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Published February 4, 2010

Every year or two, Insomniac drops another Ratchet & Clank upon us, and every time, I tell myself that I’m done with the series. Platformers have always captured my imagination more than any other genre, and it’s not as if the series’ trademark funky guns/double jumping formula doesn’t work. But with the first two Future games – Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty – something felt off. They were well-made and came close to the idealized Pixar visual standard, but the action itself hadn’t evolved much since the PS2 days. You can only strafe around so many aliens before you begin to long for something more. And with A Crack in Time, we finally got just enough new content to justify picking up the OmniWrench once again.

However, this isn’t immediately apparent when the game starts up. Despite amassing a half-dozen incredible arsenals over the years, Ratchet begins with yet another pea-shooter and bomb glove, while Clank has his own segments that seem far-removed from the rest of the adventure. The latter sections hint at some time-bending puzzles to come, but the extent of this new style doesn’t become apparent until a few hours of play.

The Future trilogy started out exploring Ratchet’s lombax roots before separating the titular heroes in the second downloadable installment. A Crack in Time picks up with Clank defending a clock tied to the heart of the universe and Ratchet hot on his trail. Ratchet is aided by a fallen lombax hero, General Azimuth, who believes he can use this “Great Clock” to right the wrongs of the past. Once you get past some early tedium, this clock reveals itself to be one of the game’s biggest innovations.

Like indie gem Braid and the upcoming The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, A Crack in Time allows Clank to record copies of himself. Early puzzles are pretty obvious; an early example might have Clank using a recording to hold down a switch so that he can pass through a door. But these segments later require a reliable thinking cap, as the number of switches and obstacles between Clank and the door increase dramatically. Though all of these rooms can be solved with a little patience and keen observation, it’s impressive that Insomniac was able to integrate such intricate puzzles into a series known for shooting first and thinking about it never.

Ratchet’s segments, which make up the bulk of the game, have also been upgraded. While the planetside stuff is familiar – move from point A to point B while buying an upgrading weapons – the spaceship rides in between are no longer so linear. There are four or five different sectors to which you can warp, and each one has its own sidequests, hidden items and mini-levels that you can explore whenever you want. This galaxy isn’t exactly a sandbox, but it’s more open than any other R&C games.

And while the guns are pretty ordinary – even the belching monster gun, by series’ standards – the new rocket boots allow you to speed through battles with newfound agility. Many planets have been designed as jet boot obstacle courses, and you have a level of control not seen during lame rail-grinds.

By the end of the game, most of the minor blights associated with the series are erased. Even the storytelling improves. While I’ve recently said that Ratchet is to Dreamworks as Sly Cooper is to the more heartfelt Pixar, I found the lombax’s loyalty to Clank to be endearing. Ditto for Azimuth; you see his arc coming a mile away, but his final sacrifice is still well-executed. Hell, series’ ne’er-do-well Qwark even helps out for a change.

Without spoiling anything, I can say that Future concludes on a high note, and I’m eager to see where Insomniac goes from here. This universe is far more colorful than the one established in Resistance, and the time-related tomfoolery could probably be expanded into its own game. With infinite stretches of space for a canvas, Insomniac could take Ratchet & Clank into any direction from here.

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