Inside Pulse 12

Review: Secret Agent Clank (Sony PSP)

Secret Agent Clank
Developer: High Impact Games
Publisher: SCEA
Genre: 3d Action/Platformer
Release Date: 6/17/08

It was bound to happen. We’ve seen the duo of Ratchet & Clank go all over the universe together for six years across three different consoles. Ratchet has already had his own game, Ratchet Deadlocked, so it stood to reason that Clank would get the same treatment eventually.

Enter Secret Agent Clank, a game that takes the premise of Clank as a James Bondesqe character from Up Your Arsenal and expands it to its fullest. You see, in UYA, it is revealed that Clank is the star of a hit TV show, Secret Agent Clank. I’m not sure if this game is supposed to be an episode of the show, a movie, or part of actual cannon. The question is, will Clank’s one liners and relative fame be enough to give this game the kind of pedigree the other games in the series have reached?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Story

Clank is given a mission to thwart a robbery attempt at a museum, only to arrive too late and find that the thief is none other than Ratchet. Believing there is no way his best friend could have turned to crime, Clank goes off to search for the real culprit, while Ratchet is sent off to jail. What follows from there is a script you’ve already memorized if you’ve seen any James Bond film. Gangs, crime syndicates, a wealthy baroness, a high stakes poker game, and even evil twins litter the plot like too much relish on a hot dog. It can be good, but in the end it is overkill.

Meanwhile, you’ll also play as Ratchet, who is stuck in prison. This is bad in and of itself, except that the prison is filled to capacity with thugs that he and Clank put in jail over the years. Plus, the warden is being paid to make sure Ratchet’s stay is far from pleasant.

If that isn’t enough, the spy movie and survival saga are joined by a comical third piece. Captain Qwark is dictating a biography to a little robot. Basically, he follows Clank around and takes credit for all of his work, while spicing the story up a bit by throwing in tons of giant robot ninjas. One of the more amusing bits in the game is Qwark performing a musical about how he defeated a giant sea monster and saved a dam by plugging it with his left butt cheek.

There are a ton of references to past games in the series to be found. For instance, all of thugs in jail with Ratchet are actually enemies from previous installments. I found the “Ëœnoids from UYA, robots from Going Commando, and even the leader of Thugs 4 Less gets an appearance. There was even a comical Lost reference thrown in just for the heck of it. The story is funny because it never takes itself too seriously.

However, the Ratchet and Qwark scenes do come at a price. While they help mix up the gameplay, they interrupt the main story and kill any momentum Clank has. It almost seems that the developers didn’t have enough faith in the little guy to let him carry the show. As a consequence, the pacing is erratic and unpredictable. It’s nice to see all of the old gang again, but they’re cramping Clank’s style here.

Graphics

What was impressive with Size Matters for the PSP last year is significantly less so now. After games like God of War and Crisis Core, the bar for graphics on the PSP has been raised, and SAC can’t quite meet expectations. That’s not to say the game is bad by any means, but it is no where near the technical marvel its predecessor was.

For one, things always seem rough around the edges. Character models are well designed, but not quite cleaned up. Also, the game likes to keep as many objects and backgrounds down to one or two colors if it can. As a result, environments can look a bit dull. You’ll also notice that the game tends to keep only one or two enemy types on screen at any time if it can help it. Nowhere is this more noticeable then in the Ratchet sequences, where you are attacked by waves of identical thugs in prison garb.

Still, the effects are pretty good, and definitely better than most of what you’ll find on the PSP. There is a good amount of laser blast, fire, water spray, explosions, etc. to be found. The game is far from ugly, but nothing stellar. The framerate is solid throughout, with very few noticeable dips, and those are only in particularly hectic situations.

Audio

One of the many things the R&C series has been known for is solid voice acting. Series vets reprise their roles, and each and every character is voiced well. It truly is rare to see such a solid voicing package in any game, let alone one for the PSP. The only problems arise from Clank’s incessant need to spout off one liners every other ten seconds. I guess if he doesn’t make some semi-comical comment on everything that happens, some self destruct command will activate and our little metal hero will be no more.

The music got a surprising amount of overhaul. They combined the familiar techno beats that we’ve all come to expect from the series with stereotypical spy themes. The result is something I don’t think we’ve ever heard before, although I don’t know if I can really call it good. You won’t be rushing to download it, that’s for sure.

Sound effects are mostly pretty good throughout, although the game does suffer from the occasional missing sound. A lot of times, getting hit doesn’t make any sound accept the character going “oomph”. Using Ratchet’s trademark wrench (how he managed to smuggle that into prison I will never know) doesn’t give off the desired impact either. There’s nothing horrible here, but it can occasionally take you out of the game, so it is worth mentioning.

Controls & Gameplay

This is not your typical Ratchet & Clank game.

For one, Clank is a secret agent, so stealth is a huge part of his repertoire now. You’ll be awarded bonus bolts for evading detection and performing stealth takedowns rather than rushing in with a full on attack. One of the more interesting gadgets in Clank’s arsenal is the holo-monocle, which allows you to generate a hologram of an enemy around yourself and evade detection. Of course, if the guy whose image you stole sees it, you’ll be busted, but proper utilization of this technique can keep you out of combat, which is best.

Why is stealth the best? The answer is simple. Clank is not a good fighter. This isn’t all his fault though. He’s got some serious control issues to overcome. For one, the camera is pathetic. You can use the L and R buttons to rotate the camera in either direction, but this is slow and cumbersome. You’re better off using the directional pad to strafe rather than the analog stick to move around because at least then the camera is locked in front of you. Still, you’re going to get hit a lot by off screen enemies you never even knew were there.

Also, the emphasis on stealth presents one of the worst gaming paradoxes I’ve ever seen. You need to be stealthy to earn bolts to buy new weapons and gadgets that you need. However, if you don’t fight, your weapons don’t gain experience and thus have less ammo and pack less punch. Also, your life is increased with the more enemies you kill, so sneaking by can lead to you being severely underpowered. This comes into focus during the final boss fight, which is pure action based. Because the game pushed for you to go stealth (you’ll lose some missions if you get caught), the boss is going to kick your sorry ass many a time before you get lucky enough to finish him. So, if you don’t sneak, you don’t get weapons. If you don’t use the weapons, they end up underpowered. There’s no balance here. You are quite truly damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I can’t understand how they let something like this happen.

Beyond Clank, you’ll be able to play as three other characters, a series first. The best of these are the gadgebot sections. The gadgebots are called into action whenever Clank is incapacitated or needs help with a locked door. You control three bots. Each of their levels is a small puzzle. You’ll be challenged to pull levers to rotate pathways to gain access to electricity surges which can be used to operate doors and such. These guys control the best out of anyone in the game. Plus, they fit the theme of the game. They’re all dressed up in tuxedos and everything.

The same can not be said for the Ratchet and Qwark sections. Ratchet’s levels are nothing more than copies of the arena battles we’ve seen in almost every game the series has produced. You’ll fight wave after wave of enemies in a small enclosed corridor with limited health and ammo. The primary objective is just to destroy before you’re destroyed. There are about half a dozen of these sections in the game. Each one is more boring than the last. You get to use a small sampling of Ratchet’s past weapons, and they’ll upgrade with use. Qwark levels are only slightly less mundane. That’s only because some of them require you to move around a level. They still boil down to you running around mashing the circle button and staffing around hordes of enemies. Qwark’s playable debut is nothing less than a huge disappointment.

The biggest culprit comes in the form of three separate sections where you will be presented with a parappa the rappa style series of button presses to make. Failure to hit all of the buttons in rhythm results in lost life. These sections are ungodly long and never fun. The only good thing I can say about them is that the dev team had the smart not to include the use of both the square and circle buttons. You’ll only ever have to tap circle, preventing a clusterf**k of misguided button presses.

In then end, SAC offers a pretty good variety in its gaming diet. The problem is no one section is polished enough. The result is a varied pile of bland level designs and pacing choices.

Replayability

Secret Agent Clank offers about seven to then hours of gameplay the first time through. You’ll spend more time if you chose to complete the bonus Ratchet, Gadgebot, and/or racing missions the game offers. However, the game does offer a few incentives for those who might consider playing through it again.

First off, the game has a new game plus approach. You’ll be able to play through the game again with all of your gadgets and experience intact. If you so desire, you’ll finally be able to level up some of your weapons here. I, for one, managed to get my flamethrower briefcase to go up to levels in no time at all because I finally had enough life that I could afford not to be sneaky.

Also, if you start a new game, you’ll be given an item that allows you to find alien codes throughout the levels. If you find them, you’ll be granted access to new levels. This is certainly intriguing, but I wonder why it wasn’t included in the first playthrough.

On top of that, there are keycards and titanium bolts to find. I’m not sure what the keycards do, as I never found enough of them apparently, but the bolts allow you unlock additional skins. So if you’re tired of running around as Clank in a painted on tux, then all you need is a couple of titanium bolts and you’ll have the chance to change it.

Balance

As I mentioned earlier, the game wants you to try to find a balance between stealth and action. However, not focusing on one inevitably weakens the other.

Some of your weapons are completely useless. The flamethrower, for one, has such a short range that you will be hit as you’re using it. If you back away, you won’t take any damage, but you won’t do any either. On the flip side, the tanglevine carnation is overly powerful. It can temporarily remove enemies from the board while damaging them, allowing you time to either escape, or run away. On more than one occasion, I just threw in a couple of these and watched the guards die so that I would have to bother being sneaky.

Speaking of which, the stealth can really hurt. There are times when all you have to do is used the holo-monocle and you’ll be able to walk right by every enemy in the area. Other times, you need to use the monocle, but there are so many cameras that can see through your disguise that you’ll see “mission failed” screen half a dozen times before you can get past one room.

Enemies are a lot stronger than you, and usually almost as fast. Your best bet is to be constantly strafing in another direction while firing off whatever weapons seem to hit. Some of the bigger guards simply refuse to go down, and towards the end, even attempting to melee the weakest unit will result in you losing more health than him.

The game is almost never hard, but it is most certainly frustrating.

Originality

While the stealth gameplay is definitely a shot of new in a series that has stayed remarkably the same for six games, you won’t find much else original here.

For one, all of Clank’s weapons are eerily similar to past weapons, only painted a different color to fit the spy motif. The tie-a-rang is the chopper, the cufflink bomb is the bomb glove, the thundershock umbrella is a weaker version of the tesla claw, etc. What is a bit more new is that you’ll have to use the items for things besides combat a lot. Tie-a-rangs cut wires and causes objects to fall, the flamethrower is used to open some locks and overheat a few machines, and even the tanglevine carnation is used to slow down spinning rotor blades so you can use them as platforms. That is certainly something I would like to see used in future games.

This is also the first time you’ll be able to play as Captain Qwark, so series fans will finally be able to control the pathetically charming hero. It kind of makes you wish he could get his own game…..

Addictiveness

Here’s another miss for the game. I never felt compelled to continue the game based on its own merits. This is yet another case of me finishing a game for the sole purpose of completing it.

Levels are drawn out far beyond their welcome, so much so that you’ll probably get bored and put it down. For instance, there was a Captain Qwark scene that went on for TWENTY rounds. That’s twenty round of me strafing and holding down the circle button to waste near endless amounts of the same exact enemy. I was praying for release by the tenth round, believe you and me.

There’s not a single level that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and even though the game isn’t particularly long, it feels like it took forever. I once played for a while, sure that I had been going for three or more hours, only to see that barely one had gone by. A good game sucks you and makes you lose track of time, but not like this.

Appeal Factor

Ratchet & Clank is a strong series to be sure. Each game in the series has sold well no matter what system it goes on. The first PSP game, while eventually ported to the PS2, did well enough to garner this sequel, a rare thing on Sony’s handheld.

If you ask most R&C fans who their favorite character is, most people seem to pick Clank. Secret Agent Clank was and is the perfect way to capitalize on that popularity. Take a well known character and mix things up a bit. It is usually a recipe for success. We’ve seen Daxter do well on his own already, and I expect Clank will be just fine.

Miscellaneous

I’ve given it some more thought and I think I can answer the question of how they could let the game end up as poor as it is. It feels as if halfway through the production of the game, somebody panicked. How could Clank carry an entire game by himself? He’s just a sidekick! Suddenly, what could have been one of the best games on the PSP this year was changed drastically. Ratchet was added in as a playable character, and then Qwark was thrown in as well, all in attempt to get more people to buy the game. However, this now meant that the dev team would need to take people away from the Clank sections of the game and move them over to create these new ones. Now you have three or four different characters that are supposed to carry the game, but none of them are polished because only a few people worked on them. The whole game suffers as a result.

What killed this game was a lack of commitment. Somebody had the great idea to make a Secret Agent Clank game as a stand alone title. Too bad nobody stood up for it.

    The Scores


Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Great
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Very Poor
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Very Poor

Final Score: Below Average Game!

    Short Attention Span Summary

Secret Agent Clank could have been great, but a lack of commitment and some terrible balancing issues rob it of any real joy it could have brought. Series fans should still give it a try though, as it isn’t a bad game, and when it does shine, it hits home. If you were expecting a new instant classic, be prepared for disappointment. Here’s hoping we get to see another Clank game, and that next time they really give the little guy a chance to stand on his own.

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  • please! help me on the locked door with the gagabots and then they need to use there electric things on there heads and the they have to make the eletric toch on the eletric thing but theres 5 of them so its hhhhhaaaaaaaardddddd