As you'd expect from a PS2 mascot platformer, the story is pretty straightforward. Chairman Drek is destroying planets and taking chunks of them to build a new Frankenstein planet for his species, the Blarg. The defective war robot B54296 (later given the nickname Clank) sees Drek's schemes, and immediately steals a starship and crash lands on Veldin. Here, he meets Ratchet, and the two agree to track down the hero Captain Qwark to enlist his help in stopping Drek. With some interesting twists and turns, it's a great bit of context for a platforming adventure. The anti-consumerist satire and overall humour throughout is exceptional, and sticks with the series throughout the PS2 games.
More than any other entry in the series, this game is primarily a platformer. There are all sorts of challenges, from obstacle courses to running through flooding sewers. Let me tell you, that sewer segment has traumatised me for many years. The challenge in these games is fantastic, and outside of a few moments later in the game, doesn't feel cheap.
In addition to the platforming, what makes the series stands out is the massive arsenal at Ratchet's disposal. Ranging from standard pistols and rocket launchers to weirder ones like the Suck Cannon which sucks up small enemies and the Decoy Glove which flows out an inflatable decoy, there are options for every play style. Some of these, like the Taunter, are close to useless, unfortunately. Owning so many weapons makes you feel tremendously powerful. It's a feeling few other games can capture. I also think this shooting/platforming hybrid provided young gamers with a gateway into shooters, possibly shaping their tastes for the next console generation.
The art direction of this game is absolutely fantastic. When pitching the game to Sony, Insomniac showed them Metropolis as a proof of concept, and they immediately greenlit the game. It's easy to see why. Featuring cars flying in the background and buildings towering above you, it feels like a sprawling city in ways that simply were not possible on the PS1. Having first been exposed to the series via a demo featuring Metropolis and Blackwater City, I too was blown away. Other levels look fantastic too, blending natural environments with industrialised elements. The visuals hold up incredibly.
It would be remiss of me to not mention how fantastic this game's soundtrack is. David Bergeaud absolutely delivered with each and every track. I would argue that the first game has the most memorable tracks in the series; Metropolis, Blackwater City and Novalis start the soundtrack off strong, and it keeps that pace throughout.
Despite all the praise I have for this game, it is rough around the edges. Strafing is absent, which can make combat segments more difficult than they ought to be. This is especially true when fighting enemy hordes later in the game.
Another problem with the game is that Ratchet's a douche. He spends the latter half of the game being mercilessly mean to Clank, who naively led the two into a trap around halfway through their journey. This characterisation flaw is something that many people point out as the worst part of the game, so it was imperative that it was worked on for future games.
For a debut game, the first Ratchet and Clank provided so much to love, and a number of areas for improvement. Thankfully, these were all addressed in time for the second game in the series.