Welcome Back Games – Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty
Our review from issue 170
With the PlayStation Store back up and running you’re probably trying to decide which of the free games Sony is offering you would be the best to grab. To help you out we’re posting our original reviews of all five of the PS3 titles being made available.
Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty
Yet the quest for innovation struggles on
If we were in Insomniac’s shoes, we’d put the Ratchet & Clank series to bed. Four PS2 games, two PSP titles and a PS3 release is more than enough, thank you, and with no great innovation in any of them, we’d assume that it’s time to move on. At the very least, we’d consider revamping the series into a Mario-rivalling, Pixar-looking platform champion, instead of churning out the same hi-res PS2 shod on a bi-yearly basis. Still, we don’t live in Imaginationland, so we’ll likely be cursed with games like Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty for a while, unless sales take a deserved crash through the floor.
The format of Quest For Booty differs from last year’s Tools Of Destruction, though, which works in its advantage. Presented in a kid’s-movie-like package, with only four hours of gameplay and a lean price tag, Quest For Booty is a much more digestible offering than its bigger brother. It only contains a few different environments, spread out over four chapters, while the story is appropriately low-key for the game’s life span.
Despite being an all-new release, it does, for better or worse, recall many of Tools’ features. In its favour, Ratchet’s ever-fascinating arsenal makes a substantial return, while the rail-grinding sections remain a fun, if simple diversion from running and jumping. It’s still a carefree, happy-go-lucky experience, even though the enemies and puzzles are frustratingly loyal to established Ratchet hallmarks.
On the rare occasion that it experiments, however, Quest For Booty has a certain amount of charm; a clever shadow puzzle makes intelligent use of Ratchet’s ability to magnetically shift objects, and a cocktail mixing task, involving colour co-ordinated clues from a thirsty pirate, is a semi successful departure from inanely turning screws to activate lifts. These infrequent dabbles into experimentation are short-lived, though. Quest For Booty is almost always predictable – when a puzzle surfaces, the solution is obvious, because the game insists on letting you know how everything works. We understand that Insomniac is catering to a younger audience, but are children really that immune to learning curves?
The combat remains shallow and flawed. Ratchet & Clank would really benefit from a proper third-person interface, but Quest For Booty maintains a haphazard lock-on system that has long been outdated by contemporary titles. Holding a shoulder button and hitting Square just doesn’t give you the same level of control as a proper, two-stick system. Granted, Ratchet is half platform game, half shooter, but only one of those genres is reaching its potential in Quest For Booty.
In highly populated sections that require a lot of quick kills, the gunplay is noticeably lacklustre. One scenario, for example, sees Ratchet facing multiple pirates on a beach, while evading cannon fire from an enemy ship. During this situation, evading enemy attacks from every angle gets too hectic, as the controls aren’t built for these types of battles. Given Insomniac’s penchant for erratic checkpoints, the section has to be repeated from the start if Ratchet dies; in a way, you feel like you’re paying for Insomniac’s mistakes, rather than your own.
For kids, though, the tone of Quest For Booty is light enough to cover the cracks. While its script rarely swerves from sounding like a misunderstood, unfunny Pixar effort, the story is at least well told through a series of cartoon sequences, which matches the pirate theme to a tee. The voice acting is over the top in a really grating way, but we’re assuming that kids enjoy that crap more than we do.
We don’t exactly resent the graphical stylings of the game, but the feeling that we were playing an optimised PS2 title lingered, as it did with its predecessor. Ratchet’s character model looks great – like in Tools Of Destruction, it’s possible to make out the individual spikes of fur on his ears, which is an impressive touch. Enemies and environments are basic and limp, though, and don’t represent nearly the same level of effort. There’s a lot of give and take, with Quest For Booty’s visuals. For every great lighting effect or animation, there’s an ugly patch of land with almost no detail at all, or a lazily designed NPC with a generic ‘cartoony’ appearance. Insomniac wants to create a game with the look and tone of a Pixar film, but it doesn’t seem that bothered about carrying it out successfully.
Most of Ratchet & Clank’s problems stem from same, basic error. Quest For Booty is undeniably a throwback to the PS2 era of platform games, in spite of the new hardware and almost episodic format. While Ratchet & Clank is more welcome in four-hour bursts than 12-hour slogs, we’re worried that this has given Insomniac another reason to downsize its ambitions. Quest For Booty is brief, and the small, repeated environments are a somewhat unfortunate reflection of this. Sadly, four hours of Ratchet & Clank is still less entertaining than half an hour of any Mario game.
At four hours long, Quest For Booty doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it’s devoid of ambition, as is customary with the series. Ratchet & Clank is beginning to feel like a licensed franchise, but without the licence.