Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ratchet and Clank (2016): the game

[Update: thoughts on the movie are at the bottom]

Most remakes attempt to fix what isn't broken, and thus end up breaking it. Ratchet and Clank (2016) is no exception.

There's a difference between following a format and following a formula. Let's face it. After Crack in Time, the R&C games have been forgettable and mediocre at best. All their games through Crack in Time felt like a format, and each one told a new story and did new things with gameplay using that format. Ratchet and Clank (2016) is the first time the series feels like a formula. It is lifeless, going through the motions, nothing unexpected, watered-down gameplay for the sake of attracting a new audience. An unnecessary remake of the past that has no character progression, squandering a good story by telling it through infobots instead of interacting characters. It forgets to tell the story at all!



The problem I have with the new Ratchet and Clank is that it's a remake of the original PS2 game. I didn't want a remake. I wanted the story to move on. I suppose it's the safest thing to do when making a movie based on your intellectual property: adapt a game that's already out instead of coming up with a new game, but they did not tell the story better this time.

In the original 2002 game, Ratchet doesn't really care about what's happening. Chairman Drek is stealing pieces of other planets to make a new world for his people, and we find out at the end Drek's company polluted their planet in the first place, so he made money destroying the planet, and then sells them the solution. (This isn't a spoiler; it's explained in-game on the back of a trading card you find before you even reach the point in the story when it's revealed!) Simple, easy, we know it up front, but Ratchet isn't interested because it doesn't affect him. He doesn't start off as the hero, but as a rather selfish person living an ordinary life. It's only at the end of the story that he gets invested in what's happening and becomes a hero.

The new game's story is basically the same thing, but it tries to save the big plan for a reveal at the end. It could have worked, but Drek doesn't have enough of a presence in the game to be a good villain. The rest of the story is so rushed i barely knew anything was happening. You know it's phoned in because a character has to explain the reason for Quark's betrayal when it happens, and we all saw it coming a mile away.

And the twist at the end comes out of nowhere... If you've played the previous games, you have a feeling it's coming, but we don't know why it's happening here, what the motivation is, or anything. Hell, I barely comprehended what Drek was doing. The story is so rushed and poorly shown it may as well not even be there.

Ratchet and Clank do not get to know one another here. They rarely speak to one another, so there is no spark of connection between the two. In this remake, Ratchet starts off as a hero, and he never changes. He's young and naive, and he seems to stay that way through to the end. There's no progression of character, no development. Watching this Lombax change from a selfish jerk into a hero in the original game was way more satisfying than watching this new version of Ratchet fulfill his dream of being a soldier for the galactic army.

The humor is largely absent. What few jokes are in the game are stale and lack any timing. Most have been done before.

The in-game cutscenes are lifeless. Even the cinematic cutscenes are flaccid. They're not as animated as they were in the PS3 games. Hell, they had more life in the PS2 games! In the PS3 games, they are full of expression and gestures. The in-game cutscenes were indistinguishable from the cinematic ones the quality of animation was so good. In their first PS4 adventure, you can practically see the rigging that yanks the corners of their mouths up and down, and characters stand straight as poles as they talk! They are lifeless and rigid. This is supposed to be a reboot, but graphically it looks like a step back.

I don't understand how they could fuck this up. The story was already there! All they had to do was tell it as it was, maybe change it so Ratchet becomes invested in the story sooner, update the level design to make it more organic and less like an obstacle course, add strafe, and there's your game and movie!

They made a successful transition from PS2 to PS3 in Tools of Destruction. That was the first R&C game I played, and I liked it even though I was unaware of the events of the previous games. They could have done something like that for the PS4 transition: make a new game that doesn't rely so heavily on the events of the previous installments so new players can pick it up and play. Instead, they remade the first game, but instead of doing it better, they only did it halfway, relying on the formula to carry the game instead of using it as a format.

All the R&C games after Crack in Time have been a rush job. Ratchet and Clank (2016) is Hollywoodized in terms of story and watered down in terms of gameplay. I hope it made a better movie than a game.

I didn't want a remake of the first game. I am fucking sick of all franchises going back and remaking their own past! Stop rebooting and remaking what was already done and just move on from the past! Stop being Star Trek and be like Doctor Who!




*****


As for the movie: it's typical, not very funny or clever. There's no creativity in it. No spark. No character. Just a bunch of generic sci-fi/action plot elements we've already seen in other movies.


We barely know why Drek is destroying planets, and the twist in the games isn't in the movie, that Drek's company caused the pollution that destroyed the Blarg homeworld in the first place, and now he's making money solving the problem his company created. There was opportunity for some depth there, but because some giant corporations were behind this, they probably didn't want to make a movie where a corporation is the badguy.

Quark's betrayal has such a flimsy foundation. So he helps Drek destroy a planet just to make Ratchet look bad because he's jealous of Ratchet's popularity as a new member of the Galactic Rangers? What's the point of that if everyone knows he's working for Drek now? His goal should have been to make himself look better, and it's never clear how working for Drek is supposed to do that! It's a weak setup for an even weaker clich├ęd betrayal/redemption scene every movie seems to have. (Yes, I'm still looking at you, Zootopia!)

And why does Ratchet feel guilty about it? He didn't fail; he didn't cause that planet's destruction; Quark did, so why does he go home and sulk? It doesn't make much sense, but the producers needed a hero-hits-rock-bottom-and-then-gets-back-up scene. It's probably required in all action movies to be appealing to the largest audience, so they have to include it. Hell, we don't know enough about Nefarious to understand why him turning out to be the real badguy is such a twist! They could have developed these characters and built the world, but they failed to give anyone any kind of identity.

Instead, it just goes through the checklist of everything an action/sci-fi movie must have: Ratchet is the small town kid who has big dreams of adventure; Authority denies him a chance to join the army/rebels; kid gets his chance to prove himself and gets in on his own merit; Authority tries to put him back in his place but kid rises up and threatens Authority's position; kid's mentor turns against him; kid suffers defeat, has pity-party; kid gets Speech of Encouragement from friends and gets back up to make things right; mentor changes sides again. Come on, how many times have we seen these plot elements?!

How many production companies were involved in this? Four or five logos at the film's opening, and Insomniac isn't even one of them?! I think that's the problem. Too many companies had a stake in this, and it was in their best interest to make it as generic and mass-appealing as possible. The result is a paint-by-numbers sci-fi movie with no creativity. It could have been so much more.

I prefer the original PS2 game story. This remake doesn't tell it better. Even the humor is weak. There's no timing, and they don't go far enough with the jokes for it to be anything more than tongue-in-cheek. What happened to the good writing the R&C games had through the PS3's Crack in Time?! The same rushed writing and lazy gameplay has characterized every game since, and now the movie matches the way R&C has been going.

It may be the best videogame to movie adaptation to date, but that's not saying much.

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