Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the last Ratchet and Clank adventure – the PS4 installment greatly improved the overall gameplay flow, but was hurt a bit story-wise by being a tie-in to a movie, making each product kind of a half of a single whole. It didn’t follow up on the Future series that has held up nicely in its own regard on the PS3, but fortunately, Rift Apart does just that and makes remarkable use of the PS5’s increase in tech both in terms of sheer horsepower but also its super-fast SSD. Featuring the semi-retired Ratchet and Clank in a new adventure that sends them throughout several dimensions – with a level of fast-paced frenzy that the series has never seen before and a greater focus on a narrative that showcases just how Insomniac has nailed down these characters over the past 20 years.
Starting off with a gorgeous aerial parade in their honor, Ratchet and Clank’s bond is shown off perfectly as it’s easy to see that they care about one another and their chemistry remains perfect. These two characters just click and Clank winds up being the tie that binds this whole adventure together – giving him more of a showcase than he really even had in his starring adventure on the PSP. The little dude made a device called the dimensionator and of course, this winds up in the wrong hands and this dimension’s Dr. Nefarious uses it to go to another dimension where he is emperor. In this dimension, there is also a rebellion force out to topple this incarnation of Nefarious led by Rivet – a bright white lombax. The dimensionator sends Clank into her world and this is where Clank, as the glue for the narrative. truly shines.
Clank hasn’t just lost an arm, but a friend as Rivet is distrusting of most and he has to work extra-hard to gain her trust. Rivet’s own cast of characters is similar to Ratchet’s and when they switch back and forth between dimensions for each of them, they share ammo and loadouts – which in a way makes no sense, but does make things like ammo count and weapons more consistent and easier to mentally keep track of in real-time. The increased focus on the narrative is something that can either go really well or blow up badly when it comes to 3D platformers. Some games, like Mario Odyssey, have shown that having a sparse narrative may be best and that comparison is one that came to mind a lot when playing through Rift Apart because despite three sub-series of games, the Ratchet and Clank universe and its lore are surprisingly deep at times.
Ratchet’s quest to find another lombax had some road blocks before, but Rivet is the absolute perfect character for him to contrast with as she’s headstrong in ways that he isn’t and more comfortable being part of a larger group wanting to take out Emperor Nefarious. However, he has more overt confidence while she’s a bit unsure of herself at times and that uneasiness plays into her actions as she doubts whether or not she can take on a new dimension’s problems. Ratchet is a bit more of an old hat when it comes to all of his plans going awry, so he’s just kind of down for whatever and will do whatever it takes to reunite with Clank. Just hearing his voice and seeing him again in video form brought a big smile to his face, and the use of faces and voice acting in concert winds up driving the stakes of Rift Apart’s home.
From a gameplay perspective, Rift Apart feels both in line with past games and yet also a bit fresher. Prior entries have been a blend of action and puzzle-platforming with some fast-paced sections thrown in with rail grinding and maybe a touch of bolt grinding to get new gear. Now, bolt drops are a bit more robust, so grinding in that regard is cut back a bit while rail grinding is made more gorgeous than ever before with larger-scale environments and also more forgiving as a timing window of sorts pops up when the action slows down a tad. This is fantastic and allows players to have a warning without being too obvious about it. The variety of puzzles is far greater now than ever before and goes from simple logic puzzles to sections where Clank is sent into action to engage in Lemmings-style action that came out of left field, but was a ton of fun. He has to help guide a series of shadow copies of himself and use various power-ups to control the smashers and ensure that both he and his copies aren’t smashed or blocked in their path.
The most fun “puzzle” sections are actually behind the back twin-stick shooter sections where Ratchet sends his virtual buddy Glitch into a virus-laden world to take out viruses with a blaster and pseudo-missile attack. Glitch is an emoticon LED-filled goofball and offers up a lot of levity and comedy in ways that would normally be reserved for something a bit more self-referential like Watch Dogs 2. where they’re kind of in on the joke. These sections are a blast and the cool thing is that if the player just wants to skip these sections either to keep going with more traditional action gameplay or just wants to experience more of the plot, they can be skipped completely if you so desire. It’s also nice if after a long play session until 2AM where maybe the brain isn’t working fully, you can just skip the one brain teaser to see the plot go forward without any penalty.
From a core action gameplay perspective, Rift Apart is familiar and almost to a fault. The melee combat is more satisfying than ever before thanks to the DualSense’s use of low-key vibration during busy combat and especially in smaller moments like having a club’s massive speakers lead to a thumping on the pad, but the melee and shooting combat feels about the same as it has on the PS3 and PS4. It’s refined and easy to get used to, but there isn’t usage of things like the gyroscope to help with aiming. This would be a life-saver during more chaotic sections too where it’s important to not only shoot with great accuracy to survive, but also to be more efficient with ammo so you’re aren’t left scurrying to find some quickly during the thick of battle.
This is one area where Rift Apart could definitely benefit from a post-launch patch and like Returnal before it, it does feel odd to have a game that makes such great use of newer features of the DualSense’s motors and especially its triggers for combat making each weapon’s trigger pull feel different, but doesn’t use something that’s been around for 15 years that has a tangible benefit for aiming and long-range combat. Hopefully, Insomniac adds this feature in later on as they have been best-in-class when it comes to post-launch support for games and even six months into the PS5’s life, we have seen three examples from them in the form of Spider-Man Remastered, Miles Morales, and now Rift Apart in how they’ve made this generation their own more than anyone else in the industry.
Visually, Rift Apart is stunning and features not only the most robust and vibrant worlds the series has ever seen – but also the best movement and facial animation. It truly shines in photo mode when you just take a moment to let things breathe and see how the characters are feeling in that moment in time. Seeing Rivet express a bit of worry in her face during a large battle off of just a photo mode scene captured by happenstance adds a little something to the experience. The shift from cutscene to gameplay was already impressive on the PS4, but has now been taken to the next level thanks to the boost in detail for characters and the world in real-time. Fur especially looks remarkable and both Ratchet and Rivet make the PS5 shine brightly with different lengths and types of fur on each.
The voice work and overall sound design of Rift Apart are remarkable and the best in the series’ history to date. The casting and chemistry has always shined even with some recasting thrown in, but character chemistry truly shines now more than ever before. Clank manages to be not only perfect with Ratchet as expected, but also seamlessly fits in with Rivet as he gives her a different outlook on what’s going on and helps ease her fears at times. This adds another layer to Clank, and Ratchet manages to view Rivet as more of an ally than one might expect going in – there’s no jealousy or anything, he just wants them to both be safe and by virtue of Clank trusting her, Ratchet trusts her right away too. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with a mix of modern-sounding music alongside a faster-paced soundtrack like prior games, while also adding in some Stranger Things-esque backing effects that add a sense of fear to the dimension-hopping. It’s a lot more fear-inducing than one would normally expect from a Ratchet game and allows this entry to stand apart just on its soundtrack in ways that prior games haven’t.
Overall, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a must-buy for series fans and it also manages to work as a standalone game for those new to the series since a lot of backstory is given some context in real-time – so using context clues gives you the ability to see what role the characters have in the world. It’s the best-looking, sounding, and playing entry yet in the franchise’s 20 years and its super-fast loading makes the PS5’s SSD shine brightly as highly-detailed worlds just show up out of nowhere without losing any of the immersion. After an iffy PS4 entry, Rift Apart delivers the full-on next generation experience for series fans and newcomers alike. It’s the best showcase game the PS5 has had yet and makes the on-board SSD shine in ways that truly impress when you take a step back to soak in just what’s happening in real-time.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart for the PlayStation 5 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.