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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Ratchet & Clank.

Transcript Edit

"You know, Yahtzee? I don't think you’ve ever given the new console generation a fair chance." What do you mean? When I get together with the Xbone and the Pisspoor, and rhythmically smash their heads together while screaming "Why are you all holding us all back? You bastards, you bastards, you bastards!" they could change my mind in an instant. All they have to do is explode and stop blighting the universe with their presence. It's always been the lack of backwards compatibility and the utterly callous disregard for gaming history that gobs in my porridge. It's like they burnt the house down for the insurance money, and then spent it all on an overpriced chromed refrigerator to live in instead.

And it leads to awkward situations like the one Insomiac Games found themselves in. With a movie of their long-running Ratchet & Clank series in the winds, they must've jolted awake one morning and gone "AGH! All the games are exclusive to PS2 and PS3, so all our new fans, who've come in for the movie, with shiny eyes and fat wallets, can't buy any of the fucking things without a time-travelling pirate ship! We better slap something together for the PS4, sharpish!", which is quite an impressively long statement for every single member of the dev studio to make in unison.

So now we have the inevitable reboot-with-same-name, Ratchet & Clank. And this is new ground for me, the series has passed me by up 'til now, 'cause I'm not an ickle baby boo-boo, who wants to play games about fuzzy animal characters with a permanent case of Dreamworks eyebrow. I didn't even know there was a movie coming out till the game discreetly mentioned it, immediately, at full volume, and then twice more on the box blurb. But the same box blurb promises that the game is equally enchanting for both fans and newcomers to the series, so that's alright then.

Ratchet & Clank is representative of the ever unspecific action-adventure" genre, a cartoon sci-fi knockabout that's like The Fifth Element had a baby with Bucky O'Hare, after spending a little bit too much time hanging around dodgy internet communities. An evil organization plots to unleash an army of killbots on the galaxy, but a reject killbot, that's Clank, escapes and crash lands in the back garden of a fuzzy and highly marketable wannabe space hero, that's Ratchet. Ratchet agrees to fly Clank to the big city planet, so he can warn them about the incoming invasion and by the time they get there the invasion's already started, so so much for that. Note that this leaves Ratchet and Clank with precisely zero purpose, or particular reason to stay together. I've had longer taxi rides, and didn't end up forming lifelong partnerships with the driver.

And I suppose this is the inherent problem with an attempt to swiftly re-establish the canon of the previous forty-seven games in one go, that we seem to be skipping quite a few steps. The bond between the two leads is treated as something automatic and preordained, not least of which by the fucking title of the game, rather than developing naturally over time. I'm willing to bet that that was more the case in the original Ratchet & Clank, because people liked that game, and we would not be having a film if people haven't liked it, thus is exposed the inherent paradox of this reboot. Explain to me the logic of a reboot attempting to bank on nostalgia for the very games it is attempting to erase from canon. It constantly references the old series, there's even a sidequest around collecting trading cards of characters and weapons from previous games, so essentially the game is saying "Hey, remember how much better we did this the first time around? Good, now forget all about it!"

Speaking as a newcomer, without the context of the established canon, Ratchet's a boring little shit. The term Mary Sue comes to mind, like the face of an irritating relative. The perceived need to hurry the plot along means that he's barely got his trousers on before he's hailed as a galactic hero and everyone wants to be his friend, except for the one guy who betrays him, for literally no reason, except that he's jealous of how totally bloody great he is. I rarely got a sense that the character was facing adversity. There's one scene after the villains blow up a planet where Ratchet immediately runs home blubbing, because he failed one fucking thing in his glittering three-hour career, and that lasts for all of a fifteen-second cutscene before he gets back in the saddle. Incidentally after the planet explodes, there's a rather hasty line of dialog to the effect "Lucky the entire planet was evacuated in the fourteen minutes of advance notice we were given!" which screams "last minute change" to me. What made you chicken out on depicting implied genocide, lads? Were you afraid the kiddywinks would be influenced into building planetary death ray cannons?

So about that gameplay. It's third person action adventure, with a little bit of everything. A bit of combat, a bit of platforming, a bit of puzzles. A surprisingly faithful callback to the era of the original game on the PS2, still to my mind, the high-water mark for consoles, and may my nadgers get slammed in a car door if it isn't so. It made me slightly nostalgic for games like Psychonauts, and every single 3D game Rare ever made. What really surprised me was how difficult the game could get. Have we become so softened by the ongoing blandification of AAA games that smash the autosave button like it's a virgin bumhole in a prison shower that we can be thrown by perfectly straightforward combat mechanics? I really started to miss the concept of dodge-rolling, when I see an enemy bullet closing in, and my best defense is hoping that I'm already moving out of the way. Mind you, there are some things that stopped being prevalent for a reason. Such as interrupting your shooty platformer for a difficult fight with the laser directing puzzle that brings the pace to a screeching halt. Thankfully there's the option to skip those, but not without admonishment. "Are you sure? You will never get the achievement, and gain true fulfillment in life".

Weapon variety is the big selling point, and varied they certainly are, if leaning a bit too hard on the wacky humour. Like the gun that rather artificially turns enemies into sheep, that just doesn't have the lasting humour value of that gun in Painkiller that pins enemies to walls and makes all their arms and legs fall off. I don't like how weapons level up with use, cause it results in the scenario wherein after working long and hard to max out the weapon, suddenly you don't wanna use it anymore, because you don't wanna waste the experience when your butane powered dogshit cannon doesn't yet have the diarrhea bonus.

All in all though, there are certainly worse distractions on the road to the grave, but the quality of Ratchet & Clank in itself is almost made meaningless by the circumstances surrounding it. If you were already a fan, then I’m all but certain you’ll have played better ones, and if your weren't and you do like the game, then where do you go from there? "Gosh, I'd quite like to play the rest of the series now." "Well you can't. Hardy har har. Film coming to cinema near you." So working our way back to where we already were but before you fucked it all up is what you call progress, is it, consoles? "No! It's what we call 'let's buy another yacht!'".

Addenda Edit

  • Scratch it and Wank: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Mind you I suppose R&C could have become friends during the thousands of years it would take to complete a single interstellar journey 
  • Fly me to the smouldering remains of the moon
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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