Few video game franchises have greater pedigree than PlayStation’s most dependable crime-fighters, Ratchet & Clank. Armed with a plethora of imaginative gadgetry and a never-ending inventory of wisecracks, the Insomniac's series has been a staple of any self-prophesised PlayStation enthusiast’s diet for the past decade.
That maintained relevance places the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy (known as Ratchet & Clank Collection in North America) in uncharted territory. Unlike previous compilations starring Sly Cooper and Jak & Daxter, fans haven’t exactly been starved of new escapades featuring the sharp-witted twosome. In fact, this collection marks the dynamic duo’s fifth outing on PS3.
But it’s a testament to Insomniac Games’ outstanding talent that the original trilogy still makes for a compelling experience a little less than a decade after its original introduction. Sure, the compilation succumbs to the overall brilliance of 2009’s sublime A Crack in Time, but the Ratchet & Clank formula is so expertly refined that it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the anthology.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that the first Ratchet & Clank is mere months away from double figures. The title feels streamlined compared to its meaty successors, but the core ingredients are undeniably present. Darting between different planets and consuming every errant bolt is as addictive in the original title as it’s ever been, and it’s evidence of the unwavering genius of the primary gameplay hook that you’ll sprint through the entire 40-hour span of the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy without ever purposely avoiding a single stray crate.
It’s fitting, then, that the currency should be the most important aspect of the collection. All three of the collated titles manage to keep you focused on the increasingly tantalising rewards on the horizon, be it a new weapon, ability or armour upgrade. It’s hard not to find yourself drooling over the latest items available from the nearest Gadgetron vendor.
And your patience is almost always rewarded too. While the original game plays it somewhat safe, Ratchet’s arsenal rivals that of an intergalactic army by the end of the third title. From weapons that transform robots into sheep, right through to electronic whips and grenades that dispatch mini-turrets on the ground – combat is a constant sandbox thanks to the creativity of the artillery and cleverly designed encounters. The imprecise lock-on and lack of strafing lessens the enjoyment of the action in the original game, but it’s a minor niggle considering the consistency of the trilogy overall.
But while the combat takes centre stage, Insomniac Games is not afraid to blend genres throughout. The hints are present in the original title, but are expanded come the third outing. A fully realised mini-game – consisting of multiple levels and chapters – sees you take on the role of bumbling superhero Captain Qwark in a self-aware parody of the video game industry, while racing segments and puzzle sections ensure you’re always experiencing something different. Factor in the top-notch platforming and a slew of gadgets that aren’t afraid to change the overarching rules of the experience, and it’s difficult to tire of Ratchet & Clank’s format despite the fundamental similarities between the three bundled titles.
And yet, while it’s easy to breeze through to the conclusion of all three adventures without suffering from fatigue, the compilation is not entirely flawless. Archaic design sensibilities can lead to occasional frustration, especially when the series embraces one of its recurring difficulty spikes. There’ll be moments in all three titles where you’ll feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. It’s a sensation that focus testing has taught us to forget at times during this generation, so it’s a startling reminder of how punishing games used to be. Poor checkpointing only serves to accentuate the issue.
The traditional feel is similarly apparent in Ratchet & Clank 3’s resurrected multiplayer mode. The feature’s inclusion is appreciated for the sake of authenticity, but despite the implementation of the PlayStation Network’s more robust feature set, it still suffers from dated design decisions. For example, matches need to be manually started by hosts, which can lead to inevitable waiting times and fidgety fingers. Once you’re actually in a game, the MOBA-like gameplay format works well, but the lack of persistent upgrades and modern features demotes the addition to little more than unnecessary peripheral fluff.
Thankfully, the trilogy’s slapstick sense of humour helps to detract from any of its frustrations. The writing’s never especially original, but the performances are strong enough to raise the occasional giggle. The aforementioned Captain Qwark is easily the series highlight, and while his schtick becomes fairly predictable early on, he’s a brilliant personality for the protagonists to play off.
The conversion is stunning too. All three titles run in pin sharp high-definition at a fairly dependable 60 frames-per-second. There are noticeable drops in the third game, but for the most part the compilation holds up well. In fact, the marriage of the slick performance and outstanding art-style makes the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy one of the best HD conversions yet. Even the original game – which should, in theory, look aged – has a tantalising warmth to it and some truly stunning vistas. Impressively, the third game gives the franchise’s native PS3 releases a real run for their money.
But sadly the compilation is let down by familiar issues that have plagued other recent HD remasters. While the image quality is strikingly clean in-game, the rendered cut scenes are woeful by comparison. Bookmarked by borders and washed in a hazy fog, it’s unfortunate that the game’s most prominent moments of narrative exposition are forced to settle for such shoddy quality. Nothing can be done about the loss of original source material of course, but that doesn’t help to alleviate the disappointment.
In addition, similar compression issues affect the quality of the audio in the first game. While it’s never especially off-putting, the distorted sound effects are undeniably noticeable. Thankfully, the franchise is backed up by an outstanding soundtrack which blends the fantastical scope of the intergalactic setting with the orchestral swirls of a Pixar score.
Ratchet & Clank’s third native PS3 adventure A Crack in Time remains the popular duo’s most essential outing, but that doesn’t detract from the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy’s appeal. If you’re eager to learn a little more about the franchise’s origins, or simply want to re-visit three of the greatest PS2 titles ever crafted, then you’ll be well serviced here. This is an outstanding celebration of two of PlayStation’s most endearing characters, and we’ve got our fingers crossed for another exceptional ten years.