IGN Review of Secret Agent Clank
Six years ago, no one had ever heard of a Lombax, a weapon named RYNO, or a sidekick you wore like a metal backpack, but then Ratchet and Clank debuted on the PlayStation 2 and redefined what the world thought a platformer could do. A number of sequels and spinoffs would come from Insomniac's original title, and the majority of them would continue the franchise's legacy of tight gameplay, awesome weapons, and engaging characters.
Sadly, Secret Agent Clank will probably go down as a stumble in the annals of R&C history.
The second R&C-themed PSP title from High Impact Games -- the first being Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters -- Secret Agent Clank tosses the one-liner filled robot into a tuxedo paintjob, gives you an arsenal of more than eight spy-themed weapons, and unleashes you on a world with more than 15 missions and a ton of mini-levels. The overarching storyline has Clank after a gem known as the Eye of Infinity as well as trying to clear Ratchet's name. See, when Clank came to check on the museum-bound Eye, he found Ratchet getting pinched by the fuzz and blamed for the jewel's theft. Stealing priceless artifacts? That doesn't sound like our furry hero, and it'll be up to you to find out what's going on as you take Clank from the heavily guarded halls of the Boltaire Museum to the snowy slopes outside the countess's mansion to the slime-filled canals of Venantonio and everywhere in between as you attempt to clear your friend's name.
Story aside, what will probably shock most gamers is that Secret Agent Clank doesn't play like the typical Ratchet and Clank outing. Whereas previous R&C games were all about rushing into a group of enemies and leveling the opposition with your suped-up weapons, Secret Agent Clank actually rewards you for (and punishes you for not) being stealthy -- at least in the beginning. When Clank comes across a guard robot making the rounds, it's better for the agent to sneak up behind the enemy, perform a stealth takedown -- you'll tap square, a four-button sequence will appear on the screen, and if you pull if off perfectly, you'll take down the baddie without any trouble -- and pocket the bolts the bad guy had.
These Stealth Takedowns are a nice touch but they are far from the only spy additions you'll find. In the Boltaire Museum, there will be empty pedestals in the hallways that Clank can perch himself and pose on so that guards won't spot him. While tracking the Kingpin through a busy marketplace, Clank can grab disguises to wear from vendors or newspapers to hide behind. If a room's packed with bad guys, Clank can break out his Holo-Monocle to capture the likeness of an enemy and mask himself as the character so that Clank can pass through the crowd without being busted.
Now, don't get me wrong -- there are plenty of opportunities for Clank to throw down. When our hero's making his way across the neon-lined rooftops of Asyanica, there will be a ton of ninjas for the agent to practice his Clank-Fu (Yes, Ratchet's sidekick is now an expert at karate kicks and chops.) against, but for the most part, the beginning of the game values Clank acting like a secret agent. If he tries to engage a room filled with hulking robots, he's either going to exhaust his weapon supply or die in battle.
Of course, as you progress through the game, the odds of being able to wipe the floor with a legion of bad guys begins to lean in your favor thanks to the tried-and-true R&C weapon system. As Clank uses his lightning-shooting umbrella and razor sharp tie-a-rangs, the weapons will earn experience and eventually level up to give them more ammo, more damage, and new abilities. If you're using the cufflink bombs and tanglevine carnation -- which goes from simple boutonniere to man-eating plant with the click of a button -- as much as I did, you'll be able to wreck shop by the end of the title.
By the time you get to those end credits, you'll have found that this is hardly a solo title. Although the robot's name is in the title, Secret Agent Clank has you spending healthy chunks of time as the Gadgebots, Ratchet and Captain Qwark. The Gadgebot missions usually pop up when Clank's been incapacitated. The agency deploys the three mini-'bots and you've got to guide them through lever-pulling puzzles to get the big guy free or to the next area. The puzzles are always simple, but they're helping you make it to the bigger picture.
Ratchet's missions all take place in the prison where he is being held. Basically either the warden's trying to make the Lombax's life rotten or an old foe has popped up, and you'll need to take Ratchet through a preset number of bad-guy waves before you've completed the mission. These five Ratchet pieces pop up between Clank's story missions, but if you like, you can keep brawling through each area's additional four Ratchet fights to earn additional bolts to buy more weapons.
Qwark's missions are a rather interesting -- albeit distracting -- addition to the game. A biographer is following the falsified hero around the galaxy as Qwark retells his absurd tales onsite. Every locale the guy shows up at is one that Clank just bested, but Qwark's story has nothing to do with that battle and is just some crazy event the guy in green made up. One has you grow to Godzilla size and battle a loose monster; in another, you need to stop a bunch of cactuses from attacking a dam; and in one, you take part in a Qwark musical that has the "hero" stopping a leak with his left butt cheek.
So, as awesome as the butt cheek musical is, I'm going to start the "bad news" about Secret Agent Clank with this four-pronged story attempt. Frankly, it doesn't work. When I first started playing Secret Agent Clank, I was really, really digging Clank's secret agent antics. Sneaky takedowns, nifty weapons, a robo-tux -- it was awesome. However, these Ratchet and Qwark missions began popping up, and I felt they threw the whole game off track. One minute I'm trying to figure out which guard to take out, and the next, I'm trying to survive a nine-wave onslaught of enemies that are just blindly rushing at me.
Aside from the mandatory Ratchet missions not being creative, they're not fun. Before I upgraded my weapons, these Ratchet missions killed any enjoyment I was having with this game, and even after I was fully upgraded and stood a chance, these missions were still annoying. Having to tap the shoot button and hop around a playing field filled with a never-ending stream of enemies isn't fun -- and when you're killed on the second to last wave because health never reappeared, it's really not fun.
It sucks that I burned out on these shoot-shoot-shoot missions because the extra affairs -- each prison/Gadgebot locale has additional games that aren't mandatory -- are actually cool. One has Ratchet trying to beat a whole bunch of enemies without letting a floating camera catch a shot of him towel-less in the shower and another challenges you to use a different weapon every ten seconds. Why we're forced to play uninspired, frustrating missions while something of value sits on the backburner is beyond me. The overwhelming sense of dread I had for these missions was so severe that I found myself ignoring Clank items when I was shopping. Clank's combat is easy and somewhat nonexistent. Why bother buying weapons for a guy who rarely fights? Instead, I sunk my bolts into Ratchet's weapons so that I could plow through the brain-dead levels and get back to something interesting.
Qwark's stuff can be entertaining, but it just doesn't make sense pacing-wise. I'm trying to make my way through Clank's tale, and then some absurd Qwark thing comes up that isn't going anywhere. High Impact Games lays the groundwork for there to be a connection between Qwark's story and Clank's, but in the end that doesn't happen. Instead, Qwark just pops up and tells us how it's all connected. Aside from being anticlimactic and disjointed, it's a lame explanation.
These Ratchet and Qwark threads are meant to give you a rounded experience, but they're so out of place that they took me completely out of the Clank missions. The game would be building this spy theme, and then it'd get dashed to pieces.
Clank's missions aren't perfect either. In the beginning, the sneaking, Clank-Fu, and vehicle pieces are cool enough, but by the end, the game's just repeating itself over and over again. The first time a rhythm mission is introduced -- you need to tap buttons with the music that's playing to make Clank dance with the countess -- it's cool and totally fits the spy theme. However, by the time you're tapping out the second rhythm in the second part of an excruciatingly long card game, you're over the fun factor. The first time I guided Clank's snowboard down a hill and bumped enemies into trees, I thought it was okay enough. By the time I got to piloting my ship down an alleyway and bumping enemies into miscellaneous junk, I was done with the mechanic.
Eventually, the game seems to tire of its own antics and kind of just tosses its hands up in the air. For the majority of the time you've been sneaking and avoiding fights, but in the end you're forced to fight these blob creatures and you can just run through these golden lasers and use your briefcase blowtorch to cut through the trap the laser deploys. The final boss fight is probably the biggest "Whaaaa?!" moment. You've been playing a game where you really aren't supposed to engage the enemy directly, and suddenly you're tossed into a battle when you have to strafe, leap, and use projectile weapons. You've done nothing like this up until this point so it feels awkward, and you only have a couple projectile weapons so your arsenal feels like it is lacking.
Have fun with that.
One of the complaints a lot of people lodged when they got their hands on Size Matters was that the camera was too zoomed in. That's the same problem you'll see here. I noticed it when I was fighting multiple enemies and jumping around floating platforms. It's not crippling, but it is still way too close -- the bigger problem is the menu system. Like I said earlier, the four playable characters cripple the flow of the game, and the menu screen in between these character changes make it even worse. You'll play a Clank mission, move into a mandatory Ratchet mission, and then get kicked to a menu screen where you can choose to do another prison battle, continue the story, or check out the operatives. If you back out, it's easy to get turned around and lost. This whole system segments the game in such a way that it loses cohesion. Graphically, I thought Clank and some of the levels looked really good, but some look really bland -- you know, blank walls and muted colors. Size Matters definitely was a sharper game.
It should only take you about eight or nine hours to go through all of Clank's missions and every other character's mandatory and optional tasks. There are bolts to find in each level to unlock different costumes, and you can accomplish specific achievements (beat every guard with a stealth takedown, get an enemy to hit himself three times, etc.) to unlock cheats such as big head Clank. These are nice additions, but once you're done with this game, I doubt you'll be back for more.
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