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Secret Agent Clank Review Rewind


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On 10/19/2011 at 12:00 PM by Chessa DiMola

Qwark and Ratchet spoil Clank's fun.
RECOMMENDATION:

Only die-hard fans of the series should consider this one, and even then only if they have a PSP. The PlayStation 2 version is nearly unplayable at times.

Secret Agent Clank is the second PSP spin-off title in the Ratchet & Clank series, and like its counterpart, Size Matters, was also developed by High Impact Games. Released originally for the PSP in 2008, Secret Agent Clank was eventually ported to the PS2 in 2009 by Sanzaru games. Since I'm not a big fan of the analog nub on the PSP, I opted for the PS2 version instead, and it seems as though I chose poorly. While I can't vouch firsthand on the improved quality of the PSP version, the difference in review scores paints a pretty clear picture. What I can say is the PS2 version of Secret Agent Clank is a sloppy experience full of issues that sadly ruins the unique gameplay and overshadows the quirky character of the title.

The concept for the game was actually borrowed from a segment in Up Your Arsenal, when it's discovered that the story's antagonist, Dr. Nefarious, is a big fan of the Secret Agent Clank TV series. As such, this James Bond spoofing theme is the main overtone in sections starring Clank, who dons a snazzy tuxedo, is armed with some terribly corny one-liners, and has a cheesy arsenal that would make any wannabe spy proud. It's definitely a different side of Clank than people are used to seeing, and while it's over the top and incredibly goofy, the whole spoof is really well done and sort of funny; in a face-palming kind of way.

The new and improved suave and sophisticated Clank is responsible for getting to the bottom of a theft regarding a priceless jewel known as the Eye of Infinity, for which Ratchet is being marked as the culprit.  Even though Secret Agent Clank saw Ratchet flee the scene with his own two eyes, he refuses to believe that his friend and longtime partner in heroics would ever perform such a detestable act. Plus there's really clear brain electrode thingies on Ratchet's head, so anyone with a brain of their own could probably arrive at the conclusion that Ratchet's under someone else's control. Oh wait, that's right, spy movies are usually obvious and over-the-top dramatic aren't they? Well then, good job for sticking to the theme. So, in order to get to the bottom of the matter, Clank sets out to explore, interrogate, and investigate.

Before getting into any specifics, it's important to first state that the game is split into three different sections, starring Ratchet, Clank, or Qwark individually. Each of three sections features its own unique type of gameplay and with it, their own successes and failures.

Clank's section is unsurprisingly the largest of them all, and between the platforming, combat, stealth, and mini-games, there's a pretty good assortment of gameplay elements. Any fan of the series knows well at this point that the typical Clank gameplay focuses on completing puzzles with the help of mini robots or the Zoni. While this type of gameplay is occasionally featured during particular Clank segments, his overall play is now similar to Ratchet's.

Clank has his own set of weapons this time around, which level up just like Ratchet's. While it was pretty cool to fling Clank's little bowtie like a razor sharp boomerang that slices enemies, and toss cuff links that are actually bombs, watching him beat the crap out of ninja enemies using kung-fu was far more entertaining.

My personal favorite was the stealth element, which required Clank to take cover, put on disguises to avoid being seen, block out cameras, avoid flashlight beams, and slowly sneak behind enemies in order to take them out by hitting four buttons in the right order quickly. If successful, Clank would use martial arts and beat the enemy to death, allowing me to move onward. If unsuccessful, not only will the enemy turn around and begin to attack, but he'll also kindly alert every other robot, creature, or ninja in the area that would love nothing more than to disassemble him violently.

The majority of Clank's sections are a really well-balanced combination of stealth, platforming and action which take place in a variety of bright, interesting locations. One minute you'll be dodging lasers, the next minute battling a large number of enemies midair while jumping from platform to platform, and the in the next scene you could be dressing up like a squawking bird in order to disguise yourself from the bad guy.

But for some reason, it often feels like someone can't ever leave what was already in place alone and just let it be good as it is. Instead, someone always has to mess with it, adding in a pointless, fun-sapping mini-game which drags down the overall experience. No, this time I'm not talking about racing (though there is a pretty cool skiing section), but rather I'm referring to a musical button pressing puzzle that is shoved in between some levels. Since the whole game plays out as one big story, these are clearly used to fill gaps when story and a cutscene were needed instead of gameplay. While I would have been satisfied with a simple cutscene, instead I had to endure a long drawn out puzzle in which I pushed a button or direction in “rhythm” with a “song”. I put those two words in quotations because there was no clearly defined song, thus there was no rhythm. It was like playing a five minute Elite Beat Agents song without the sound. Anyway, if you hit enough right buttons, Clank progresses in the cutscene (whether that means dodging lasers or dancing with Ivanna Lottabolts), if you don't, Clank gets hurt.

In between Clank's general gameplay, players will have the opportunity to take control of Ratchet, who has been thrown in prison for his apparent crime. Since Ratchet has put many of the inmates behind the same bars that hold him, the warden decides it would be entertaining to force Ratchet into arena battles with these enemies. Fans of the series should be very familiar with arena battles at this point, so nothing about these segments should feel foreign; you pick up the ammo, run around the circular arena, and shoot. As usual, Ratchet's life and weapons will level up, and he'll occasionally receive new weapons picked up by Clank, which the robotic spy will then smuggle into the jail cell inside of a cake.

There are two big problems with Ratchet's gameplay (other than being entirely unoriginal and not nearly as entertaining as Clank's segments): Ratchet moves like a snail and when there are more than five enemies on the screen the game experiences horrible slowdown. Put both of those two issues together, and trying to get through the segments becomes an obnoxious and lengthy task.

Finally, we have Qwark's gameplay segments, which are basically nothing more than drawn out boss battles, narrated by Qwark himself. During the time that Ratchet is in prison and Clank is out playing Mission: Impossible, Qwark is traveling around followed by a journalist who is writing a biography on the dimwitted “hero.” As Qwark regales the journalist with his completely false and horribly exaggerated account of what actually happened, players go through the narrated battle themselves. As Qwark decides to change the story midway, the battle will change accordingly. For example, if Qwark suddenly remembers the boss being bigger, the enemy grows, and these tweaks occur a few times during each battle. Despite the painful lag that often ensues during these sequences, they're not too bad. However, I don't really understand their purpose in the big picture. They just feel tacked on, functioning as an excuse to bring Qwark into the story.

In addition to debilitating slowdown and thrown in subplot lines, general issues plague the game as well across all sections, the worst of which by far is the camera. I complained about the camera system quite strongly in my review for Size Matters, and discussed how the game itself recognized the issue. For that reason, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the developers would leave the faulty system intact for their next game. Once again the camera is far too close to the player, and for a game centered so strongly on combat, there's rarely ever a time when the horrible camera doesn't get in the way of fighting effectively. This time there is an alternate control/camera scheme, but it's just as awful and still requires players to fight the camera and the enemy at the same time.

Loading is simply atrocious, taking upwards of one minute to load an area. This wouldn't have been so bad if the same soundless animation didn't play over and over again the entire time. Oh, actually that last statement wasn't entirely true. There's one little “woosh” sound that plays every time Clank's ship drives through space.

I feel as though Secret Agent Clank was a really scattered experience that is dragged down by both Ratchet and Qwark's gameplay segments. It's clear that they were forced into the experience and do nothing but detract from the more enjoyable Clank portions. Unfortunately, most of the technical issues are relegated to these parts of the game, making them even worse. Had they just been excluded, the entire experience would've been tighter and devoid of nearly all slowdown problems.

Without the interruption of such unnecessary inclusions, Secret Agent Clank could have been a really smooth-flowing, solid experience that showed off the little robotic side kick in a whole new (and incredibly well-dressed) manner. However, I can say that without the technical problems, the Ratchet and Qwark sections probably wouldn't have been as bad - albeit still out of place - but that is unfortunately not the case with the PlayStation 2 version. From what I've read, the PSP doesn't suffer from many of the technical issues that plague its PlayStation 2 counterpart, and while I can't vouch for it firsthand, it seems as though anyone who wants to experience this unique little side quest should go for the handheld version.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

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