Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Secret Agent Clank (PS2, PSP) Retro Review

Ratchet & Clank's remake on the PlayStation 4 launched a couple of weeks ago. While SuperPhillip Central can't cover that game just yet, the site can take a look at a game in the series that is quite underrated. It's Secret Agent Clank, and he's got the bad guys' number, for sure.

The Spy Who Clanked Me

When he's not essentially Ratchet's talking backpack, Clank moonlights as a secret agent. Seriously. He's got the tuxedo to prove it, too. When his friend seemingly steals the most valuable gem in the galaxy from a museum and gets placed in jail for it, Clank feels something is awry. Thus, he goes on a mission to clear his good buddy and find the real culprit behind the crime. What you get with Secret Agent Clank is the same trademark humor, wit, and hilarity of the series in well done cutscenes and story sequences. Many familiar characters make their return in the game, and overall, the story had me smiling and engaged from beginning to end.

Clank, your mission-- should you choose to accept it-- is to save your buddy Ratchet and clear his name.
The game name may be Secret Agent Clank, but Clank himself shares the spotlight with numerous characters. For one, there are Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal-style arena battles as Ratchet as he goes through hard times in the slammer. However, I found most of these portions of the game highly repetitive, even with some creative objectives like trying to keep Ratchet's towel on him during a shower battle sequence. Then, there are multiple outings as Captain Qwark who is having a biography written about him. Of course, true to the Qwark name, Qwark's tales of his heroics are highly fictional, taking credit for things that Secret Agent Clank had done.

They say you want to stand up to the toughest guy in prison. Ratchet seems to be that guy/lombax.
Finally, there are the faithful helpers to Clank when our robotic spy needs some inside help, the Gadgebots. There are a trio of helper robots that follow one another, solving environment puzzles, hitting switches to move platforms in position, and interacting with various devices to make progress. 

Captain Qwark is as wacky as ever in Secret Agent Clank.
Secret Agent Clank's gameplay sections offer lots of variety, too. When Clank isn't stealthily making his way past guards, using sneak attacks to take enemies down with their back to him (a randomized four button press done just in time will take them out; else Clank will notify the enemy of his presence), and navigating through laser fields, he can be seen snowboarding,  driving a vehicle down a sluice, solving Tetris-like lock-picking puzzles, and engaging in rhythm mini-games.

Sneak behind an enemy, and they won't know what hit them!
There is a lot of gameplay styles in Secret Agent Clank, and while this does keep the experience fresh, some of it simply feels like filler content to lengthen the game. I would have personally liked to see more of the traditional Secret Agent Clank gameplay: moving through levels, participating in enjoyable platforming, dishing out damage in combat, and things of that ilk. These parts of Secret Agent Clank were the most entertaining for me, as the while the stealth gameplay is rather basic, when done right, it's the difference between smoothly taking down foes and alerting an entire room to your presence, thus resulting in a precarious firefight situation.

Both Clank and Ratchet have an arsenal of tools and weapons they can use in their sections that level up upon continued use. As a weapon levels up, it gains more power and strength to take down gobs of enemies. Ratchet's repertoire of weapons is mostly made up of callbacks to past games in the series, but there are plenty of new goodies to take down foes as well.

Meanwhile, Clank's library of weaponry is all in the form of spy gadgets, whether bow ties that serve as sharp, killer boomerangs or cuff links that act as powerful bombs. There are a plethora of non-weapon gadgets Clank uses as well, such as a pen that can blackout points where lasers project out of them, jet boots that allow Clank to double jump and glide across large gaps, and a monocle that when an enemy has been scanned, Clank can become a hologram image of that foe, perfect for slipping past defenses. 

The Tie-A-Rang is not only perfect for taking out faraway foes, but it's also mighty fashionable.
I was worried how Secret Agent Clank would control with the lack of two analog sticks, or in the PSP's case, nubs, to utilize. However, the game handles rather well considering the input limitations of the hardware. You use the nub to control Clank usually, but you can also use the d-pad to strafe, excellent for maneuvering around foes and their fire without taking much in the way of damage. The shoulder buttons, normally used for camera controls, can be used in combination with the d-pad to always keep foes directly in Clank's sights. The Quick Select menu is easily accessed with a hold of the Triangle button, granting a safe way to swiftly switch between Clank's various weapons and gadgets.

Like typical Ratchet & Clank adventures, upon beating the 6-8 hour campaign, you have the option of replaying through the story with all of your current weapons, maximum health, and more. The difference here is that enemies deal more damage and have more health. However, at the same time you earn more bolts for use to purchase new, more powerful weapons. 

Clank can use the Blackout Pen to blot out some of these lasers.
Alongside the Challenge Mode, there are myriad skill points to earn, received by completing certain tough in-game tasks like getting through a portion of a level undetected, as well as Titanium Bolts to collect that are generally placed in well hidden locations. Earning skill points unlocks new cheats to use in-game while collecting Titanium Bolts unlocks new skins for Clank, Ratchet, and Captain Qwark.

If you're familiar with Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, then you probably know what to expect visual-wise for Secret Agent Clank. Like Size Matters, Secret Agent Clank puts the limited power of the PSP hardware to good use, offering nice looking geometry, a good frame-rate, nice character models, and an excellent field of view. The sound effects, especially for using the high powered weaponry of the game, gives every shot that added sense of impact. The voice work is as excellent as ever in Secret Agent Clank, and the music is very spy-like, offering jazzy riffs, high octane beats, and catchy rhythms.

Secret Agent Clank is overall a capable spin-off title that gives Clank the starring role he may or may not have been waiting for. Though the game offers a robust amount of gameplay types, not all of these have the same amount of entertainment as the main, most fun Clank platforming sections. If you're looking for a bite-sized adventure that plays to the strengths of the PSP hardware, then Secret Agent Clank should be your next mission.

[SPC Says: B-]

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