Ratchet and Clank has been a PlayStation staple for 14 years. When the original debuted in 2002, it was lauded as one of the best platformers on any console at that time, and Insomniac’s penchant for a massive arsenal of insane weapons and tons of collectibles and unlockables made it a game that fans loved to play and replay. 10 console titles, two handheld games, and one HD collection later, and Insomniac has decided that the best way to carry the Ratchet and Clank legacy forward is by going back to the beginning and starting over.
There’s always a fear with reboots — or rather, re-imaginings, as Insomniac is inclined to call this one. Will it be faithful enough? Will it change enough? Where is that perfect balance to adequately bring it forward to today’s standards while not letting it lose any of what originally made it great. Insomniac experimented with a lot of ideas over their tenure with the Lombax and his robot pal. Some were hits, and others missed the mark, most notably All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault which changed a lot of the core elements of the series. Into the Nexus was a fair attempt to restore the series to glory, but was all too short, feeling more like a teaser than a proper return to form.
Ratchet & Clank on PS4 finds itself with none of these problems. While it’s based largely off of the original in terms of plot and design, it plays like a “greatest hits” of the entire series up to this point. Weapons like Mr. Zurkon (a hilarious floating deathbot) that never made an appearance in the original now get their chance to do some damage. Characters like Dr. Nefarious make appearances alongside the original cast. The gameplay is tweaked in such a way that it feels more like the recent iterations in terms of control, while retaining its signature Ratchet & Clank charm. There’s a surplus of insane weapons from all of the games over the last decade and a half. There’s even a card collection mechanic called holocards that offer trivia and glimpses into the last 15 years of Ratchet & Clank, in addition to gameplay bonuses for completing portions of the card set.
A Crack in Time
As someone who has played and replayed every Ratchet & Clank game numerous times, I was fervently impressed with Insomniac’s retelling of history. Level designs such as Novalis and Rilgar are entirely familiar while throwing a couple of left turns in to keep even the hardcore fans on their toes. It’s exciting to find a secret area or gold bolt that I distinctly remembered from playing the original game (or perhaps from getting the Platinum trophy on the HD remaster), but it was even more rousing to discover new paths and secrets that change what I thought I knew about each area. There’s no denying that the game looks great. The PS4 does wonders for rendering Ratchet and the rest of the cast in a Pixar-like quality, with environments that are vibrant, detailed, and distinct.
In all of the effort to make a game that plays and looks great, it seems like they forgot the story. Or perhaps they are letting the writers put it all into the movie. Buddy games like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet & Clank have always been about the bond between the two that are sharing their journey with you. The original game had a lot of story about Ratchet discovering Clank and the differences that each of them had, and then overcoming those differences to be friends and save the galaxy. With Ratchet & Clank, it feels like that emotional story of bonding between these two characters was lost somewhere along the way. There’s still the “heroic duo saves the galaxy” plot line, but don’t expect it to dive too deeply into the Lombax/robot psyche. In a way it’s kind of sad to have a Ratchet & Clank game where they seemed to forget about the big “and” in between their names.
Part of this may be owing to the manner of retelling. Ratchet & Clank is being recounted by Captain Qwark — an egomaniacal and narcissistic hero — so he frequently narrates portions of the game. On the other side, you do get some interesting story deviations from the original because of this, so don’t think you know the whole story just because you’ve played the game before. It stands to reason that Qwark wouldn’t dive too deeply into the relationship between Ratchet and his robot pal, but it still feels like a sorely missed point when the game’s narrative focuses far more on the heroic side of things and far less on the friendship these heroes elicit through their time hopping planet to planet. I really hope the movie does a far better job of capturing this facet of these characters.
Up Your Arsenal
Of course, that’s a minor quibble when the gameplay is so much fun, and there’s a reason fun rhymes with gun. Ratchet & Clank features 14 guns — the greatest hits from across each of the games. Of course classics and newer gadgets alike are back, like the agents of doom, combuster, and blade launcher. Every gun is able to be upgraded to level five, at which point it morphs into a different weapon with additional properties. Tying in the holocard collecting aspect, if you manage to complete a weapon’s set of cards, you’ll be given the ability to buy the omega version of that weapon in challenge mode, which is essentially Ratchet & Clank’s equivalent of a new game+ mode where you can start the game over while retaining all of your existing weapons and the ability to get a multiplier when you collect bolts.
The downside to such a massive arsenal in glorious high definition is that it can be hard to distinguish friendly fire from enemy attacks. Normally this isn’t too big of an issue, but when trying to play hard difficulty and maintain a multiplier on challenge mode, it feels a little unfair that I couldn’t see an enemy projectile because I was going whole hog on a group of baddies with the RYNO (only the coolest and most powerful gun the game — stands for “Rip Ya a New One”). It’s hard to say how they could have telegraphed this better, but it was an annoyance that I had more than once in the heat of battle.
Overall, the game is polished and runs very smoothly. In my two complete playthroughs, I only noticed a couple of slowdowns that happen in massive battle scenarios, and an odd issue where crates can visually clip and disappear when you get close to them with the camera, but neither come close to being gamebreaking issues. Replayability is encouraged through weapon uprades and challenge mode. Of course, Insomniac threw in a bunch of unlocks for collecting gold bolts as well, ranging from art galleries to screen filters, and even allowing the player to choose what kind of collectible the bolts get dressed up as (my favorite being either Sonic’s rings or Legend of Zelda’s rupees). It may seem like little things, but they allow you to have a little more fun with the game and work towards something. Again, it’s this kind of thinking that made Ratchet & Clank such a great game in the first place, and they continue that legacy.
My hope is that the success of both this game and the movie will show a renewed interest in Ratchet & Clank and prompt Insomniac to do more with the series. Though I could have used a little bit more story between the two lead characters, Insomniac have proven once again that they can make very polished games that are visually cutting edge, and give players plenty of ways to play and have fun. I knew that I was looking forward to revisiting Ratchet and Clank’s origins, but I didn’t know how much I’d really missed Ratchet & Clank until I got the opportunity to play it all over again for the first time, and this brand new experience is every bit as good as I remember it being 14 years ago.
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