Ratchet & Clank is a series I’ve always enjoyed but never finished. Yes, I’ve purchased just about every title since I picked up the respective consoles, but as good as they are I was always distracted with something else. That could have been another game, or could have been work or college, but there was always something in my path competing for my time with Ratchet & Clank. With Rift Apart incoming however, I made sure my schedule was clear, and while there have still certainly been other responsibilities that have reared their ugly heads, Rift Apart is such a shining testament of the longevity of this franchise I simply pulled out my trusty wrench and batted them away.
Obviously by my statement you know Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is good, but the purpose of this conversation is to display just how incredible it is. There are many places we could start, but the best one is with the story. Rift Apart starts out with a celebration, with our titular heroes being honored in Megalopolis for their exploits. Everything starts pretty simply, with a quick tutorial taking you through an obstacle course to make sure you have the buttons down before the real action starts. At the end of it, Clank has a special gift for you – he has rebuilt the Dimensionator (from 2007’s Tools of Destruction) to give you the ability to search for the other Lombaxes. Ratchet is torn by this (which we’ll talk about more in a second), but before he can respond, Dr. Nefarious interrupts the party, ripping away the Dimensionator and causing all sorts of chaos in the way he does.
We’ve seen most of this, it’s been shown in the first gameplay demos, but we know Dr. Nefarious isn’t going to be captured in this opening sequence. Unfortunately for our dynamic duo, when Ratchet shoots the Dimensionator to stop Dr. Nefarious’s plans, it explodes, throwing the entire universe of dimensions into flux and, even worse, throwing our heroes into an alternate reality. Both end up in the same dimension, just different places after the Dimensionator officially kicks the bucket, and Clank loses an arm. He does luck out however in smacking down right next to Ratchet’s dimensional counterpart in Rivet, a female lombax fighting in the Resistance against Emperor Nefarious. Oh, did I forget to mention in this dimension Nefarious is the leader of the known world? Yeah, I must have, and Dr. Nefarious takes advantage of it, plopping down in the Emperor’s office while he’s out conquering.
I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the journey you’re about to embark on is fantastic. I can make a lot of comparisons and throw in a lot of adjectives about it, but for my money Rift Apart feels like a Marvel movie. The heroes, the action sequences, the comic relief (which is definitely still there!), even the soundtrack behind it lends itself to that thought. This comparison can be said in a mostly positive manner, but it also carries a little of the negative connotation associated with our favorite superhero films as well. The main characters are done in a phenomenal way, with veteran voice talent in James Arnold Taylor returning as Ratchet, David Kaye returning as Clank, Armin Shimerman returning as Dr. Nefarious, and newcomer Jennifer Hale voicing Rivet. Each character feels so alive, and the perfection of the original cast combined with an experienced actress behind Rivet works out in the best possible way.
Something many people are going to ask is if the game feels balanced given you play as both Ratchet and Rivet, and Insomniac has handled it marvelously. The last time I remember a game switching things up like this was Halo 5, and I’ll be honest, in my opinion it wasn’t done right or well. In Rift Apart, I constantly felt like my actions were playing into the larger narrative, and especially once both parties come into communication you get that cohesion you hope for. I keep using the Marvel comparison, but it’s just like an Avengers film, you get behind the camera of what’s going on with Iron Man, then move on to Captain America’s point of view.
Like I said before, these characters are amazing, and that’s the only way you can make something like this work. This is especially true in the narrative, where they keep expounding on Ratchet and Rivet both, making their plights feel extremely personal. Ratchet is scared to go out and meet his kind, and part of that is because of the fear of stepping out of his comfort zone and losing the life he’s built. Rivet has different problems, and even though she constantly beats the bad guys, you see that in the way she talks and acts. She almost seems to overcompensate because she’s lacking true confidence, even with all of the exterior positivity she exhibits. The way the writers have figured out how to “humanize” both characters is astonishing.
Later on another character will join the cast (no spoilers!), and it leads to some of my favorite dialogue in the game. The narrative tackles some tough stuff in fear, self-loathing, and brokenness, and the way it brings our cast to deal with it is exceptional. My hat is off to the team at Insomniac for not only approaching these subjects, but showing that you can rise above them. Besides the main cast, plenty of others do return, like Captain Quark and Skidd McMarx (if only for a moment), but they also have doppelgangers in this other dimension as well that take on their own personalities. My favorite minor character? Pierre Le Faire, who you may remember as Rusty Pete from Tools Of Destruction, is extremely entertaining anytime he arrives on screen.
As for the more negative story aspects, it’s that Dr. Nefarious feels too much like a Marvel villain. He’s evil… well, because he’s evil. He’s your regular cartoon villain, and while that’s fine, it’s exactly what tends to befall Marvel movies in that the villain doesn’t get enough attention to flesh him out. That’s why Infinity War is held in such regard, Thanos isn’t just bad, his intentions are understood because they took the time to give us background. I can’t say the villains of this game don’t get any spotlight, but they definitely don’t get enough to pull them away from “I’m the bad guy” status. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you, as once again, the heroes are wonderfully done, but this shines a light on how hard it can be to make a villain three dimensional.
It’s funny I used the word dimensional in the last sentence, because that’s exactly where we’re headed next. Gameplay is paramount to any video game, it’s in fact in the name, but Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is awesome because it takes what you know and does it better than ever. Let’s be clear, you’ve largely experienced what Rift Apart does in terms of platforming and third-person shooting, but it’s also why you’re back and excited to play it again. Running, jumping, shooting, platforming, rail grinding, and more return in Rift Apart, and they continue to be just as fun as you remember, all with the fluidity added by playing on a PS5. The big addition to the game, the dimensional rifts, brings with it another element to how you play, while letting you choose if you even want to worry about it.
Rifts, while fun to use, are not required in the slightest. They exist around different battlefields, but not all of them. It’s a cool idea, and makes for interesting moments, but it’s more something you use as a “get out of jail free card” when up against a bunch of enemies. I’m sure on harder difficulties these will come into play more, but the other inclusion of a dodge mechanic also eases your reliance on rifts. That’s probably a good thing in the end, as too much loading could crash any system, but given the advertisement of these handy little teleporters it’s a little disappointing they weren’t utilized more heavily.
Where the different dimensions do come into play on a large scale is the levels where you must dimension hop. We’ve seen in at least one of the trailers Ratchet striking a purple crystal with his wrench and watching the environment seemingly change to a different version of itself. This is a Blizon crystal, and as you’ll find in several levels it is essential to not only finishing the level, but solving certain puzzles or getting some collectibles. The game quite literally loads another version of the level in an instant, and on a technical level it’s absolutely astounding. Jumping between these two “worlds” is a lot of fun, and figuring out the different ways to use it to your advantage is a blast. These are some of the best levels of the game because they bring something new to the table that Ratchet & Clank hasn’t fully done before, and I can only say I hope they do more with it in the future.
While the gameplay itself hasn’t changed much, it’s still fun to operate the ridiculous arsenal available to you in Rift Apart. A fun way they explain away not having to buy the same items twice (given you play as Rivet as well), is that both are purchasing from Mrs. Zurkon (the vendor), and as Rivet is the Ratchet of her world they’re both buying on the same account. It’s a silly explanation, but it’s fun. I’m definitely fine with not needing to earn twice as many bolts, as there are a ton of weapons available. I also absolutely love Richard Horvitz’s Zurkon Jr. reading off the previews for each weapon, and his voiceovers are some of the more comical moments of the game.
So, the weapons. Some are pretty basic, like the Burst Pistol or the Shatterbomb, but you’ll eventually get to crazier ones like the Topiary Sprinkler or Cold Snap. As with previous entries, the more you use them, the higher the level they achieve, and getting to level five unlocks the elite version of the weapon. For instance, the Void Repulsor, a shotgun with a shield, uses the ammo to craft said shield, but you can also use the shield as a burst shot. Once you level it all the way up, it becomes the “Void Reactor” with the ability to fire your opponents projectiles back at them. This system not only encourages you to try a lot of different weapons, but to work towards upgrading them to get the best results. One thing I noticed, ammo drops from boxes don’t tend to focus on replenishing what you’re short on, and that alone should push you to try out different guns.
Playing around with weapons is what you do in a Ratchet & Clank game, but the environments you’re going to do it in are on another level compared to previous iterations. I spoke already about the rift levels, they’re amazing, but there’s a bit of an Uncharted 4 glow up that’s occurred as well. There are several locations that are enormous, and you have the option of just exploring them to find the different secrets, like gold bolts for instance, hiding in nooks and crannies. All the locations have a ton of things to find, but one of the cooler additions is the optional rift levels. They’re small, and with a payoff of a piece of gear, but the puzzles are a lot of fun to solve. Besides these puzzles also lie Clank and Glitch sections, with Clank having to use orbs like lift and speed to move hologram-like versions of himself to the end of the level to dissolve rift anomalies. Glitch sections are fun little shooters, moving an adorable little spider-like robot around to destroy computer viruses keeping you from accessing certain computer consoles. These worlds are filled with plenty for you to enjoy, from the grassy swamps of Sargasso to the sheer cliffs of Molonoth Gulch.
Now, each planet you visit feels larger than life even if you are forced into a more linear experience, with the backdrop opening the scale of it considerably. Another thing you notice right off the bat is they feel so full, lush in foliage, wildlife, and alien peoples. It’s truly a sight to behold, and all I can think about is what Insomniac is going to do in the future. Games don’t often get the opportunity to feel “alive”, and that’s what’s been accomplished in Rift Apart.
Part of that is due to the power of the PS5 console, and you can see it’s effects in full force in this game. Obviously we all know the rifts straight up wouldn’t be possible without the SSD, but just like Miles Morales does, loading is nearly immediate. If I died, I was right back in the action, if I was loading my save, I was playing in no time. We always talk about the moments of “oh, I’m playing now”, and not only is that due to some of the most incredibly crafted visuals in a video game, it’s also due to non-existent loading.
Speaking of visuals, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart gets the crown for graphical achievement on PS5, at least until Horizon Forbidden West comes out. I already spoke to the environments feeling alive, and you can’t do that unless you feel immersed in them. Everything is unbelievably beautiful, with colors popping, characters animating fluidly, and the lighting and shadows operating at new heights thanks to the fantastic use of ray tracing. The ray tracing is definitely on point, and it’s especially noticeable in one of the first levels of Nefarious City. Whether it’s watching your reflection in real time in front of windows or the shine of lights off of Clank, it’s clear Insomniac is a master of their craft. I remember thinking of a time when games like this would surpass Pixar films like Toy Story or the Incredibles, and as soon as you play Rift Apart it’s apparent we’re already there.
Another area Insomniac Games has shown their command of the PlayStation 5’s capabilities is the DualSense controller. Insomniac hasn’t necessarily gone all in on it, the recent Returnal feels much more realized in its use of the DualSense, but they’ve found the medium between subtle and overpowering. When you fire the Burst Pistol, if you half pull the R2 adaptive trigger you fire single shots, while if you fully pull it you switch over to automatic fire. Similarly with the Headhunter sniper, if you half pull the L2 you’ll use the scope, with a full pull activating a slow down mode to get the perfect shot. It’s the little things, like feeling the fight of the trigger during that Burst Pistol full pull that immerse you, and Rift Apart does it with aplomb. The same can be said about the haptic feedback, which doesn’t reach the levels of the rain in Returnal, but leaves you with a perfect pitter patter as Ratchet runs across specific surfaces, even buzzing on the right or left depending on which foot falls. Using these tools to complement a game is appreciated, and not every game needs to have the DualSense jumping out of your hand to make it work.
Now, let’s talk about the grunthors in the room, the length of the story. This game is going to clock in around ten hours (maybe 15-20 for completionists), and while it accomplishes everything the story beat needs to, that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. Let’s get this straight, Ratchet & Clank is not a forty hour RPG, and while I was left wanting more, I feel like that’s more due to enjoying and loving the gameplay loop so much that I wanted to keep playing.
The good news is that not only are there plenty of collectibles and side missions you may have missed to go back to, Challenge Mode also makes a return in Rift Apart. For those who don’t know, this is more or less New Game Plus for the series. Given how much I enjoyed the game I jumped back in using it, and it’s well worth it. You’ll be able to earn bolts (currency), at a faster rate, start with most everything you had before, and be able to grind out the last guns you need to upgrade. Better yet, the store has Omega versions of the same weapons which are more powerful, and also have a higher level to build to which gives you more to do. It’s a great way to keep you playing, and it’s nice to have a new game plus mode available at launch.
As for what’s available at launch, I am thrilled to see Performance mode and Performance RT mode make their way over from Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. One could figure they’d be there, and thankfully they are. My only qualm is that I’ve not been able to spend much time with either; PlayStation didn’t get us the Day One patch until late. While this is a bummer, especially for anyone without an internet connection, I can at least say the Fidelity mode runs flawlessly, and at 4K/30 the game is gorgeous. It might not be as clean as 60fps, but you don’t necessarily have to have it in a single player game, especially when it’s this good without it. As for the Performance and Performance RT modes, if that’s your preference, both run smooth as butter, at least for the small amount of time I was able to play them. I swear, Insomniac Games employs a bunch of wizards.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It’s fun, it’s endearing, and I just want to play it again. The gameplay isn’t much different, but it’s refined and has aged like a fine wine, with the technical prowess on display we’ve come to expect from Insomniac Games. If you’re looking for a great narrative, the story is arguably the best in the series, with the grandeur of a Marvel movie in tow. One could imply the game isn’t long enough, but that’s only because they put down the controller, and that’s just not what you’re going to do if you have a copy of Rift Apart.