Our review of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, developed by Insomniac Games. Available now for PS5 (reviewed).
WHAT IS IT?
The sixteenth(!) entry in the classic PlayStation action-platformer series starring an anthropomorphic squirrel thing and his robot buddy.
IS IT GOOD?
Yes but it’s also exactly like every other Ratchet & Clank.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
People who think Crash Bandicoot needs a big honking gun.
DRAGONS VS. BANDICOOTS
Gamers of a certain vintage will remember the Naughty Dog-Insomniac rivalry.
Me, I’ve always been a Naughty Dog guy. I can play Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot trilogy blindfolded, but I’ve never completed a single Spyro game from developer Insomniac.
I scoffed – scoffed! – when Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank debuted in 2002. Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter had arrived just a year earlier – bright, colourful, and very much in keeping with classic platformers. Ratchet & Clank, on the other hand, was dark, metallic, weirdly fixated on laser guns. Plus, the audacity of releasing another cutesy animal platformer with an “and” (or rather “&”) in the title! It was all too much.
That said, when I finally got around to playing R&C – alongside the later Jak II, which takes a lot of inspiration from its Insomniac cousin – I got to understand the appeal. It’s still not quite my cup of tea, but it makes a certain kind of sense: take the classic platformer ethos of a Crash or a Spyro, load it up with kooky gadgets and ridiculous weaponry – like the Morph-o-Ray, which can turn enemies into various animals like sheep or chickens – and unleash the player on a planet-hopping sci-fi adventure. For what it is, it works well, though it’s disappointing that the latest, Rift Apart, plays so like its predecessors that it may as well be a last-gen game.
RATCHET AND RIVET AND CLANK AND KIT
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a PS5-exclusive action-platformer starring Ratchet, a squirrel-like alien known as a Lombax, and Clank, a ridiculously adorable robo-buddy. Rift Apart also features gender-swapped versions of the title characters, in the form of Rivet (another Lombax) and Kit (also robotic and adorable). The presence of Rivet and Kit plays into the interdimensional theme of Rift Apart: early on, Ratchet and Clank hop over into the home dimension of Rivet and Kit, and soon enough players are following two parallel plot threads, featuring the four characters.
Unfortunately, Rivet and Kit amount to little more than palette swaps: they control exactly the same, with the exact same abilities and weapons as R&C. Weirdly, unlocking an ability or weapon for one character inexplicably unlocks that same ability/weapon for the other, even though they’re, y’know, off on the opposite sides of the galaxy/dimension. And while R&K’s presence slightly shakes up the story, it’s shocking how superfluous these two additions are in terms of the game itself.
R&C and R&K (and eventually R&K and R&C, a plot development which changes nothing) are, once more, out to stop the nefarious plots of the evil Dr. Nefarious, voiced gloriously by Armin “Quark” Shimerman. I do like how gleefully evil Nefarious is: no tragic backstory, zero subtlety to his plans. He wants to rule the universe, and he’ll cackle all the way through doing it.
As for the four protagonists, they have an armoury’s worth of big silly weapons with which to mow down the thousands of robotic and alien enemies that attack over the dozen or so hours of the game. In addition to your standard firearms, there’s a grenade that turns enemies into topiary (which, lol), a late-game unlock that teleports items in from other Sony games (by far the coolest dynamic in the game), and many others for players to uncover. You’ll also get your hands and feet on patented equipment like gravity boots, grind boots, a grappling hook, and so on.
PORTALS TO NOWHERE
Rift Apart is remarkably overhyped for a next-gen title that feels precisely like what came before. That was fine enough for Crash Bandicoot 4, but that game was the first proper sequel in 22 years. Ratchet & Clank, on the other hand, has been pumping out titles at a regular pace, with the most recent PS4 release landing in 2016. That game was a lot of fun, but it’s striking how much the PS5 Rift Apart feels exactly like its immediate predecessor.
The ad campaign went hard on the whole interdimensional theme of this new title, but guess what? It amounts to not much more than environmental effects. For example, there are “rift tethers” which are basically grappling hooks, and you occasionally have the ability to hop over to another dimension where, say, a bridge will appear where there was a chasm moments before. If you, like me, had visions of jumping back and forth between truly wacky landscapes on a dime, be warned that those moments are few and far between. There are standouts, however, especially in those scripted sequences where you’re dashing from portal to portal. Still, it’s strange how undercooked the whole interdimensional system is, to the point that I suspect Insomniac once had grander plans, only to abandon them partway through development.
GOING COMMANDO, AGAIN
One thing that will never cease to annoy me about Ratchet & Clank titles is the overreliance on shooting galleries. Platformers are, and should be, for platforming. And while I’m perfectly content to mix that up with topiary grenades and morph-o-lasers, I’m less patient when I’m forced into a single arena to fend off wave after wave of enemies. These sections are rarely difficult, but they are exhausting, and feel an awful lot like content padding. Plus, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, Rift Apart has a terrible tendency towards ammo scarcity. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been backed into a corner, dozens of enemies on screen, only for every. single. weapon. to run out of ammo. So not only is this damn shooting gallery taking too long, I’ve now got to delay things by dashing about, frantically searching for a single paltry ammo crate. If it’s not a horror game, there’s no reason to be so skimpy on ammo.
But, hey, I shouldn’t really be surprised. That’s Ratchet & Clank. It’s always been darker, edgier, more “metal.” And viewed on its own merits, it’s certainly a good game. It’s got the requisite galaxy-spanning adventure, the fun gadgets, the jokes – Rift Apart maintains a proud tradition of goofy R&C humour – and the pursuit of bigger and goofier weapons is worth the price of admission alone.
While it’s too bad that the whole dimensional thing never really amounts to much, it’s the best R&C game to date. It also looks amazing. The Pixar comparison, made often enough, is a fair one: this game looks like a CGI movie brought to life, really showcasing what the PS5 can do. (As for the much-vaunted DualSense haptic controller effects? I wound up turning them down because the sounds got so annoying.) Anyway, bring on the sheepinator!
Visit the official page for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart here.