It took five years and just as many offerings for Ratchet and Clank to nail their Empire Strikes Back moment. Not to imply that Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction is their best game—nearly all the duo's solid outings have merit. No, this is where the lighthearted series takes a brief pause to get emo like a Skywalker. Ratchet, the lone Lombax in the galaxy, learns more about his furry origins. Foes are struck down, leaving more questions than answers. And a cliff or two is hung. But these forays into space-opera pathos are fleeting.

The nuts and bolts of the game are rooted in gleeful chaos, and it rarely strays too far from the path. Ratchet has always been armed with a wild array of upgradeable firearms that wreak fantastic damage, and Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction is at its best when it's generous with ammo and targets to hurl it at. Levels where the robot sidekick Clank goes solo slow the pace, but these detours are distributed sparingly. The frivolous firefights match well with the game's juvenile sense of humor. Space-pirate jokes and bawdy wordplay are plentiful. The game's cast is a cavalcade of science-fiction goofballs—the best are Cronk and Zephyr, a pair of cranky, ancient war-bots who grumble and gripe like Grandpa Simpson. Tools Of Destruction may momentarily furrow its brow, but it still knows to put stock in the standbys: explosions, puns, and humor at our elders' expense.

Beyond the game: 2007 is shaping up to be the year of the hacking mini-game. Lock-pickers tilt the Sixaxis controller to guide a marble across a circuit board, using the metal bearing to arc electricity and spring the latch. A dozen or so more optional puzzles like this would have been welcome.

Worth playing for: The game's sprawling, detailed, lively alien worlds are full of secrets and rewarding to explore. The entire affair is dazzling in high definition.

Frustration sets in when: The game's nonstop barrage of quips and one-liners is a bit fatiguing. There are so many yammering characters that it becomes necessary to tune them out. Trim the comedy by 10 percent and give the jokes a little room to breathe.

Final judgment: The PlayStation 3's answer to Super Mario Galaxy.

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