Ten years have passed since the iconic PlayStation duo of Ratchet and Clank made their debut and left a lasting mark in the minds of many PS2 owners. Since then, they’ve starred in a number of adventures and grown to be one of the most recognisable mascots for Sony’s systems, taking their primary developer, Insomniac Games, with them on their road to notoriety. The passing of such a milestone is rarely ignored for a franchise as large as this and Sony have seen fit to provide a Classics HD remastering effort to celebrate, along with growing their collection of last-gen efforts being given a spit-and-polish. Curiously, only the first three games of the series have been bundled together here, though the omission of later titles is hardly felt given that they either deviated greatly from the established formula, or were outsourced to High Impact Games.
When reviewing compilations my tendency is to look at each individual game, delivering a preliminary verdict on their quality before summarising the collection as a whole. In previous instances this approach has not only been applicable but made the most sense from my perspective given that there has typically been some dissonance between the games, even if they do happen to be entries within the same series. With Ratchet and Clank, this is simply not the case. Each of the games, in spite of featuring unique elements and providing a different look at the characters and lore, offers a sense of unity and sensible progression largely unseen heretofore. As such, I will be treating this, mostly, as a single production. Besides making my job fractionally easier, this harmony makes it feel as though these upgrades were destined to happen. Existence, however, is not the question here; quality is. These ports were handled by Idol Minds, the relatively little known studio behind the 2007 downloadable success Pain. With that being their most recent credit, a question mark definitely hangs over the production.
Let it now be vanquished. The three games in this collection have received a consistent touch-up to their graphics, bringing them gloriously into the HD era largely devoid of issues. The most noticeable of those that exist is the frame rate, which takes quite a hit when the action hits its most frenetic pitch, but this is almost exclusive to the third game, which is understandable considering it is also the most visually taxing. Only other flaw is worth mentioning and that is the draw distance for destructible environmental artefacts. Thankfully, neither of these problems is prevalent enough to leave a poor impression in the minds of players, especially in the face of the excellent effort that has gone into bringing the rest of the visual elements up to scratch. The process was certainly aided along by the non-realistic aesthetic of these games; dominated by bold lines and bolder colours, these games really stood out in their heyday and have lost none of their indelible charm in this update.
This top-notch effort carries through into the engine rendered cutscenes, which is more than can be said of some of the other classics lucky enough to receive the same treatment. Unfortunately, there is simply no getting around the CGI cutscenes that are present. While these would once have elevated the graphics to a higher level where the extra fidelity would be beneficial, the upscaling has been unkind to them. Additionally, even with seemingly equal attention being paid across the board, there remains a clear distinction between each of the games, with the first still looking like it comes from the PS2, while Up Your Arsenal almost matches Tools of Destruction in terms of sheer visual quality.
The sound is more of a mixed bag. You see, the voice acting, so long as you are capable of accepting the caveat that the core sensibilities of this series mimic those of a children’s cartoon, aspires to a rather high standard, with Clank being a particular standout. Minor cast members aren’t voiced with quite the same enthusiasm, but that’s par for the course. Weapon effects often seem underwhelming considering the heavy focus on these in terms of game’s design detracting from these productions in a subtle way. This effect is enhanced by what seems to be a complete void of ambient noise and it must be admitted that both the sound effects and composition grow to be frustratingly repetitive.
A sentiment that is also applicable to the gameplay, even with its evolutionary aspects, though this is to be expected when you can easily spend fifty hours adventuring in this universe. Stripped to its barest essence, this series merges a 3D platformer with an inventive third person shooter format, creating a fluid balance between these key elements. Backing up the core gameplay are a number of different minigame types taking different forms throughout the series including, but not limited to: races, interstellar dogfights and brief puzzle segments that can really test your reflexes. While generally short, these deviations give players a break from the main action and most can be dragged out as they offer more bolts (the currency of these games) for greater challenges. Adding these to the undeniable sense of exploration that permeates the entirety, as well as the RPG-esque weapon and health progression systems of the latter games, you are presented with a singularly addictive melange of genres capable of keeping you invested from beginning to end.
Arguably adding further to this tacit incentive is the fact that the games target the casual market as much as the hardcore. As such, completing the main campaigns is usually an easy task provided you stay ahead of the curve with your weapon and armour purchases. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these games are incapable of offering a challenge for seasoned gamers. You just have to off the beaten track, searching for hidden bolts and undertaking Arena and Gauntlet challenges which will test your mettle in both combat and traversal skills. Failing in these endeavours rarely feels like the fault of the game, instead seeming to result from your shortcomings or lack of preparation; a trait that sets this compilation apart from many games out there that resort to sheer cheapness to ramp up the difficulty. It certainly helps that the controls feel natural to most people that have played games before, as well as being eminently responsive most of the time.
In quantifying the stories, one must remember that they, in keeping with most every other facet of this development, is aimed at a younger audience. It should thus be expected that the overarching plot and themes are tailored that way and may not necessarily appeal to adults. The narratives each revolve around a stand-alone save-the-galaxy plot thread that, in and of themselves, have pedestrian openings. There are enough twists, turns and revelations to keep you interested as they progress however, and it must be admitted that the personality inherent in the characters raises their level of engagement further. Ratchet and Clank are relatable characters and seeing their individual growth and the evolution of their friendship is a great experience. Captain Qwark is another standout, though this is primarily because of his entirely duplicitous nature. The writing of the characters is consistently to a high standard, as is that of the humour which manages to work on two levels from time to time, though never quite with the same strength as that found in the Future arc.
Even with that excellence, the first game in particular commits one of the most heinous sins that it is possible for an author to. This is that the narrative progression seems more the result of happenstance than from the input of the characters. The approach is remedied somewhat in the next two offerings, but it isn’t entirely omitted at any point. That being said, it’s difficult to criticise as, without this rambling method of storytelling, these games would lose some of their length and charm to grave detriment.
The value found in this purchase is impressive. Three highly regarded games, one of which is sometimes cited as among the best that the PlayStation 2 had to offer in its long lifecycle, bundled together with an admirable upscaling. More importantly, the series makes a strong case for its continued relevance as its genre blending sensibilities adhere to a prevailing sentiment found in many modern games. That being said, the youth oriented approach will, understandably, turn some people away. For those interested in these games, the decision lies as such: if value is what you seek then it is impossible to do anything except recommend them. If it is quality, then you’re better off sticking to the main games of the Future arc previously released on the PlayStation 3 thanks to their better storytelling and higher production values.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7.5/10
Gameplay/Design – 9.0/10
Visuals – 8.0/10
Sound – 6.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 8.5/10
Overall – 8.5/10