imageMcCabe says the game has “the same bones” as the film, but it will add lots more story and background to help fill out the 10 to 12 hours of expected gameplay.Polygon

As different as games and film are, the concept of expanding on a story shouldn’t be too difficult to believe. While most games developers and writers are still struggling to get gameplay-heavy works to resonate in a narrative sense, the additional time a player will spend in a game world affords it more moments to add depth to characters and the setting. The Last of Us does a good job with this through some of Ellie’s behaviors – such as playing air guitar during quiet moments – or small little asides discussed in conversation.

Ratchet & Clank, on the other hand, does not do this. The characters of Ratchet and Clank don’t even really have a character arc within the game. Ratchet becomes a Galactic Ranger, and then he goes off on adventures. There’s no conflict that develops between he and Clank, and the one moment of self-doubt he faces is explored through cut-scenes taken directly from the film.

What the game provides is more setting. Ratchet gets to explore more worlds with a variety of sports, creatures, and characters that the film does not have any time to explore. Many of these worlds may as well not even be related. Ratchet will need a piece of equipment on one planet just so he can go to another. Each world is merely a playground for collecting items and using the game’s wide array of weaponry.

Of course, this weaponry really is the main draw. Ratchet & Clank starts a bit slow, but as the player obtains more and more weapons the tactical options and opportunities expand further and further. Use the flamethrower against nearby enemies, toss a Discotron to the heavies in the back before unleashing a series of grenades, and fire rockets to the drop ship coming in from the horizon.

imageAs good as the combat is, it distracts from the story. There’s only a select few levels that feel as if they are thematically building towards a bombastic climax, and then… the player has to go on a side quest to obtain an item for the real final level.

Despite being a linear narrative, Ratchet & Clank has the pacing of an over-world game. The greater threat is supposedly looming just around the corner, when in actuality it is leaning against the wall, tapping its foot, whistling non-chalantly as it waits for the player to get done whatever it is they are doing.

The relationship between game and film is best encapsulated by two moments that could enrich the shared story if they in any way felt connected. Within the story of both game and film, Captain Qwark, who is narrating the tale of the game, becomes jealous of the growing fame of Ratchet. In the film, Qwark’s jealousy seems a bit sudden, but we at least witness the crowd admonishing Ratchet with praise, ignoring Qwark, and all of his merchandising opportunities going to the new Galactic Rangers recruit. We can visibly see why Qwark would become jealous.

In the game, we get none of this. We do get Captain Qwark assigning a suicide mission to Ratchet with the expectation that the protagonist will never return. A mission that does not take place within the film, but would make sense were it to be included. However, there’s no indication within the game that Qwark is doing this out of jealousy. In fact, given later events, it’s quite possible to think there’s something else going on with Qwark altogether. No one on any planet treats Ratchet like a hero. No one asks for his autograph. In particular, there is no evidence within the game that Qwark himself is getting snubbed. So even when, within the game – and via a cut-scene once more stripped right out of the film – Qwark’s jealousy is revealed, we have no real idea as to why. Is Ratchet better than he is? Does he feel upstaged?

For all the scenes from the film that are in the game, they did not include the lone scene that would have indicated Ratchet’s new popularity.

The game and film were supposedly developed simultaneously, sharing assets between the two projects. Visually, it’s quite obvious. Environments in the film and game look consistent with one another, the characters look wonderful, and the animations and voice acting are top-notch and lively.

imageHowever, this is my first time playing a Ratchet & Clank game, and I have to say I feel like I’m very much playing a game based on a movie. Incredibly polished and a lot of fun, unlike most projects of this sort, but the only real relation between the two is the inclusion of scenes stripped from the film reel. The game almost adds a bit more to Qwark’s story, but so many little items and elements that don’t even need to be handled via cut-scene are left to the film.

The shame of it is that Sony failed to market the Ratchet & Clank film effectively. There’s no chance it could have beaten the new Jungle Book at the box office, but considering how long it has been in theaters, coming in below Zootopia on opening weekend is absolutely dreadful. It’s not going to be a huge success and fails to be as funny or heartfelt as How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek, or any Pixar film, but it’s solidly entertaining and a good watch for the family.

Perhaps this attempted synchronized development only reveals the weakness in games as narrative. We already know family animation can make for great art and tell a good tale. There’s no reason such games cannot do this, either. Yet as much as Ratchet & Clank the film apes other animated features, it’s attempted character arcs are too by-the-book. If anything it reveals how shallow these game characters really are. The game itself, then, reveals how little we know about combining gameplay and story together.


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