Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Format: PS4 (reviewed)
Released: April 12, 2016
The sun has set over the planet Veldin and our furry protagonist, Ratchet, is contemplating life atop a quaint garage for spaceship repairs. His dreams of becoming a galactic space ranger have been tossed aside by the egos in charge. Staring into space, Ratchet looks to the stars, compartmentalizing the day’s disappointing events. At that moment a ship breaks into the atmosphere, soaring passed Ratchet to crash in a distant valley. Curious, Ratchet goes to investigate. Little did the Lombax know that what he was about to find would jumpstart a galactic adventure to save the universe.
Insomniac Games’ return to the 14-year-old series is one of great highs, demonstrating a fantastic level of polish, a charming cast of characters, and a display of unwavering creativity true to the tone of past entries. Ratchet & Clank, on the PlayStation 4, acts as a reimagining of the PS2 classic where the iconic space-duo’s adventures first began. It follows the same story as the 2002 original, however, everything has been rebuilt from the ground up to harness the power of the PS4 and embrace modern game design. Above all else, Ratchet & Clank makes a statement that proves mascot platformers still have a place in 2016. I couldn’t resist breaking into a big, silly smile on multiple occasions while making my way through the little over 10-hour campaign that encapsulates plentiful amounts of wit and charm, alike. Keeping to the structure of the original, this rebooted take on Ratchet & Clank is built on the same set of values the series has made itself known for, while simultaneously expanding into new territory. For one, the overall scope of the game has widened, allowing ample room for innovation in terms of gameplay, as well as character development. Set to the tone of a whimsical, family-friendly space odyssey, there’s just about something for everyone within Insomniac’s refined rendition of Ratchet. From the simple, yet highly enjoyable gameplay, to the delightfully tongue-in-cheek dialogue, there are few moments within the game not punctuated by style. The series has always been associated with a wacky and creative arsenal of weaponry, and this entry is no exception. Whether it be the Groovitron making its return by turning the battlefield into a temporary dance floor, or my personal favorite, the Pixelizer, a powerful firearm that resorts targets to their 8-bit forms, Ratchet & Clank’s combat is kept consistently fresh by its willingness to be silly.
While exploring the array of worlds worked into the story throughout the Galaxy, I was frequently taken aback at the visual fidelity of their environments. Ratchet & Clank is one of the best looking games in recent memory, with sequences on par with Pixar’s masterful animation. Stunning lighting, environmental textures, sharp character models and sprawling landscapes rich with detail, bring the reimagined Ratchet to a level of graphical quality few games can hang their hat on. It’s backed up by solid mission design as well, from fast-paced flying sections where Ratchet takes to the skies, to small puzzle-based sequences where you take control of Clank, to on foot endeavors which make up the bulk of the experience. Each aspect is fun on its own, but it’s the way Insomniac mixes them together that really makes them work. There’s rarely a dull moment to be had, for if you’re not blasting your way through a hoard of slimy, green blobs, you’re demonstrating your hoverboarding skills at one of the world’s optional races. A criminally underused highlight of Ratchet’s gameplay is the thrilling jetpack introduced a few hours in. Unfortunately, use of the jetpack is reserved for a select few free-roaming areas. Nonetheless, jetting around the interesting worlds was an absolute blast, I just wish it was better incorporated into the larger game as a whole. The stain in the otherwise well-rounded adventure is a catastrophic halt in pace towards the last hour or so, thanks to prolonged and repetitive boss fights, stretched challenges, and somewhat dull narrative execution. These underwhelming moments came as a huge surprise considering the high bar of quality the game had been meeting up to until that point. The difficulty is considerably heightened, the intelligent humor fades to the background, and some truly questionable design decisions come dangerously close to derailing the entire last act. It’s almost shocking how out of nowhere the drop of enjoyment is; making me wonder just what the intent was behind the last few set pieces, other than staying true to the original vision. In spite of that, Ratchet & Clank is utterly delightful for the majority of the time–taking what made the series a staple back in the day and giving it the modernized treatment it deserves. The result is a testament to how rebooting a franchise for a new generation can maintain the spirit of the classics, while injecting just enough nuance and improvements to make it feel like a completely new package.Conclusion: By the end of my intergalactic venture with the new take on Ratchet & Clank, I was left thoroughly impressed. There are certainly some frustrations to wade through, but in the end it’s a charming combination Insomniac’s signature touches, showcasing their evolution as designers over the past 14 years. The characters, weapons, gadgets and world design are all brimming with personality, and while they may not stack up with past entries in terms of concrete numbers, they’re definitively the most polished. Fan’s of the series should feel right at home with the gleeful presentation and variation at play, and everyone else should consider checking in. Ratchet & Clank’s future is looking up and now is a better time than ever to strap in. Who would’ve guessed one of the best exclusives to hit the PS4 to date would be the reimagined story of a charismatic Lombax and a helpful little robot.