Review of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (or simply known as Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction in Europe)
Lombax to the Future series
let me set the scene for you.
It’s late March 2007.
Me and my family skip school and work that morning to help my oldest brother collect his brand new, agonisingly saved up PlayStation 3 system, fresh on the market. Don’t ask me how he could afford a €499.99 machine at the age of 13 but low and behold, he did.
For a while me and him gradually learned how to best make use of it’s then brand new nifty Network store. And since he obviously spent half a million on a generally unpopular machine, he didn’t really have enough games to spend online. So demos of games it was.
I do remember the days of demo discs on the PS2 with them serving as an introduction to games like Ape Escape 2 or Lego Star Wars: The Video Game alongside a small handful of others. But, for the first few months of our ownership of the system, we mainly tried out demos of what the system was capable of handling.
The Simpsons Game, Sid Mier’s Civilisation Revolution, Resistance: Fall of Man, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, all of them demo’s I and or my brother played multiple times for the little black box.
But amidst all of them, he then showcases a brand new Ratchet and Clank game being made exclusively for the system. Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction.
If we’re talking demos, it’s very basic as is allowing the player to watch and play the opening level set in a wartorn Metropolis, try out 2 brand new weapons and 2 new devices as well and just marvel at the new scale and heights the series had reached since jumping from the PS2.
It’s still one of the most nostalgic things from my youth, watching the little cutscene of Ratchet (rocking a new design that I wasn’t a big fan of at first) and Clank dash across the busy Kerwan streets in a scene that could well and truly belong in a oscar nominated Pixar film, to the amount of destruction and energy placed into the Meteor Pads as the camera pans around showing the level of chaos being put on full display. It was truly magnificent.
So you know I had to have that game as my Christmas present that year. And it was certainly quite a wait until then. While I believe we did have a Nintendo Wii in the house at this time (or possibly the christmas I eventually got it), my brother was primarily enjoying games that absolutely scared me for life like Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Call of Duty: World at War’s Nazi Zombie mode, all of it either way, was leading up to christmas day.
And sure enough, it was there. The game case in all its luxurious glory. We didn’t get to properly try out our gifts until after we’d been to mass but when I got I opened the blu-ray box with all of my might and…
There was no disc. I had the case itself but not the disc to play it!
Needless to say that’s one Christmas I’ve certainly not gotten over even to this day and thankfully my mom did eventually get that fixed after St. Stephen’s Day. Yet somehow I never questioned the little Smyths tape that the disc was sealed by when I eventually got it back. And I still believed in Santa at this point.
Well childhood trauma aside, Tools of Destruction was still one of those games I loved back in my youth. It was really the only game I owned for my brother’s PS3 for a while, even if I often found him finishing entire levels for me whenever I reloaded my save file.
I didn’t care because it was fun and yes, if you can’t tell, it’s exactly why I’m warning you now that this particular lookback will be somewhat biased like the R&C 3 review.
Similar to before however, that doesn’t mean that it gets a pass from criticism and I’ve grown up in the 14 years since this game was released. Or at least, I like to think that.
Anyway, without further ado let’s see what the cat and silver bot’s HD debut led from.
Production: Bigger, Faster, Stronger
With the jump to new hardware, it was clear that Insomniac had their work cut out for them. Not only were they learning to develop for the PlayStation 3 for the first time but in another first for the company, they were also working on another series for the console, the previously mentioned Resistance series.
Adding to that being the fact that this generation marked the end of the platformer’s prominence in gaming culture, it’s fair to have doubts now that the studio was in uneven ground and waters ahead.
The first showcase of their talents however would be displayed at the Game Developers Conference in 2006 where a 3 minute long demo of the city Metropolis from Ratchet 1 and 3 was shown working on PS3 hardwire.
It was again, nothing more than a simple proof of concept of what a new title would look like running on the system and for a while not much was known about this little project, simply called: “Ratchet and Clank: Future” according to the end of the demo.
In the background however new steps were being made to fix the new audience they would have by something that was to be a much bigger emphasis with this new start.
Story. Or more rather, lore.
This was, you could say, coming off of the lessons that Insomniac took from Ratchet: Deadlocked which released one year after 3 in 2005 and was the last PS2 game made by the company before Fall of Man came to the PS3 the following year.
Now if that’s the case, some of you might be wondering why I haven’t bothered mentioning it up until now.
I have my reasons, yet something for a future project I think.
Basically to give you the bullet points of Deadlocked, there was much that it tried to do to make a 4th entry in a series that was releasing year after year to remain fresh. And to the team, that involved two things.
Firstly, removing Clank and most of the platforming the series was known for with it and being gritty. Not early Call of Duty levels of grim but from what I remember about the cutscenes with this game, they were certainly more… nihilistic when the first 3 games were relatively more tongue and cheek when it came to references to our culture.
Either way, feeling the need to make up for what one reviewer called “senseless gun porn”, the team felt that returning to the more familiar aspects of the series and essentially created an entire book about the mythology and history of this universe.
This was mainly handled by one T. J. Fixman, who became the lead writer for the rest of the series up until 2016, and encouraged all of his peers whether it be the weapons team or location artists to “embrace world building”, and to more importantly, start asking questions about this world that were often asked by fans.
Slide from Brain Algier and Fixman’s GDC Presentation in 2019. Showcasing the new direction being taken with this series going forward.
So yeah, story was taking a major precedent with this series going forward and this was likely put to its extreme a bit too much as the team originally planned for more than an hour of cutscenes as well both a offline and online mode similar to Up Your Aresenal’s multiplayer alongside way more planets and side content.
All of which had to be scrapped or scaled back early on however because of their equal focus on Resistance, and essentially meant they had to rush the remaining development of TOD in order to be released a few months before the PS3 turned one in 2007.
It also didn’t help as well that this was the PlayStation 3 they were working with here. Without going into details, Mark Cenry the lead architect for the PlayStation Vita, 4 and 5 best summaries this in his “Road to PlayStation 5” presentation in March last year.
Getting a game to run on the original PlayStation took about 1–2 months. The PS2? 3–6 months. But the PlayStation 3? 6 months to a year at most. You see the problem?
But despite a hard learned lesson, a new focus for the series and nearly rushing the game out to stores, how did their new direction ultimately fare?
Story: So long Solana, Presenting Po-. You get the idea…
High above the buzzling streets of Kerwan’s Metropolis (with a music cue that always makes me smile nostalgically), Ratchet is seen testing out his new creation, the nuclear powered rocket sled with Clank reluctantly choosing to come along.
While running tests and readjusting the engines, Clank receives a call from Quark from Kerwan’s Planetary Defence Centre, warning that he has seen a large number of “heavily armed robotic commandos” roaming around the city with him basically saying he needs help.
One death-defying trip and somehow surviving a nuclear powered bike being crashed (it’s almost like they don’t care about realism) the two eventually go on foot through the city, encountering a lot of the same commando’s that Quark was so scared of.
They’re eventually cornered by the army and are personally greeted by one Emperor Percival Tachyon hailing from the Polaris Galaxy.
He tells the pair, but mainly Ratchet, that he has chosen to invade Kerwan after learning that Ratchet is the last lombax in the entire universe and wants him deader than dead. And though they eventually hijack the Emperor’s personal shuttle, both Clank and Ratchet eventually wake up on the planet Cobalia, right in Tachyon’s domain in the Polaris Galaxy.
After making a deal with a shifty smuggler named… The Smuggler, being dropped by the character in an attempt to escape Imperial pursication and finding an escape pod, they end up landing on the Planet Fastoon once owned by the Lombax’s.
And using a long abandoned ship called the Aphelion, reunite with Quark who has now become the Emperor’s representative after he was abducted.
Not even a few minutes later, the team end up encountering three new party members, Talwin Apogee and her retired warbots Cronk and Zephyr.
Talwin’s father, the famed explorer Max Apogee, was a collector of ancient Lombax artifacts but disappeared after getting into some trouble with Space Pirates and his interest in the fabled “Lombax Secret”.
Some more stuff happens including meeting Captain Romulus Slag (voiced by Metal Gear and No More Heroes VA Robert Atkin Downes, that was pretty cool to find out a few years back) which eventually leads the party of 6, excluding Quark, to learning of this massive secret. The Dimensantor.
See, centuries prior the Cragmites, the species that Tachyon identifies as, were responsible for polluting and destroying most of the planets in Polaris until the Lombax’s challenged them into what became known as the “Great War ‘’ between the two specisis.
With the war entering a stalemate however, the Dimensantor was created by 8 of the smartest minds the Lombax race had ever known with the ability to open up interdimensional rifts. This helped secure the war when the Lombax’s used the device to banish the Cragmites to a far off dimension where no one could reach them.
But some time afterwards, a Cragmite egg was found on the Kreeli Comet by Lombax Miners, frozen after being long forgotten. And despite their best intentions, when they eventually chose to help foster this young Cragmite they would inadvertently end up being exterminated by their own adopted son,
Tachyon, after learning of what happened to the rest of his kind, then chose to exterminate the entire Lombax race, with most accounts ending there. And Tachyon is revealed to be looking for the Dimensantor for his own personal gain.
Some more stuff happens until the team finally locate the contraption… which is immediately stolen by Captain Slag, he’s blown up by Ratchet after a long pursuit then Quark shows up out of nowhere and accidentally ends up handing the Dimensantor to Tacoyn allowing him to bring back his murderous species from their banishment.
Eventually though the party, excluding Quark again, tracks the Emperor back to Fastoon where he reveals that the Lombax’s also used the Dimensantor on themselves as refuge away from Tacoyn’s purge.
But the only way that could work would be for the keeper of the device to stay behind. That was Ratchet’s father with Ratchet himself being sent off to Solana just in time while his dad… wasn’t so lucky.
After trying and failing to coerce Ratchet into joining the rest of his tribe, Tacoyn is eventually defeated and sent flying down a black hole in another far off dimension.
The day is saved, again again again again. But seemingly out of nowhere the Zoni shows up and-. Wait, do I need to talk about these guys two?! <sigh> One moment…
Basically, in between the duo’s galvatating across Polaris, Clank regularly receives guidance from a mysterious group of aliens called the Zoni. They have the ability to time travel, give visions of the future and upgrades to Clank such as a pair of wings known as the Gyro-Wings and a laser beam to cut through surfaces through the Geo-Laser.
But up until now, they are only seen by Clank with Ratchet being very skeptical about his friend’s new knowledge.
Anyway, the Zoni properly make themselves known to everyone and seemingly snatch Clank right in front of Ratchet with him unable to break the hold they have in him. Clank is teleported away without any word or warning. Leaving Ratchet and the rest of the crew speechless and mournful.
I mean…. Phew! That took me way longer than I needed to. When I was thinking of the plot inside of my head it sounded coherent enough but when I considered all the little intercracies and important elements of the story, I think I can safely say the team’s focus on expanding the history of this universe was put on full force.
And thankfully, for as long as that summary took me to make, new elements of lore are introduced gradually to help flesh out a lot of motivations between the cast.
While Ratchet may not want to know much about the Lombax Secret at first, we learn through character relations and tidbits here and there of the motivation for characters like Talwin and Percival, what they want and what upbringing they had that defines them as the characters of this story.
And that extends to a small gameplay feature the team included with this title in the form of dialogue trees. Up unto this point the series certainly had elements of Role Playing Games built into its core like the use of economy, weapons made for certain scenarios as well as upgradable health and weapons in a style similar to RPG Experience Points (EXP).
Here now, at certain points in the story the player will have the option to ask several NPCs over the game questions about the Polaris galaxy and some of the other aspects around it. Such as early rumors about how Tachyon was born, the Emperor’s personal guard, the Droploids that Ratchet fights against throughout the story and different races like the Kerchu.
They kind of look like pissed off squirrels and are mentioned early on by The Smuggler in one such dialogue option for their great building skills but also a strong level of distrust and hoarding of technology from outsiders.
This also extends to the fate of certain characters like how the Aphelion was shot down during the Emperor’s purge while her pilot was defending the Court of Azimuth or how despite being mentioned several times over the story, the whereabouts of Max Apogee is still largely unconfirmed to this day. Which I’m actually fine with.
While it would have been nice for Talwin to get some finality on the relationship with her long missing father, I think there was a chance that it could have hijacked the narrative given how famed he is in this galaxy.
Maybe like a Uncharted Lost Legacy styled side-game over that with Talwin as the main character? I’d be down for that.
On the topic of characters as well, there’s a part of me that isn’t quite sure what to make of Tacogyn. One half makes me think that he has a goofy personality and hysterics that makes him a bit too similar to Nefarious while another thinks he makes up for that by his utter hatred for the Lombax species and unlike the robotic doctor, it’s given actual meaning when you consider his backstory and what happened to the rest of his Cragmite brethren.
Now as for Ratchet and Clank individually, we get new aspects to their backstory that we had not seen previously in this series. Ratchet’s is mainly that around his identity and where the location of his kind is which I can understand.
We were essentially told the bare minimum about him in the first game as simply being “he’s a cat looking creature called a Lombax who lives in the Solana galaxy” and that’s about it.
Here though we actually see the level of impact the Lombax race had on the rest of the Polaris galaxy. I think personally that I wouldn’t mind seeing characters reacting more surprised to Ratchet’s presence, being the last of a persecuted specisis.
Almost everyone he interacts with behaves as if seeing one like Ratchet is a regular occurrence, which feels contradictory to the lore I think.
And as for Clank, well, the Zoni see him as a sort of messiah and want to protect him with their lives. For what reason though, is never given (gotta leave some lore threads for the sequel) but the fact that the Zoni are seen only to Clank causes some tension with Ratchet.
Seeing how Clank cites a mysterious time traveling race that others can’t see, I can understand his judgement but he somehow takes his visions and improvements given to Clank from the time benders as illogical.
This is really the first time since Ratchet 1 where the core duo have a falling out with each other but it feels slightly undeveloped and something that could have had a bit more effort placed in.
But as is tradition, it’s time to talk about plot holes with this story.
Firstly, it’s stated by Tacogyn before his final showdown that Ratchet’s father was the keeper of the Dimensonator and was required to stay behind to make sure the rest of his kind would be able to escape to another dimension, with Ratchet being sent off to Solana… some time before then.
Right, I don’t mind this scene but it feels a little bit counterproductive doesn’t it? If Ratchet’s father wanted to protect his son then why not send him off with the rest of the Lombax’s in that other dimension? Wouldn’t he put his son in more jeopardy by keeping him in the same universe as a genocidal maniac?
And on that, what happened to the Dimensonator after it’s protector was killed? We aren’t told anything about this before the massive fight and it still feels like a bit of plot inconsistency. What would have stopped Tacogyn from using the Dimensonator then and there?
But really, that’s all I have with the story. For as expansive as it is, I have to give credit to both Fixman and Insomniac for going down this lore centric route. It may have knocked a few weeks off of my life trying to best summarise the events but I still think it’s a valiant,well made effort and the start of this series’ future.
Okay… I’m done talking about the story… For now at least. Let’s just talk about the gameplay.
Gameplay: The tools! The destruction! The… of!
Once more we control a walking cat with a robot to his back traveling across another new galaxy in the form of Polaris.
There was the prelude level set in Metropolis that I mentioned previously by starting with Planet Cobala, all of the locations in this new slice of the universe are naturally brand new. And to give the team credit, while 5 games in a series is likely to cause some feeling of deja vu, many of the new locations are actually pretty distinct from both each other and previous planets seen in Solana or Bogon.
Mukow is one such destination that comes to mind. Not just because it’s home to this game’s version of the arena, The Imperial Fight Festival, but also there’s something strange but appropriate about the arena being held on a planet that’s always raining that also has a carnival atmosphere with large bridges and ferris wheels in the background and foreground.
It does seem a little bit jarring putting the two together but I think it reflects a lot of what the Emperor’s rule largely embodies. But yeah, the contrast is pretty strange.
Following that the Nundac Asteroid Ring is an interesting location in that, as the name implies, we aren’t on a single planet but rather a collection of loosely strung together rocks floating in space.
Here we get the opportunity to also use teleporter cannons dotted along each rock which Ratchet can use to warp from one to the next all while fighting Leviathan Beasts (more on those later).
It’s also noteworthy for having the Apogee Space Station at the centre of its orbit which not only has a difficult walkway to get there but inside, the more homely look of the station with lush green planets, dense water and allocated security droids patrol the corridors is in stark contrast to the journey to get there. An interesting design choice.
There’s a couple more I could mention like Sargasso home to a former Advanced Lombax Research Facility during the days of the Great War, now overrun with it’s own Leviathan’s to deal with, to the various pirate controlled locations like Ardolis or the Kreeli Comet but hopefully you can get an idea of the variety on display here.
To follow up from that, I also appreciate how the devs were able to wove dialogue between characters in between gameplay. This was something seen previously with Helpdesk messages and tutorials given by other characters in past games but there feels like a lot more dialogue in general made for these in between journeys before or after a cutscene.
These can range from police chatter by Tacgyon’s army tracking Ratchet’s progress in a planet controlled by the imperialis, allies like Quark or Cronk exposing personal history or helping to set up the next encounter to something as small as Ratchet and Clank having a casual conversation in between missions.
Whether that be Clank remarking that teleportation devices make him feel ticklish to the pair commenting on the Apogee Space Station’s fondness for easy to dodge laser grids, seeing Clank simply talk in a casual way to Ratchet with him glancing to face his backpack is a small detail that’s easy to overlook but one I do so enjoy. It helps solidify their relationship as friends without us being told how close they are, which I really like.
Plus much like Nefarious, even when a level doesn’t feature much in Tacoyn as a whole, his presence is felt on a lot of the planets that Ratchet travels through. On several levels, large monitors showing Tacoyn speaking personally will address his response to Ratchet’s progress and I honestly couldn’t see myself enduring that in real life.
Like one of his broadcasts has him share a haiku he made about how much Ratchet will die by his hand.
And as a former poet myself, he may need to improve on that messaging a bit more.
My only issue with these brief dialogue cues though is that there’s no option for subtitles in between normal gameplay. And I don’t know about you but I would rather not stop what I’m doing in the middle of a firefight just to hear some minor character development. The option to have it during these sections would have been nice at the very least.
Now, the weapons and gadgets. These have certainly been given an upgrade.
Well firstly, since this is a new galaxy, we naturally have a new provider of weapons this go around in the form of Gummelnet. They serve about the same purpose as previous vendors in the series but with the inclusion of voice over with an oddly comforting or reassuring Boston accent and the ability to add further upgrades to weapons.
Raritanium is a resource that Ratchet could acquire previously in other games like a side quest in Ratchet 1 or ship upgrades for its sequel but you can gather it by defeating certain enemies which can then be used to buy specific upgrades to your various guns.
The upgrades available vary depending on the item but they can include more damage, increased fire rate, larger ammo clip or more bolts or raritanium with each enemy beaten.
When you have enough upgrades purchased on a specific tree of the upgrade list, you’ll have the option to buy a weapon specific mod for that gun.
Weapons like the Fusion Grenade (one of the first two weapons Ratchet starts with) can have the Concussion Detonators upgrade that causes smaller cluster bombs to form with each thrown grenade or with the Razor Claws, a new melee weapon that basically allows Ratchet to go all Wolverine on someone with the ability to do more damage with each successfully landed attack, can have it’s same combo potential increased further with the Fission Accelerator upgrade.
While on the topic of vendors, the armor vendors return as usual but new to the series are device vendors. These sellers offer similar weapons to the main weapons vendors with the major catch being that these can’t be acquired normally through ammo crates and can’t be upgraded with continuous use. They are essentially seen as free passes designed to make your life a little easier while encouraging you to use them wisely.
However personally, there feels to be no real reason to use these particular tools. Don’t get me wrong devices like the Groveitron which allows you to throw out a disco ball that can cause enemies to dance uncontrollably and leave them open for pot shots or Mr. Zurkon being a trash talking bodyguard that simply wants everyone around him dead are both great, but because of their scarcity and their inability to be upgraded, I find myself asking why would I use them often unless I really need to. Making it feel like experimentation that didn’t quite pan out well.
Now, there is a particular hurdle I want to address right now. And while I think this game is great as is, there’s definitely some issues that I have with it.
Mainly, the gimmicks.
Compared to the variety in 1 or 2, TOD is aware of how best to bring or space out a new system into the mix such as the returning space battles, which are now kind of like Star Fox meets Disneyland Shooting Galleries against space pirates but there are some gadgets that are just… pointless in the grand scheme of things.
Firstly, for story reasons you need to fight two separate battles in the arena on two occasions to gain some new gadgets for the job. The heli-pods which can be thrown onto specifically marked doors or targets to them up and pirate Holo-guise used for unlocking pirate locked doors. And both are dropped pretty early on.
I mean the Holo-guise is used on two separate planets but the Heli-pods? After the tutorial, they are only used for one level in the entire game and that is it. Variety isn’t bad in my view but if it’s going to take up a necessary slot in my inventory it better prove it’s worth throughout the story.
Then there’s the unpolished nature of the title. Now I don’t know if this is due to the age of the disc, but my copy of this game had a lot of unusual graphical oddities surrounding it.
Stacked bolt crates suspended in mid air after their base was destroyed, spare ammo rounds vibrating rapidly against a hard wall, the pricing of some weapons early on jumping considerably, the line of the returning Swingshot gadget glitching up after I latch onto a successful target to some enemies like the raiders on Planet Fastoon or the lower ranking Cragmites getting stuck in walls after they’re killed and essentially stuck in their last frame like they’re in suspended animation.
Thankfully there wasn’t an instance where enemies getting stuck after dying caused a softlock on my progress but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these bugs were the result of Tools of Destruction’s rushed development near the end of production.
But finally, there’s the new tech gimmicks. Mainly, the Six-Axis controller.
So as I already stated, this game launched just on time near the end of the PlayStation 3’s first fiscal year in the US market while the original Ratchet and Clank launched on the PS2’s second year.
Meaning, as a short of unwritten rules for game’s early on in the console’s life, there’s some forced implementation of gimmicks. In this case, the brand new Six-Axis controller which essentially allowed you to control items or entire games by tilting the actual controller in the desired direction.
I should state though that emphasizing a gimmick isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flower, a digital title for the PS3 store released one year after Tools of Destruction and you play the entire game including it’s PS4 and Vita re-releases by tilting the controller to guide a collection of flower pelts. Yet despite the unorthodox method of control, it’s still one of my favorite games ever for its atmosphere, music and accurate ability to direct the gush of pelts.
However, in a game like Ratchet, the moments it tries to include motion controls such as the returning halo jump sections, the inclusion of the Decryptor (the trespasser/hacker styled gadget of the week), both of Clank’s Zoni upgrades and on top of that, the Tornado Launcher and Visi-Copter a weapon and device that the player can use, were all made with the express interest that they be controlled by tilting the controller.
And I don’t know about you but suddenly needing to swirl my controller around for the Decryptor puzzles or worry about the direction of a portable tornado is very unusual for a title primarily played using analog sticks. Thankfully, and I kind of wish the game told me about this, but there’s an option to turn off Six-Axis support in the game’s options menu and control all of the previously mentioned gimmicks with the analog stick (except the Tornado Launcher and one other thing I’ve forgotten about). But I still feel their inclusion felt very forced and unnecessary.
Conclusion: Roadmap of what’s to come…
Okay, there’s a couple of things I want to ramble on about but this lookback needs to end at some point so I’ll just summarize now.
In conclusion, it’s actually been very fascinating getting to revisit one of my favorite games as a child with a slightly unbiased eye.
Back then, I’m willing to bet that I would have glanced over a lot of the issues I have with it now like some of the plot holes, the forced motion controls and the sometimes buggy presentation of the title but I still think that for what was essentially a soft reboot of the entire series, Insomniac delivered on that and then some.
Not only did it give the franchise a new interconnected outlook with how creatures, culture and creations of carnage are all related to each other, it makes this universe feel a lot more lived in and that almost everything was planned for expansion. And in the case of the Zoni, The Court of Azimuth and the Technoids, they were most certainly made for further development later on.
It may have it’s problems but for essentially the first part in a new trilogy for the series going forward, it was certainly able to lay a strong foundation for the remaining titles in the future saga and titles to look at with glowing respect.
Which is exactly the complete opposite about what I feel with our next entry.
First drafted April 11th 2021
Last edited June 3rd 2021