Despite easily being one of the best entries in the series, I remembered next to nothing about Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction.
I don’t know how.
It’s goddamn marvellous.
NOTE: I said I’d write about Ratchet: Gladiator (Ratchet: Deadlocked in the US) after R&C2016 but I got bored in the first twenty minutes and gave up. So I just skipped to the Future series instead.
Compared to R&C2016, being the first of a new generation, Tools of Destruction was a genuine progression of the series. Nothing especially dramatic, it’s all iteration and polish, but you see updates in almost everything, from gameplay to weaponry to story. It brought the series closer to a classic light-hearted space adventure that more closely resembles the original, but with a story that’s more personal and affecting than any before it.
Unlike Going Commando (2), Up Your Arsenal (3) or Gladiator, Ratchet and Clank aren’t space heroes coated in militaristic sci-fi tech on an ongoing quest to Save the Universe this time. They’re just civilians living their lives. I love the space-opera heroism of 2 and 3 (2 is straight-up Gremlins and I love it) but the change is refreshing regardless. Their heroic background isn’t discarded but it isn’t a core part of their characters like the originals.
Instead, TOD takes a step back from the tech and weapon fetishisation that characterised the series beforehand to refocus on the heroes themselves — on Ratchet’s background as a Lombax (which wasn’t covered in the originals), while hinting at an alternate destiny for Clank (followed-up on in Crack of Time). It re-establishes (and likely ret-cons) the Lombax as a sophisticated race that mysteriously vanished from the universe altogether, following Ratchet and Clank as they uncover why and how this happened, with some genuine character development for Ratchet as he finally confronts his heritage.
Part of what’s so impressive about TOD’s writing to me, as a fan, is how this new backstory manages to fit into the wider series: Ratchet never knew his Lombax background because he was left alone in an entirely separate galaxy from Lombax’s. But it also doesn’t make Ratchet a ‘prince’ of any sort or make the Lombax central to the broader series: Ratchet is simply someone who, given the opportunity, seeks to learn his heritage in the midst of saving the universe yet again. The Lombax were heroic and important by virtue of their advanced civilisation, who weren’t fated to do what they did. It adds a fulfilling background for Ratchet – a descendent of an advanced race who sacrificed their home for others, tying neatly into Ratchet as a both a hero and a tech-minded individual, without redefining him altogether.
Aside from the story, TOD holds up well.
Visually, TOD is surprisingly striking, with vibrant colours and a surprising lack of glaring geometry. With its polished and charming art direction and impressive lighting for 2007, it still looks genuinely fantastic, especially compared to other PS3 launch era titles. The tiniest of touches, but the real-time physics added to cascading bolts was a nice addition.
TOD also has of the best weapon casts of the R&C series, where almost every one is distinct and fun to use (except for the main blaster Combustor, which is so notably weaker than every other weapon). They’re somewhat tiered this time – it isn’t explicit, but after certain points, an entire group of weaponry will become relatively-useless, pushing you to move on to a new weapon. It makes sense, encouraging players (by force) to check out other weapons instead of sticking to only a couple the entire way through.
Admittedly the consumable weapon system – essentially gadget grenades that exist separately to the main weapon cast – adds very little, but they hardly hurt the game when they’re so accessory.
The Clank sections this time are fun little jaunts but, compared to the rest of the series, offer very, very little in the way of puzzles or much else.
Clank’s central tools this time around are mysterious little alien-ghost-things called Zoni; they’re like being given three keys and figuring out which one works — and that’s it. Sounds harsh but at the very least they don’t outstay their welcome. Compared to R&C2016 (I can’t remember the others well enough at this point), as strong as the puzzles, at least they don’t slow the game’s climax to a crawl for twenty minutes and I’m thankful for that (considering the decent-to-strong narrative in TOD).
I’ll finish on the one genuine holdover from the previous generation: sparse checkpoints. I tend to forget how much better checkpoints are today: TOD’s aren’t especially annoying, but they definitely remind you of the half-level restarts of the games of olde, and how quickly games switch from fun to frustrating. But this is rare: by 2007, R&C games were a well-oiled machine of a format in its level design and balance and TOD definitely benefited from that.
TOD was a glorious Ratchet & Clank game I’m very happy I replayed – and next up is the pirate-y one I never played, Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, which bridges the gap between Tools of Destruction and 2009’s A Crack in Time.