricate time-based gameplay concepts I was introduced to during the demo, what hope does our nation's youth have? After all, they're the drunk, cupcake-stuffed men of the future.

What Should Stay The Same?
It's Ratchet & Clank: The R&C series has been one of the most consistently excellent platforming series since the first installment showed up on the PlayStation 2 back in 2002. At this point I'm not sure Insomniac could make a bad Ratchet & Clank game, and they've tried.

Final Thoughts
Once again, it all comes down to opinion. If you love Clank and Clank-related gameplay, then this is going to be the best Ratchet & Clank ever. If you aren't such a big fan, the promise of the most Clank-filled outing to date might leave you a little cold, but let's be honest...if you've played enough R&C to form an opinion either way, you aren't going to stop now.