Review by Dentorin
A Decent Game That Doesn't Feel As Good As Before
Although it is the next iteration in the Ratchet and Clank series, Secret Agent Clank takes a small departure from the traditional style of Ratchet and Clank gaming you're used to. Instead of being primarily in control of Ratchet throughout the game you take control of his sidekick Clank, who makes his debut as a primary character in this platformer. Additionally, you'll take on the role of Ratchet for arena battles, Qwark for unusual side-plots to the story and the Gadgebot crew for a number of side missions both related and not related to the story as a whole. The game, while retaining many of the core gameplay elements of its predecessors, takes on a distinctly different feel for large portions of the game that some gamers may enjoy and some may find boring and slightly frustrating.
The game's story follows the standard formula of the series with its zany plot as you follow these separate heroes to the conclusion of the game. Gradually the game ties all the characters together for the ending which takes a small twist to keep things interesting. Perhaps the biggest downside to this and the reason I docked it two points is because you can actually skip parts of the story unknowingly. At any time, you can go back to earlier sections of the game and complete side objectives or look for hidden items. This is a nice feature that should always be available but it is presented in list format. The next activity in the plot is also on that list before you reach it via the story and I've found that, if you select it, it's possible to miss parts of the story. It's a minor glitch, but one that's relatively frustrating. I even found the story scenes playing out of order the first time I played through the game for this reason.
Anyone that's familiar with the Ratchet and Clank series, particularly the last PSP installment should find no surprises here. The camera is controlled by the shoulder buttons and every other action is mapped out to the control stick or face buttons. There's no surprises here and for the most part it works pretty well. My one complaint comes when you're trying to shoot forward at an enemy only to find yourself shooting the camera instead as you try to dodge. Guns like the lacerators allow you to lock onto an enemy, but once that enemy is dead you start shooting in the direction you're running instead of acquiring another target. It's a minor point, but it makes some of the more hectic battles a little irritating and serves to invalidate an already fairly weak weapon as a viable alternative to the more powerful weapons in your arsenal.
I'm including this as a section on it's own because this is what the Ratchet and Clank series is really about: unusual weapons that up and upgrade into more powerful, more unusual weapons. And for the most part, Secret Agent Clank delivers with a series of bizarre weapons like the Pork Bomb Gun, which eventually gains the ability to turn your enemies into aggressive, exploding pigs. In truth, however, a number of the weapons feel like plot advancing gimmicks or underpowered versions of already ineffective weapons. Ratchet's dual lacerators are the first weapon you put your hands on and the last thing you'll find to be effective. You can unload your entire clip of lacerator ammunition into a larger target and still have to switch weapons to finish him off. Similarly, Clank's razor bowtie weapon is only effective against smaller enemies and fails against even the medium-sized enemies. This limitation generally has you avoid using it altogether in favor of weapons that are universally useful. Also, because this game focuses on a more stealth based action, it feels like the weapons are underused and not quite as well thought out. Overall, they're amusing but not without their problems.
I have little to say about the graphics as a whole. They're good, but not visually stunning. They feel like they serve the purpose without adding anything new. The PSP is a poor system for improvement of graphics over a game that has an installment on the PS3 but it does try to keep up with what has been established on the PSP already. Overall, the graphics are neither bad, nor good. I did give it one point over average however because the frame rate was never a problem as it has been in some previous installments of the game.
The game keeps with tradition by focusing on witty and humorous dialogue throughout the entire game. The music, while somewhat bland, generally keeps the tone throughout the game. I only deducted a point from this category because a lot of the voiced dialogue would occur well after the subtitles were up on the screen. Additionally, some of the exclamations during action sections become a little aggravating and repetitive but not enough to drag the game down.
Because there are so many different styles of play in Secret Agent Clank, I've broken the sections into the individual characters and used those scores as a composite score for this entire section.
This is where the game feels like it takes it's largest departure from those that came before it. Instead of running in, guns blazing, the game rewards you for attempting to be stealthy as Clank. In some sections, it even outright requires that you not be caught, despite the fact that they don't make the odds feel all that overwhelming. This means that your fancy upgradeable weapons sit on the side while you try to navigate past guards, executing stealth kills. Stealth kills are a fairly familiar mechanic that have been popping up lately and involves a timed button-pressing minigame to execute a one-hit kill without being noticed. The problem in Secret Agent Clank is that both the minigame and the kill are always the same. And after doing it a few times, you'll likely find yourself getting sick of waiting for it to complete. I greatly preferred running in shooting where the game didn't restrict me from doing so. There are also rhythm minigame portions that have you tapping the required key to a note chart. The first of these was moderately entertaining and seeing the results of each individual section of key-presses is generally amusing but many of these rhythm sections stretch on for entirely too long. Instead of a planet being a level, it could just be an excessively long rhythm game. All in all, Clank's sections are fun for a while moving towards dull. The minigames serve to interrupt the action instead of adding to it and ultimately it feels like they tried to go in too many directions at once and really failed to get anywhere.
The Ratchet sections of this game are excellent, if not a bit short. Ratchet has been put in jail and it's up to him to fight for his survival through a series of arena matches of varying difficulties and intensities. With his ever-upgrading arsenal of weapons and his wrench you battle your way through a series of battles winning upgrades, money and collectibles. Some of the matches can be a little frustrating or difficult, but in the end it really only serves to add to the challenge and gives you some incentive to play the battles again. Leveling up your weapons becomes a treat as you watch them evolve into more powerful versions of what they already were and really only makes you wish that there were more weapons to work with. Some of his lamentably weak weapons end up going mostly unused in favor of weapons that create more mayhem but the weapon selection for Ratchet is decent overall. While I'll grant that this game isn't called Secret Agent Ratchet, these sections of the game were by far my favorite as they remained largely unchanged from previous iterations of the series.
Qwark's sections of the game consist of him arriving just after Clank has saved the day and spinning the tale into something that involved him as the hero. He is followed throughout the game by a robot named Barney who chronicles his misadventures and makes snide remarks along the way. Qwark's sections are basically what you expect from the series: an action-style fighting sequence that involves pummelling large enemies or large quantities of small enemies into submission. Unfortanately, Qwark's arsenal is limited to his punching and his blaster. His sections, while amusing, end up being frustrating to complete. Unlike Clank and Ratchet, Qwark receives no upgrades to his health, weapons or gadgets and ultimately each section with him feels the same as the last. They run certain gimmicks like taking his blaster away or putting him in the position of having to jump on enemies in a Mario-esque style instead of attacking them, but in the end it just feels boring. Playing the Qwark sections of this game really only had the effect of making me wish for more sections with Ratchet.
Personally, I felt like the Gadgebot sections of the game were the most flawlessly executed. Even though it wasn't my personal favorite, this section of the game felt like it had the most polish in respect to what they tried to accomplish. The Gadgebots engage in a series of puzzle challenges that generally involve things like disabling traps, opening locks and generally protecting Clank. These challenges felt like they were few and far between but, unlike the Qwark sections which felt like an unwelcome interruption to the gameplay, these felt refreshing and generally had my attention the entire way through.
Replay Value: 8/10
As with all previous iterations of the series you have the option of taking all of your current weapons and tools with you and restarting the game from the beginning. This is a nice touch because it allows you to keep leveling your weapons and gaining money to buy new upgrades that unlock after the credits have rolled once. There is also a multiplier that puts you on the fast-track to earning enough money to collect all of the weapons. However, it doesn't feel as polished as it has in other games and that may largely be because I had no desire to keep playing by the time I reached the end. Instead of feeling like I could go for some more action with zany weapons I lamented the fact that I would have to go through certain sections of the game again. Additionally, because there are many fewer opportunities to earn large sums of money, it would take quite a few playthroughs to actually collect all of the weapon upgrades. This was not something the experience left me with the desire to do. Also, because of the way some challenges are designed, maintaining your bolt multiplier is more difficult, adding further difficulty to collecting all of the weapons. There are also skill points to unlock for performing certain feats and hidden bolts to find that allow you to unlock extra costumes. These feel like a weaker incentive, however, when compared to the possibility of gaining new and more powerful weapons and are really only for the completionists.
In the end, I felt like the changes they made to the gameplay formula when putting out this game only really served to detract from what they already had. At it's core, Ratchet and Clank has been an action/platforming game and it felt like the developers didn't want to give that up. However, the new additions to the formula felt like they tried to take the game in a few extra directions and ended up falling flat for it's effort. Ultimately, for future installments I'd like to see less of what they did here and more of what's been done in the past. It was a good game, it just wasn't as good as those that came before it.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Secret Agent Clank (US, 06/17/08)
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