Sony rachets up game slate, eyeing sales

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A foxlike alien and his robot sidekick on a mission to save the galaxy could also help save sales of Sony's PlayStation 3, which has struggled to find a game so good that it gives people reason to buy the pricey console.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 has had several, including this year's "Halo 3," but Sony is still trying to find a megahit of its own as games such as "Heavenly Sword" and "Folklore" have failed to make the kind of splash needed to convince holdouts.

Now comes "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction," a beautifully crafted game that is being compared to Pixar animated films and touted as a must-have for Sony fans.

"We're using lots of the same techniques that would be used in a Pixar film," said Brian Allgeier, creative director on the "Ratchet" titles at developer Insomniac Games.

Seasoned video game fans can be forgiven for rolling their eyes -- claims by industry executives over the years that their games are "Pixar quality" have turned out to be just so much marketing bluster.

But the "Ratchet & Clank" that hit stores last week comes closest to delivering on that promise.

"The new 'Ratchet' is a watershed for gaming because it provides the first interactive entertainment experience that truly feels like inhabiting a world-class animated film," the New York Times gushed this week.

The game is also evidence that Sony's bet on its powerful new Cell processor is starting to pay off as developers get the hang of tapping its capabilities.

"We never could have had this level of action on the screen before," Allgeier said in praise of the PS3 hardware.

Metacritic.com, which combines ratings from review sites and magazines, has given the new "Ratchet" a score of 90, the highest so far for any game exclusive to the PS3.

" 'Tools of Destruction' is an amazing PS3 game that fully leverages the power of the console. It sets the bar high for not only the series but for all PS3 games to come. It is, without a doubt, reason enough to buy the system," GamePro.com said in its review.

Sony badly needs a hit for the PS3, which has lagged the Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii. By the end of September, the PS3 had sold about 5.6 million units, compared with more than 13 million each for the Xbox 360 and Wii.

The game, the seventh for the franchise since 2002, stars the fox-like Ratchet and his robot sidekick Clank as they try to defeat the evil Emperor Tachyon. Their adventures lead through 15 locations and involve space combat, skydiving and rail-grinding sequences.

"All along we've gone in more of a shooter direction and we've decided to go back to our roots with a platformer, with more exploration, more adventure," Allgeier said.

The game levels are stitched together with short animated clips that elaborate on the story and amount to about half the length of a feature film. With an industry rating of E 10+, the game should be suitable for everyone but small children.

"This is one of the few epic adventure games this holiday that will make people laugh," Allgeier said. "It's kind of a bright spot amid a lot of darker-themed games."
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