Hit & Miss
Ratchet & Clank (R&C) has been a fruitful franchise for Sony, with Insomniac Games creating some of the most prolific and interesting platform shooters of all time. The torch has now been borrowed by Sanzaru Games, who are porting High Impact Games’ title released last year for the PSP, giving the series’ sidekick the spotlight in one of their latest action adventures, Secret Agent Clank. Does the tin man hold his own against the forces of evil, or is he merely a bucket bolts in need of rescue?
Our furry Lombax friend, Ratchet, has been framed and taken away to a high-security prison. Knowing the true nature of his pal, Clank sets off to prove Ratchet’s innocence. The presentation here takes cues from games in the main canon, with ample cutscenes tossed in between missions that help to both round out the story and add entertainment value to the experience.
The game starts you out with a pseudo-stealth-action mission, and you’ll guide Clank through the level in a manner that should feel quite familiar to folks who’ve played other traditional R&C games. Clank can jump, execute melee-attack combos, and utilize a host of weapons. For all intents and purposes, you’re playing Ratchet with a Clank skin. However, there are quite a few, pretty cool stealth options throughout levels, though the level design will often prevent you from making proper use of these extra additions.
For example, in the first action level, you can have Clank sidle up to a mantle and then press the triangle button to have him pose as a statue, which will effectively cloak him from enemies while out in the open. Other times he can move close to vendor stands and pretend to be perusing the wares, so as to not be noticed by a mark he’s following. In one particular missions where Clank is tasked with following someone, there’s a gauge onscreen that lets you know whether you’re getting too close or if your target is getting away. However, the A.I. is programmed to often turn to check their surroundings well before you have a chance to utilize cover spots properly, and you’ll instead be forced to simply hide behind environmental objects in order to stay hidden.
Level movement is very similar to past games in the series, and Clank will collect plenty of bolts (by breaking boxes) along the way. Health containers are another familiar item to be found, and Clank will acquire new weapons, gadgets, and other goodies as you move deeper into the game. There are the obligatory vendors, which let you spend bolts to purchase new weapons and upgrades, and again, most of this will feel like old hat for long-time fans. Some of the new weapons and gadgets, however, are a real treat, such as the Holo-Knuckles, which make a giant fist appear to waylay nearby enemies. Other additions such as the Cuff Link Bomb are just clones of items we’ve seen before.
In many respects, the action levels in Secret Agent Clank play quite well, adding some new elements that are truly refreshing. However, the camera is a bit too close-in this time around, and it gets quite finicky when Clank finds himself in tight spaces. The platforming can occasionally be entertaining, but the level design, on the whole, is pretty uninspired and often frustrating.
Unfortunately, Clank doesn’t actually keep the stage entirely to himself, either, and you’ll be forced to play through challenge-type levels as Ratchet. Unlike the challenges from something like Up Your Arsenal, the Ratchet levels here are repetitive and completely lacking originality. These sidesteps in the game seem like a blatant attempt by the developers to pad the adventure, though they’re wrapped in the guise of periodically throwing you into the perspective of the captive Lombax.
Basically, each of the Ratchet levels tosses you in an arena where you’re tasked with warding off several waves of enemies, with subtle changes here and there from level to level. Thankfully, you’re only required to complete a handful of these challenges, though you can opt to sign on for additional punishment (and bolts) if you’ve got the stomach for it.
The variety doesn’t stop there, however, and you’ll even find yourself in the shoes of old Captain Quark. Quark’s the “hero” from past games in the series, and his missions are mostly boss battles. They’re not terribly challenging levels, but they often serve to break up some of the game’s other, less-than-stellar components.
In addition to playing as Quark and Ratchet, you’ll also get to take control of Clank’s little-robot helpers, and surprisingly, these are some of the more enjoyable moments in the entire game. These missions play out almost like a mini-RTS, having you control three of Clank’s robot minions. The robots always move as a group, controlled with the left-analog stick, and you can select various commands with the triangle button. The action is clever, and there are some fun yet simple environmental puzzles weaved into these levels.
There’s definitely no shortage of variety in Secret Agent Clank, but that’s also one of its biggest shortcomings. There’s too little in this package that hits the mark, and too many elements that fall flat. There are rhythm levels where you’ll have to hit buttons in sync as markers scroll across screen, but it never feels like your button presses correspond to the rhythm of whatever music happens to be playing. There are other times when you’re forced to engage in context-sensitive micro games (also involving quick button presses), and the timing is unforgiving, there’s no feedback from the controller, and if you fail one of the micro games, you’re forced to redo the entire level.
Supporting this hodge-podge of a game is a presentation that just doesn’t represent the Ratchet & Clank name with pride. In an attempt to utilize the old “hidden load times” technique, the developers borrowed the idea of flashing Clank’s spaceship onscreen. When each load takes literally a full minute or more to get through, you know something’s up. The load screens are also very plain Jane to look at, and it’s just another cheesy element that kind of makes this game reek.
The visuals aren’t terrible, though the textures are low-poly and there’s an overall lack of polish. The graphics here get the job done, but only in the most basic sense. Slowdown can be a real problem as well, even when the screen is somewhat vacant of enemies and action. The performance overall just lacks the quality we’re used to seeing with this franchise. Additionally, when selecting gadgets/weapons, the selector is very bare-bones and clumsy to navigate.
The cutscenes, however, are commendable, and the humor and dialogue feels genuine. The music is typical fare for this series, though the stereo separation is unremarkable. The gentle, chiming sound of bolts from broken boxes, though, never gets old, and it’s surprising just how much the sound effects add to the enjoyment of the game’s action levels.
It’s completely expected to see Clank venture out on his own. The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been good to both Sony and fans, but that’s likely due to the folks who made it famous – Insomniac Games. There are some really fun nuggets to be found in Secret Agent Clank, but for every one thing the game does right, it does two or three other things terribly wrong. The game doesn’t completely run off the rails – not by any means. However, there’s a standard that has been set for this series, and unfortunately, this game falls well below par. Younger gamers might find it mildly amusing, but diehard Ratchet & Clank fans should cry foul.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Secret Agent Clank fits the series look, but it’s very rough around the edges. 3.6 Control
Controls are mostly what Ratchet & Clank fans are used to, though the rhythm action is uninteresting. Lock-strafe mode is back, but the camera can be unruly. Navigating the gadget selector isn’t nearly as smooth as in past games of the series. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are a highlight here, though the stereo separation isn’t great. 3.3 Play Value
There’s no lack of content; it’s just that much of it isn’t very fun. Ultimately, though, the $20 price tag gives this game legs. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.