Culture, Gaming

Replay: Ratchet & Clank

Ratchet & Clank (PS2, 2002), 600x463Publisher: SCE  Developer: Insomniac Games  Format: PS2  Release: 2002

On planet Rilgar, one of two game areas available in the demo for Ratchet & Clank, there is a seemingly impassable tunnel. This tunnel, a platforming gauntlet made all the more desperate by the pressure of a rising water level, can only be passed with a combination of gadgetry, mechanical understanding and flawless timing. Most first-timers aren’t capable of making it through this treacherous challenge with anything approaching casual decorum. But once you attain the skill and understanding to master it, you appreciate this formative sci-fi character action game more keenly than when you first took a chance on its fuzzy-eared protagonist and his robotic sidekick.


Future Perfect

One fantasy that never ceases to permeate my mind is imagining what the distant future will be like. There’s the desolate vision of future London, something which I relish the thought of exploring – although the reality may turn out to be less bearable thanks to mutated savages and barely enough electricity for warm showers.

The more optimistic vision, and many more moons away, is a world transformed into a jigsaw of urban sprawl. Masses of skyscrapers squeezed amongst one another making up towering mega-cities that engulf whole continents. Thousands of hovercars speed through the airways like lines of tiny ants. And cruising space is as commonplace as dropping by the high street for doughnuts.
It’s this vision that Insomniac Games’ GDC 2006 trailer for Ratchet & Clank conjures so excellently in my mind. Metropolis, the setting for this futurescape, is alive like never before. This particular setting holds strong sentimental value for me, as a complex urban city is the height of sci-fi and part of why the original game captured my heart. So to see it all re-imagined back then in such crystalline detail, with the hectic activity of Fifth Element and a cavalcade of environmental sounds, was a privilege.


From Game to Novel

For those of you who know your Leapers from your Ravagers, and wish for more than just bland exposition in your shooters, there are these wonderful things called video game novels. They’re like video games, accept with less button-pressing, and more page-turning. OK, enough with the patronising. Forcing myself to drudge through the long, lexicon-requiring pages of several video game novels has opened my eyes to how distinctly similar they are.

I’ve read all six Halo novels and I’ve just started the first Gears of War novel. And like the novel I am about to address in this post, all of them are filled with expendable characters, military jargon, chain-of-command nonsense and usually some semi-erotic love scene, that there just wasn’t any rhyme or reason for in the games. With this in mind, I found some of the comments about Resistance: The Gathering Storm on to be laughable. Now I’m not out to victimise and ridicule gamers here, but if all you read is Harry Potter, the occasional book assignment and this video game novel – albeit because of community acclaim – you’re missing out on a universe of exquisite literature.

That’s it for my pet-peeve with the twelve year-olds who probably shouldn’t be playing Resistance.

And so, to today’s subject: Resistance: The Gathering Storm. Written by William C. Dietz (responsible for the direct game to novel adaptation, Halo: The Flood), the first novel based on the Resistance franchise charts what happened to Nathan Hale in the two years before the nationwide Chimeran assault on the US. For much of the novel Hale’s busy taking orders from Major Richard Blake, recovering Chimeran technology (this is where that Grey Tech stuff from Resistance 2’s co-operative mode fits in) and striking back against the six-eyed alien monsters whenever the opportunity presents itself. Along the way there are some interesting secrets revealed about his foster family. During these events, there is also a sinister plot brewing in the White House that threats to upset what little hope there may be of a human victory.

You’ve got your alien invaders – in a bunch of different flavours too, military slang, some familiar faces, weaponry straight from the digital source, plenty of gunfights and a few mature moments that balance the emotional action. It’s not a bad read. On the other hand, it doesn’t actually fill in the entire two-year gap – just two months of it. More seriously though, are the glaring plot omissions that the video game sequel appears to have once you’ve finished this novel. Cassie Aklin, a psychiatrist hired specially for Project Abraham, has a fairly major part to play in the tale, yet she is never mentioned or even referenced in Resistance 2. Then there’s the question of Jordan Shepherd (Daedalus’ origins) and the Chimeras’ gradual advance on the US. Facts that Hale clearly seems to know in this novel, yet are supposedly just revealed to him a year and a half later, in Resistance 2.

It certainly can’t be easy to fit additional story threads around the post-release-canon. Furthermore, seeing as the most pivot events are saved for the games, and their subsequent sequels, it can be difficult for other narrative-extending products to successfully field an emotional gut-puncher, without stepping on the games’ ‘digital toes’ – figuratively speaking.

All the same, if you’re just looking for some game-related literature to pass the time, you’ll find a healthy amount of action, political banter, and conspiracy in The Gathering Storm. A very short reference to the events of Resistance: Retribution and, a surprisingly satisfying, cameo by Henry Stillman (radio host in Resistance 2) gave me reason to smile – after spending so long studying Intel documents and listening to audio clips. It may be a side-story, but there are a few revelations sharp enough to cut Resistance fans deep. Resistance’s first novelisation scores a hit. Can Marcus Fenix and the meatheads in Gears of War follow suit? Rev up your chainsaw-gun and join me next week for the answer.


Frontline Report

Ever watched a film on TV and noticed they’ve edited bits out of it? That’s just how I feel about WildStorm’s six part mini-series on the PlayStation 3 franchise, Resistance.

Originally scheduled for December but arriving in mid February, this mini-series serves to give readers added insight into the events leading to those in Resistance 2. However, a simple story arc that offers little or no character development and several jumpy panel transitions tarnish what could have been a quality effort. Never mind, but there is more to say.

The comics’ primary story concerns Sergeant Capelli, the gung-ho-beanie-wearing-jerk from Resistance 2 (who somehow manages to be an ounce more endearing here), and several members of Sentinel team Alpha as they undertake their first mission against the advancing alien menace. In short, a US army base in Alaska – housing experimental weapons – has gone dark, so Alpha team are tasked with accessing the site, rescuing any personnel they find and recovering the weapons.

What does deserve some praise is the lead story’s artwork, which is drawn by the fabulous, Ramón Pérez, and coloured by Tony Aviña. From creaseless army vests to wall-pinned battle maps, to the chiselled faces of officers and the chaos of battle – detailed characters and objects, drawn with a stylish Americana-vibe that feels immediately reminiscent of the pulp comics and WWII recruitment posters of the 1940s, with warm colours. The duo have really outdone themselves. Issue #1’s dogfight over Alaska and the first-half of issue #5 are two of my personal highlights.

With the PSP version, Resistance: Retribution, released in March 2009, the mini-series’ second plotline provides the direct prelude to James Grayson’s European tour of duty. At the hands of artist, C.P. Smith, once again, the visuals are drab at best (a fact that is extenuated further alongside Pérez’s art). There’s lots of F-words, B-words (and even the forbidden C-word) thrown in to cheapen… I mean ‘authenticate’, the Brit-filled serial. Full of tragedy and self-deprecating angst, but unfortunately, none of the gutsy risk-taking and over-the-top machismo of Grayson’s handheld persona.

Mike Costa (the writer for both stories) seems to have had his hands tied with regards to the canon and timeline, which has amounted to very stiff storytelling and throwaway characters. There are some good hooks (such as the Chimera crossing into Alaska via a frozen ice bridge), but essentially what you have is a skirmish that’s only thinly related to events in the video games.

Another problem is that parts of the story just don’t feel like they’ve been edited together very well. Case in point, in issue #1 Capelli is having a private conversation with another officer. Turn the page and suddenly he’s approaching a different blonde-haired guy, who he then assaults in the next panel. The transition from one scene to the next is so jarring because the original conversation never actually seems like it is tied up – it just ends abruptly. Issue #3 increases the story’s sense of urgency when a new character, Dr Robert Oppenheimer, fills the team in on the real situation. The finale is quickly ruined in issue #6 though, as the narrative perspective moves from present to past tense – wrapping things up rather hastily too. Apart from Capelli, Warner and the doctor, none of the other characters are very memorable. While comics are pressed for space, I think the primary story could have been told far better if they’d chosen to focus solely on it – rather than splitting the comic in two and still plastering it with ads.

Then, there are the canonical plot holes. The story takes place in January 1951 and features spinner (bug-like chimera that are part of a new conversion process) and the human-sized cocoons from Resistance 2. Now considering that the Chimeran virus has only just made it to Britain, and the all-important conversion-halting events of Resistance: Retribution haven’t even taken place yet – and I’ve followed the timeline reasonably closely – it seems highly unlikely that this story arc should contain such elements. Furthermore, part of the plot is devoted to recapturing an experimental atomic bomb. However, in the Resistance novel (circa July 1951) it states that the US army is yet to create successful atomic weapons. Though Insomniac has taken tremendous care with the canon, cracks and inconsistencies are beginning to show.

Even with Pérez’s gorgeous art, there just aren’t enough meaningful chucks in this mini-series to make it a significant part of the Resistance universe.


Unethical Operations

“Doctor, doctor! I appear to have morphed into a horrible gelatinous monster. Whatever shall I do?”

Heralded by the release of yet another prequel comic, as almost every multi-million dollar platform exclusive is these days, Resistance 2 upped the ante for the franchise in more ways than just the player count. The story of Lieutenant Nathan Hale and his struggle to thwart the rampaging Chimera now has more knots than an alien’s intestine. Kicking off the big American exodus is WildStorm’s issue #0 comic book.

Set in 1950, before the events of Resistance: Fall of Man, we find Private Jordan Shepherd strapped to an operating bed. The grainy panels depict Shepherd reliving his violent and neglected upbringing, while, in the present, a surgeon questions him on why he volunteered for Project Abraham. By the end of his flashback it’s clear that Shepherd isn’t in the best psychological state, and thus unsurprising, when the surgeon attempts to administer more experimental toxins and his body reacts by mutating into the horrible, floaty-tentacle-beast, known as Daedalus. He’ll never fit into a three-piece suit again, that’s for sure.

Scribed by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the comic presents a tidy, self-contained story that gives a little more tact to Resistance 2’s main villain. Hardly essential reading, though I’m yet to find a prequel comic that is. The art, courtesy of CP Smith and John Paul Leon, isn’t one of my favourite comic book styles. It’s coarse with dark colours, and hazy, monotone panels that give off a sense that they’re painful even for the characters staring out of them. But to their credit it does suit the bloodier, more mature, Resistance palette.

A special mention should also be given for the blooded-dog-tag-and-fingers on the cover – subtle and it sets the tone perfectly. WildStorm’s first crack at bringing the Resistance series to comics is a fair effort, but is the six issue mini-series any better? Find out the answer to that question and many others as I delve deeper into Insomniac’s mad, twisted history in the coming posts.


Ratchet & Clank hit back!

O’ My Lucky Stars! I’ve finally got my internet back, here in halls, and what’s this I hear? A new Ratchet & Clank adventure is on the way?

Well, hot damn. Sign me up quick and mail me to Bogon.

Going to have to do some reminiscing about when I first saw the GDC 2006 announcement trailer for Ratchet & Clank’s PS3 debut. In good time thought, for now check out the press release for the all-new Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time. Yeah!