There comes a point in a developer’s career when you know they’re going to carry on producing decent games till electronics go out of fashion. Insomniac isn’t quite the platinum brand Bungie or Valve is, but the California-based independent has seldom put a foot wrong, quietly washing its hands of Spyro the Dragon before the series nose-dived into mediocrity, and treating PS3 owners to an uneasy but enjoyable marriage of realism and ridiculousness in the form of the Resistance shooters.
The Ratchet and Clank franchise is the studio’s longest-running success story, with nine releases (including the High Impact spin-offs), seven years and over 10 million sales under its belt. In the course of that lifespan high definition graphics have flourished, digital distribution has cast its shadow over brick-and-mortar retail and online functionality has become the norm, yet somehow this lean, lovable action-platformer is the same as it ever was, toying with new possibilities but subordinating them firmly to the age-old thrill of smashing stuff with a novelty wrench.
So it is that Crack in Time, despite its up-to-date prettiness, is still a game about powderising huge chunky piles of shiny objects in order to hoover up still more shiny objects, thus upgrading your (equally chunky and shiny) means of destruction and enabling the delicate process to repeat. It’s a shamelessly tawdry experience, harkening back to an era before gaming knew what it was to be “respectable”, before the cool rounded blues of social networking sites and the sterilised family-friendliness of Mii avatars – back to Spyro’s gemstones and Crash Bandicoot’s crates.
Insomniac has served up some counterspin this time, admittedly: as Ratchet, you’ll break things for Bolts (the series’ plentiful universal currency), but as Clank you can also do so by repairing them. The diminutive ‘bot begins the game in the clutches of gesticulating, would-be universe overlord Dr Nefarious, imprisoned aboard a facility at the universe’s centre called The Great Clock. Clank eventually gets hold of a staff which enables him to reverse time, restoring objects to usefulness. It’s a sly bit of reciprocity – Ratchet trashing the galaxy in search of his friend (alternately aided and hindered by the hilarious Captain Quark), while Clank patches things up at the cosmic timepiece.
Time manipulation also underpins the more severe of the game’s puzzles. In certain areas, Clank can create little “recordings” of himself performing certain sequences of actions to make up for Ratchet’s absence. Simpler scenarios might involve using one temporally displaced copy to weigh down a floor switch while another scuttles through; later on, you’ll have to synchronise the movements of three or four playbacks. Nothing tremendously original, but a nice change from the hover-races and arena battles which comprise Crack in Time’s other, more routine diversions.