One of those franchises that just keeps coming back for more with constant new additions to the series, Ratchet and Clank have become one of the more popular evil-fighting duo's on the PlayStation label, featuring in several PS2 games, one PSP title and one PS3 title already, with more inevitably on the way. While the focus may have been on the duo fighting together in previous titles, Secret Agent Clank sees the little robot step up from the sidekick position and become a formidable character on his own, as he attempts to save his best friend Ratchet from being framed for a crime he didn't commit. The idea to take the focus off of the Lombax main character that we're so used to may have been a good idea on paper, but some questionable gameplay decisions prevent it from being the PSP jewel that it could have been.
It's worth mentioning here that Insomniac, who have been responsible for the development of the Ratchet and Clank titles up until this point, did not work on Secret Agent Clank; the reigns were handed over to High Impact instead, so we're willing to accept that they have made their own interpretation of what the game should be. Instead of being a full-on action romp similar to the Ratchet games of old, Secret Agent Clank mixes in other gameplay elements such as stealth and even some musical rhythm-based sections, as well as the trademark action and gun-play that the series is known for. As you play throughout the game, you'll actually get to play as three different characters; along with the obvious Clank, you'll also get to complete certain levels as Captain Qwark and even Ratchet himself before the credits roll. While Clank definitely gets a lot more screen-time, the other playable participants break up the gameplay a bit and keep things fresh, for the most part.
While as a character Clank is entertaining and plays Yin to Ratchet's Yang quite well, we have played as the robot before in sub-sections of other Ratchet and Clank titles, so it's not as if taking the role of Clank is an incredibly new or exciting experience; especially when considering that the Clank sections of past games were a much slower change of pace comparatively to the majority of the time which is spent shooting the living hell out of everything in sight. So it should come as no surprise that Clank doesn't focus as much on the action - while he has some melee attacks and a couple of handy weapons to help him defend himself against enemies and security systems, you'll also need to incorporate your stealth skills in an effort to avoid confrontation with what are usually adversaries much too strong for you to face on your own. We can see the attempt that's being made in 'breaking up' the action sections of the game, but the stealth scenario's quite simply don't feel entertaining, and often the camera will prevent you from really being stealthy, as you stumble directly into an enemy that you forgot about as you were trying to reposition your point of view.
There are elements thrown into this stealth gameplay to try to keep things interesting, though; stand behind an unaware foe and by simply pressing square, you'll activate a short button combination which must be pressed in order to take your enemy out quickly and efficiently. This doesn't always work however and can get fidgety, as square also is your main melee attack button, so prematurely pressing it constantly leads to you getting spotted and generally clobbered, sending you back to a check-point that is a tad too far away from where you ended up at the best of times. There are some nice ideas, such as using a particular spray of some kind to cover up laser-beams so that you can cross safely, and some other innovative weapons which we won't spoil here, but even they can't get you to ignore the fact that being stealthy is just too frustrating to be enjoyable.
Don't worry though, because the game isn't 100% stealth! Thankfully, there are plenty of sections in the game that are actually a lot of fun, such as the music rhythm sections which are creative and comical, and other surprises such as a fast-paced snowboarding level where you must think quickly to make it down the mountain in one piece. Captain Qwark gets his own levels that are unique too, including one where he fights Godzilla... yes, you read that correctly. His sections are a welcome change to the format set up by the rest of the game, as are the Ratchet sections where you'll get to use your large arsenal of weaponry to take out a number of specific enemies in an arena-esque situation (he is still a prisoner, remember!). So even though the stealthy bits may be annoying and much slower than we're used to from the action-packed duo, there are redeeming features to look forward to as you progress through the story.
One thing that bothered us in Secret Agent Clank - and it bothers us a lot - is the camera. We glossed over it earlier, but it deserves its own devoted sentence structure, as it really makes the game on the verge of unplayable at times. It's difficult to focus on enemies and the action happening around you when you're constantly having to hold down the shoulder buttons to try and find a better angle. It isn't just 'every now and then' that you'll experience this, either. The camera will annoy you and annoy you often, and it's a shame because the rest of the game actually looks quite decent. Animations are great, the frame-rate is good, and overall it's a reasonably solid package visually and aurally speaking, so it's a shame that it's hindered by a dodgy camera which often prevents you from being able to enjoy the scenery at all.
The most disappointing thing about Secret Agent Clank for a lot of people, we presume, will be the fact that we all expect so much from this franchise. The series has always been so high on production values and addictive, fast-paced gameplay, that Clank's first solo adventure is a spin-off that probably wasn't necessary at all, despite the fan-base - kind of a 'Friends' becoming 'Joey' situation. There are fun elements, sure, but when it comes down to it, it's nothing that we haven't seen before in past Ratchet and Clank titles, and the sections that attempt to be innovative with stealth just fall flat and are unimpressive in the grand scheme of things. If you're a devoted fan of these characters and are starved for a brand spanking new PSP title, then you may find Secret Agent Clank worth the trouble, but everybody else should think carefully before taking yet another dive into this now incredibly over-done universe.