Things have looked bleak for the Ratchet & Clank franchise on many occasions. It looked as if the series might end after Ratchet: Deadlocked, but no. Then it looked like A Crack in Time might be the last game. That still wasn’t the case. After that, it seemed the series was doomed to spin-offs, such as All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault. But here we are, with the first traditional Ratchet game in four years. Sure, it’s a budget title with a short length/lower production values to go with its lower price, but that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. In fact, this is one of the best PS3 games to come out all year.
The story begins shortly after the events of A Crack in Time. The titular duo are aiding the transport of a notorious space witch named Vendra Prog when her brother shows up with an army of thugs. The bad guys escape, and the heroes are stuck playing catch up before the witch summons a giant monster from another dimension.
What makes the story work is the trademark slapstick combined with some pretty nifty story telling. Vendra isn’t really all that evil. Her intention isn’t to take over the universe or destroy a planet or two. Instead, she is simply trying to reconnect with her people. This mirrors the desires of Ratchet, who is still struggling with the idea of using a powerful gadget to help him find the rest of his species. The characters are solid, with the new guys managing to keep up with old favorites. Best of all, characters from Tools of Destruction return to tie up some loose ends.
It’s basically a love letter to fans of the series. At one point, you even visit a museum that has kept records of Ratchet and Clank’s adventures. The highlight is the hall of villains, where statues of Dr. Nefarious and Chairman Drek tower over visitors. The story is sweet, funny, and serves as a fitting end to the franchise’s lengthy run on the PS3. It wouldn’t be the worst thing ever if this happened to be the final game in the franchise, either.
Visually, the game shows its budget price. While things look solid for the most part, thanks to a strong sense of style and classic character models, it’s clear this is far from the best the system can manage. Some characters, such as the smuggler, look extremely dated. One of the five planets in particular looks like it could have been done on the PS2 without changing much. Still, the game looks pretty darn good for a thirty dollar title. I’d definitely say it looks better than the last two entries on consoles, though it pales in comparison to the last full game. I’m also pleasantly surprised that the framerate stays as solid as it does, considering the sheer chaos that ensues with over a dozen enemies firing at you.
Aurally, the game is aces. Every single voice in the game is well done. The lowly grunt shows just as much personality as the heroes, and I didn’t get annoyed at all when the museum tour guide rambled on about nothing. The game shows a wide range of musical tunes, from orchestral pieces to the synthesized stuff the series is known for. There are also amusing musical cues such as “Jingle Bells” playing whenever you user the Winterizer. To top things off, you have all the classic sound effects. Call me sentimental, but few things sound better to me than when hundreds of bolts are collected after the mass slaughter of enemy thugs. It’s like Christmas.
The previous Ratchet game that this compares the most easily to is Quest for Booty. That was a shorter, more action packed game that eschewed some of the non-essential elements to create a more streamlined game overall. Into the Nexus takes out some of the platforming elements (though not all I promise) to focus more on using the crazy weapons and gadgets at your disposal. The gamble pays off, as this is one of the best playing games in the series.
As far as controls go, it works pretty much like you remember. The left stick is for movement, including being able to strafe simply by moving the stick left or right. The right stick is for aiming, the left shoulder button aims, the right fires, cross is for jump, square is for melee, etc. Everything works incredibly well. Controlling the heroes is smooth and responsive. You even get to keep most of your basic moves while using some of the new gadgets that otherwise restrict movement. I can honestly say that I never once had a problem with the controls. That might just be because there was only a couple of moving platform sections in the game though.
The new and improved gadgets in this game are simply awesome. The Grav Tether is pretty sweet. With it, you can create a beam of energy between two points that carries you from one to the other. The catch is that you can only create such a beam by using specific anchor points. The cool thing is that these sections often task you with created multiple beams and/or using other mechanics mid-stream. For example, I had to throw my wrench in order to grab a battery bot that I needed to use at the end of the stream in order to get to the next section. It was great that this was used for more than simple traversal. Improved are the mag-boot sections. You can now leap from one magnetic surface to another, and the game hosts a couple of sections that use this mechanic to its fullest. For example, you get to use them to jump onto a moving spaceship at one point. The best of the gadgets has to be the new jetpack though. While it can only be used in certain sections where there are fuel stations, the jetpack is a blast. The controls are simple. You hold the button to rise, and release it to descend. You can fire weapons and use gadgets as normal when flying, allowing for hectic airborne combat. It also saves time on basic traversal, and makes finding pesky gold bolts a relative breeze. Honestly, the jetpack makes the rest of the series look bad, as it seems like something that should have been a mainstay from the beginning.
For weapons, the game strikes a nice balance between staples and new stuff. For the staples, you have a blaster, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher. New stuff includes the Winterizer, which turns enemies into snowmen, a grenade that sucks enemies into another dimension, and a nifty glove that fires off robots that disguise themselves as your enemy’s worst nightmare. The latter of these is very useful, as frightened enemies ignore you and try to take out the nightmare. This even works on bosses, though they’ll get over it quicker. Each weapon can be upgraded through use, and will eventually unlock new features that make it even more devastating. Mr. Zurkon, the homicidal robot you can summon, returns in this game. As you level him up, more members of his family will join in until you have several wise-cracking robots at your side. When Zurkon tells Junior he’s proud of him after blasting an enemy to bits, you can’t help get all fuzzy inside. Weapons can also be upgraded by spending “raritanium” that you collect. These upgrades provide a number of effects, such as increasing ammo capacity, creating a larger blast radius, and even adding special functions. For example, the Nightmare Glove can be upgraded so that your horrific robots splash enemies with acid. This upgrade is earned only through spending raritanium, and can’t be acquired through normal use. However, new raritanium upgrades become available each time you level up a weapon, which is nice. Overall, this is an enjoyable suite of interesting weapons with which to dispatch your foes.
Another new way to play is a 2D mini-game where Clank enters another dimension. The goal here is to lure a “netherbeast” into a vortex, which causes a localized tremor in your dimension. This will open up a previously blocked pathway. To do this, you’ll have to mess around with gravity. The right analog stick can be used to shift gravity up, down, left, or right. Clank will fly in the desired direction until he reaches ground. However, the real fun is constantly switching gravity so that Clank never even has to touch down. There’s a slight puzzle element to these sections as well. You’ll have to manipulate boxes into locations that open up doors or shift gravity so that a metal plate blocks a laser. It’s nothing too difficult, but it serves as a nice break from the action.
For side activities, a couple of R&C staples return. The first is an arena. While you’ll need to complete the first cup in order to beat the game, the second two cups are optional. However, there’s no reason not to complete them. You get tons of bolts and raritanium for beating them, as well as a nifty item that shows item locations on your map. That item will come in handy for the other optional area. One of the planets is home to the smuggler, and he’ll reward you with bonuses for collecting horns from big enemies. On top of that, you can find vault keys that ultimately give you the ability to buy this game’s version of the infamous RYNO weapon. It’s also a great way to farm bolts/raritanium/experience. You’re free to skip these sections if you want, but there’s no real good reason not to.
The game itself only takes about five to six hours to play through. That’s pretty short, but it is offset by the budget price. Also, you’ll unlock a challenge mode upon completion of the main story. This lets you take all of your gear into a new game, where the enemies are tougher but the rewards are greater. Your weapons can be modified in challenge mode so that you can double their level as well. With the main campaign being so brief, it’s more worth it than ever to replay the game in challenge mode. I started one up immediately, and plan to finish it before I put the game down for good.
As an added bonus, retail copies of the game come with a code for a free copy of Quest for Booty. If you haven’t played that game already, you should, and it’s a hell of a deal. It’s a short but sweet entry that takes place between Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time. I’m sure many missed out on it, which is a shame.
There are a couple of oddities that I should mention. The game had issues with the audio taking a while to load up whenever a weapon reached a new level. Also, the trophy for getting a weapon to level six did not unlock for me. Finally, you have to agree to a Sony’s online user agreement before you play this game, despite there not being any online components to speak of. I’m not sure what’s going on there. These are minor issues to be sure, but they pop up.
Short Attention Span Summary
Into the Nexus is a great game that streamlines the Ratchet & Clank experience into a short but fun ride. The gameplay has been refined to the point of being perhaps the best in the series, the story ties up loose ends left by previous games, and the budget price makes the whole package incredibly hard to pass up. I was worried that Insomniac wasn’t going to put their best foot forward with this game, but they blew me away. If you’re a fan of the series, this is a game you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
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