Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – a Cynical Rant about a really good game

I finally managed to get my hands on a PlayStation 5. Over the course of the past six months I’ve always know that it was probably going to be Ratchet & Clank that made me break down and start searching out one of these giant monstrosities of a consoles.

I always thought of myself as a big fan of the Ratchet & Clank series over the years. Mostly from my time playing those first three PlayStation 2 games over and over again. In hindsight, thanks to never really having a PS3, I realise that I might have missed more games in the franchise than I’d actually played.

The PS4 remake from 2016 being the first time I put hands on the series since Ratchet & Clank 3 from 2004. But it’s still a series I think back on very fondly, plus I’ve got all the time in the world for Insomniac Games. I mean they gave us Spyro the Dragon, Sunset Overdrive and the new Spider-Man video game franchise just to name a few of their other big projects.

In case you didn’t know, Ratchet & Clank are a series of character action platformers. Splitting time between defeating hoards of enemies using the array of wacky weapons available in the game, exploring worlds with an ever growing access to gadgets and tools as well as more more puzzley elements. Usually involving taking control of other characters besides Ratchet.

And to say that Rift Apart is “another one of those” would be a pretty reductive say to describe the game. But that’s kind of what it is. The bones of the franchise are still there, plain to see. Starting you off with a melee weapon and a “peashooter” gun while slowly giving you access to more and more as you progress through the game and collect enough currency to buy and upgrade the weapons at the vendors.

In Rift Apart, the “retired” heroes Ratchet & Clank are getting a parade in their honour for all the times they’ve saved the Galaxy over the years. Culminating with Clank presenting Ratchet with a repaired Dimensionator; a device he can use to travel between dimensions and finally reconnect with the other members of his lost race. A plot thread that has been ongoing in the series for the past handful of entries.

However, before any of that can happen, reoccurring villain Dr. Nefarious shows up, steals the Dimensionator and breaks apart the dimensions, trapping himself, Ratchet and Clank in a reality where Nefarious always wins. Once here, the heroic duo get split up when this reality’s version of Ratchet: a grey female Lomax called Rivet grabs Clank in order to figure what the hell is going on with all these purple holes in the sky.

For the most part, a lot of this story is kind of wrote. Built almost entirely on cliche and trope. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, although it wouldn’t have been had the tone of the series not shifted so much since that original game. The very first Ratchet & Clank had more of an edge to it. Ratchet was more of a hot headed, cantankerous douche and it was Clank who was the more heroic of the pair.

That old game was cliché too, but riddled with satire, ala Robocop/Starship Troopers and pop culture references. You could call it the Disneyfication of the franchise, but as it’s aged it’s lost a lot of its edge and become more moderate and middle of the road. Especially when it comes to interpersonal conflict involving its primary characters.

In that first game, Ratchet and Clank spent more time bickering than they did on the same page. In Rift Apart Ratchet has become the nicest, most wholesome guy you’ll ever meet. Even Rivet, who is presented as the darker timeline version of Ratchet is only mildly distrustful of the other main characters other than being outright hostile to them.

Which isn’t a problem in itself, these modern presentation of the characters work just fine and fine in much better with the hyper-polished Pixar looking character design that the series is working with. The problem being that when the game is still leaning heavily on the narrative shorthand and cliche that has been there since the first game, the missing satire element ends up making the world of the game a hollow seeming one.

A visually breath-taking and absurdly well designed world, but a hollow one nonetheless.

Which is why I feel like this entire project was a Sony driven one rather than Insomniac really having a new story to tell in this franchise. With the release of the PS5, Sony really needed a visual showpiece to drive home what their new console was capable of. Like how Astro’s Playroom is a proof of concept for the DualSense controller and everything that could do.

Rift Apart is a game that seems perfectly made to show off the absurdly fast load times, transitions and ray tracing effects the new console is capable of. While Rift Apart is undoubtedly a stunning looking game, a lot of what makes the PS5 such an impressive console is probably lost on your average joe consumer. The fact that there are no load screens, that you can transition between two entirely different locations through rifts with no pause is something they’ll never read as impressive.

But it is. And Sony want their prospective new developers to know just what their new console is able to do. Which is part o the reason I think this game exists at all, and maybe why parts of it do just seem like “more of the same” Insomniac weren’t here to revolutionise the gameplay or combat in any way. They were here to flex and show off the tech. Which they do amazingly.

In the end, Rift Apart is a lot of fun still. It’s a refreshingly brief experience that is super welcoming to players who want to new game+ it, giving you encouragement to do so in fact. The game’s weapons are a good mixture of utilitarian and quirky and while I may have critisied it for losing its edge, the characters and their interactions are super charming.

Rift Apart is a great game to be truthful. But like any entry in an older series you’re always going to get cyncial dickheads like myself finding fault in it because its not the same as it was when I was a kid. Ultimately though, none of that matters. This is beautiful, impressive, charming and fun filled adventure and a welcome return for the Ratchet & Clank franchise, no matter the reasons behind it.

It’s still a “must buy” game on the PS5. Not only because of how visually impressive it is, but because of how much fun it is. Insomniac we’re trying to break any new ground here. They just gave us a great game and told us to have some fun with it. And I still am, despite being close to finishing it a second time, I don’t see any end to my time with the game in sight.

So take my cynicism with a big pinch of salt, yeah?

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