Ratchet & Clank
The Ratchet and Clank series was a huge hit in the PS2 era. They gave the console some of its best 3D platforming action, added in some exciting rail-hopping, and had more shooting than any other platformer on the market. The PlayStation 3 era brought with it the Future era, and the best gameplay of the series to date. The graphics showed off what the PS3 could do, and earlier entries showed off Sixaxis controls in a rare way that made them almost seem useful instead of just using sticks to control. The franchise didn’t excel commercially though, and wound up concluding on the PS3 with an under the radar entry Under the Nexus. Now, with the franchise’s first feature film set for release, we get a re-imagining of an all-time classic action-platformer.
As expected, the game begins with Captain Qwark being hilarious and getting in some references to a Ratchet and Clank holo-game based on a holo-film. He’s now a guard and re-tells the origin story of Ratchet and Clank in his own words. Unsurprisingly, Captain Qwark is full of himself – as is Ratchet. Ratchet wins the galactic ranger competition to seemingly prove his worth to Qwark, but a long list of crimes counts against him and he’s ousted. Clank on the other hand is labeled a defect in his factory and escapes amid a flurry of runner sequences and action-platforming. Clank crash-lands next to Ratchet’s garage during Ratchet’s darkest hour, and offers to help him out.
Over the course of your journey, you’ll save planets from Chairman Drek, rescue an extreme hoverboarder from sandsharks (and his jerk of an agent), hoverboard race, helping a mad scientist collect brains, and of course, destroy a great many enemies. At first, you’ll be limited to your wrench and cornbuster. The former is a melee weapon by nature, but can also be launched at an enemy or at boxes using L2. Like prior Ratchet and Clank games, you can switch between your weapons in near-real time using a weapon wheel.
Favorites like the item that forces enemies into a dance and of course A GIANT FLAMETHROWER are back. Strafing makes using every item a breeze, and will allow you to avoid a lot of oncoming fire as well. Combat is tighter than ever before, and the mix of puzzle-solving and platforming is more balanced. Puzzles are thrown in from time to time, but don’t bog down the game like they have in some prior entries. Rail-grinding is back and more beautiful than ever before. That was an area that gained a lot in the PS3 installments due to the increase in scope and graphical detail, and this is an upgraded version of that – but with more diverse settings and obstacles.
The story itself takes you on a similar overall path as the first game, but does so in a different sequence and mixes things up. If you’ve never played the series before, this is a great starting point – while long-time fans will probably enjoy seeing another version of the origin story being told. As a long-time comic book fan, I don’t really mind seeing a different interpretation of an origin story. It allows for a fresh take and can sometimes improve things. Here, I love that Ratchet has to prove himself at all times to some degree – but there is a steady sense of progression just based on the whole galactic ranger concept where he goes from the student to the master.
From a pure gameplay perspective, this is the best-playing entry to date. The original games were very good for their time, and the remasters showed that they had a solid base to them – but they were rough around the edges. The Future games on the PS3 refined things more, but could have been better. Now, you have a game that feels just about perfect. Shooting with a lock-on mechanic is a breeze, as is strafing. Just holding in L2 and moving around allows you to avoid enemies while also dealing damage either through moving around the environment or hopping around too.
Railing grinding is back, and more dynamic than before. It used to be fairly straightforward – and it still is in the sense that it’s easy to use, but the camera angles used are far more exciting than the standard behind-the-back viewpoint. Platforming is a lot smoother now, with controls being more responsive than before and allowing for more precise platforming. The camera is still an occasional issue though – and minor knockback from enemies on scaffolds can result in death. Fortunately, those are few in number – but still annoying and worth nothing. Quick weapon-swapping is a breeze with the d-pad, and you can al move around with the d-pad if you so desire. It’s not ideal, but might be a better option if you want to move side-to-side during heated battles. You even have some dogfighting sequences thrown in for good measure too. Playing as Ratchet is as fun as ever, while Clank gets his own mix of action, stealth, and a touch of endless running when he’s playable. The “and Clank” portion of the title feels fitting since he’s a more active member of the team than usual, and that adds some variety to the game as well.
Visually, Ratchet and Clank’s reboot is stunning. It’s one of the best-looking games on the PS4 and much like the Wii U, it has a unique art style that doesn’t go for realism – and the usage of a cartoony style allows the graphics to look even better. Many Wii U games dazzle thanks to an exaggerated style allowing the devs to focus on a beautiful world instead of a realistic one, and this does the same thing. Everything in the world looks like it fits, and the detail level is impressive. Animation is smooth, and there’s nothing that takes you out of the game due to things looking jittery. The silky-smooth framerate helps too.
Ratchet and Clank’s voice acting has always been stellar, and while the cast may have changed, the laughs haven’t diminished as a result. The roles are played to perfection, with Ratchet being a mix of plucky and cocky, Clank being oblivious and adorable, Drek being pure evil, and Captain Qwark being essentially a superhero version of Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. He’s in love with everything involving him, and has a mild tolerance and disdain for everyone else. The soundtrack remains fun to listen to with a soft-rock vibe, and while it isn’t music you’ll likely want to listen to out of the game, it fits perfect inside the game itself.
Overall, this Ratchet and Clank reboot sets up a new era for the franchise just about perfectly. Long-time fans can see what older environments would be like with a modern coat of paint and more updated gameplay, while newcomers get to enjoy a family-friendly adventure that is fun for all ages. Young kids will enjoy the exaggerated looks of the characters, while older players will chuckle at some of the jokes the kids won’t get. There’s a wide variety of gameplay types to enjoy, so you’ll never get bored, and they’re executed very well – which is saying something since it goes from platforming, to shooting, to racing and they all feel natural. Whether you’re new to the franchise or an experienced veteran, Ratchet and Clank is a must-own.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.