Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review
Ratchet and Clank haven’t had much to do for a while — something that their latest adventure Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart pokes fun at in its opening scenes. The 2016 remake aside, Insomniac Games’ famed duo haven’t taken on a big hero gig in almost a decade. However, the pair quickly prove that they haven’t lost a step whilst stumbling into this dimension-hopping, all action, adventure for PlayStation 5.
And what an adventure it is. As much a new beginning as it is a continuation of the Ratchet & Clank story, Rift Apart subtly manages somewhat of a soft reboot for the series in a really inventive way. So whether you’re a long-time fan or a complete newcomer, everyone can enjoy the game's approximately 15-hour ride. I suppose being able to play with the timeline is a huge benefit of having an inter-dimensional “MacGuffin” at the heart of your story.
Said “MacGuffin” is The Dimensionator — a device with the power to open up rifts to other dimensions that has featured in previous Ratchet & Clank games. It’s also something that perennial villain Dr. Nefarious is all too happy to take off your hands. What ensues is a very typical alternative dimension story with many of the ‘same-but-different’ mirrored universe tropes you might expect. It’s simple, for sure, and handled with the good humour and style the series is known for but there’s still room for some surprising depth and genuine character moments here too. Plus, a few missteps aside, I found it to be really well paced.
This is especially important early on as we're quickly introduced to Rivet — a new playable character. Like Ratchet, Rivet is a Lombax (quite the rarity) and she’s also a bit of a hero. The similarities don’t end there. In fact, they don’t really end. Rivet and Ratchet both play identically. Whilst a touch disappointing, it arguably makes for a more cohesive game overall. Especially when you consider that switching between the two Lombaxes happens fairly often, increasingly so towards the end of the game. The pair both have a melee attack — Ratchet with his OmniWrench and Rivet with her hammer — and both have access to the same pool of weapons, upgrades, armour and other cosmetic items with progression shared between the pair. There’s even a nice throwaway line from weapons vendor Mrs. Zurkon to tie this in too.
A member of the resistance in her home dimension, it’s through Rivet and an accidental team-up with Clank that the bulk of the story comes together. The separation of our core pairing allows for some nice character moments and, again, provides a steady foundation to build a story that can be followed by everyone. All of this happens incredibly quickly, so it’s not long until Rift Apart falls into the standard Ratchet & Clank pattern of land on a planet (either as Rivet or Ratchet depending on the scenario), complete the objective and move on. Whilst it doesn’t reinvent the series in any way, it's a simple but effective blueprint and each planet is varied enough that the formula never really gets stale.
The same can be said for enemy encounters. Enemies will swarm at you thick and fast and the amount of enemies that can pile onto the screen at once can be particularly impressive. The hail of bullets and bolts results in shootouts feeling even more lively and chaotic than they already are. And whilst these do alter from area to area, there is a touch of the formulaic about them: Take out a few large waves of enemies before a bigger, tougher, sub-boss eventually appears. They’re not all like that, but the pattern did become a little tired after a while. However, there is one big change that adds an extra dimension (sorry!) to combat — rifts.
Featuring heavily in the story, rifts can also appear during combat to give Ratchet or Rivet an advantage. Using a Rift Tether, either Lombax can latch onto a nearby glowing yellow rift and essentially pull it towards them. A quick press of L1 achieves this and the effect is astonishing. First and foremost, it’s an incredible technical feat on the side of the PlayStation 5 to be able to load in assets and alternative views of levels so quickly. From a gameplay standpoint, it can alter the angle you’re fighting from to flank enemies or get you out of danger in a hurry. And whilst they’re particularly well done during some of the larger boss fights, I wish that we got to see some more variety in them or have them appear in more scenarios. Outside of combat, rifts will often pop up during perilous platforming sequences which may actually be where they’re best implemented. Flying through a rift to find yourself seemingly on the other side of a level is kind of mind-blowing and definitely emphasises the sheer scale of Rift Apart’s planets.
The scale of the game was one of the first things that struck me as Rift Apart opened and continued to impress right until the very end. Seriously, for the scope alone, the final section is incredibly impressive. The size of these levels also gives each one an element of open world inspired exploration, a first for the series. This provides plenty of opportunity to revisit levels for additional collectables or side quests. Combine that with all of the environmental layers and other little elements Rift Apart loves to fill each area with, plus the incredible use of ray tracing, and it's hard not to be impressed. The game just looks stunning. Taking a pause in the middle of any level, particularly those that take place outside, will reveal a stunning level of detail. Even playing the game in the ‘Performance RT’ mode — 60fps with ray tracing — left me astonished. Naturally, the ‘Fidelity’ visual setting — 30fps with all the bells and whistles — is the way to go if you prefer visual splendor above all else, but ‘Performance RT’ was an excellent alternative and the game plays beautifully at 60fps.
Detail isn’t spared in close-quarters encounters either. The amount of reflections is kind of mind blowing, whilst taking down a few of Nefarious’ hilarious robots or one of the reptilian gym rat Thugs-4-Less will result in a shimmering shower of bolts to fill the screen, each one clicking individually as you collect them — something excellently mimicked by the haptics in the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller. The DualSense gets a great workout during Rift Apart, with everything from Ratchet/Rivet’s footsteps or the whoosh of a slingshot feeling different in your hands. Naturally, the game’s incredible arsenal of weapons takes full advantage of the new controller too.
The weapons of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart are augmented by the DualSense controller, both in its haptics but also via the controller’s adaptive triggers. A light press on R2 will initiate a certain fire mode, or lock-on targeting. Pull through the trigger’s range instead and you’ll unleash the true power of each ridiculous weapon. It’s a very clever mechanic, but one that I’m not sure I fully explored. It was always far too easy to go full pelt with a weapon, especially as the action is so frantic. Nonetheless, it remains a worthy addition and provides some real weight when blasting enemies with some of the game’s heavier artillery.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of returning favourites in Rift Apart. Ratchet and Rivet’s standard issue burst pistol feels brilliant, a light press providing a precise single shot whilst a full trigger pull results in a glorious hail of bullets, and wreaking havoc with the Warmonger rocket launcher will never not be fun. There are also some intriguing new additions too, like the hilarious and effective Mr. Fungi. The Topiary Sprinkler — a weapon that turns opponents into shrubbery sculptures (yes, really) — was another I found particularly satisfying to use; slowing down enemies during intense battles. Unfortunately, some fan favourites didn’t make the cut, but I quickly found new ones.
Fighting hordes of enemies, levelling up my weapons and exploring every nook and cranny was so much fun. It’s like the game is constantly urging you to play it. I wanted to smash every box, complete every optional objective, and explore every one of the Pocket Dimensions for the next piece of gear or illusive gold bolt. I even ran through every one of the game’s challenge rooms. The game is just a blast to play. The only time that it takes a dip really is in its puzzles.
Appearing as part of the main quest, side objectives involving Clank and some other new sidekicks pop up every now and again. Unfortunately, these tend to just kill the pacing and feel like filler to pad out the final moments of any particular level. They’re not bad, just a little dull and, in the case of Glitch’s virus-destroying mini-games, a combination of frustrating and repetitive. Thankfully, you can skip these puzzles entirely if you so choose with zero penalty. After all, if you’re frustrated, you’re not having fun.
On the surface it would be so easy to write Rift Apart off as “just another Ratchet & Clank game” — and in many ways it is. However, onto that solid structure the team at Insomniac has added what they’ve learned from games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and Sunset Overdrive to raise the bar for this almost 20-year-old series: The scale of the world, the giant set pieces, the sheer amount of polish, even the game’s incredible range of accessibility options all help present Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart as a brilliant new beginning for the franchise.
If this was a test to see if Ratchet & Clank could be a staple of PlayStation’s first-party once again, Insomniac has passed with flying colours.
I haven’t smiled this much playing a game all year, and on that count Rift Apart is going to be hard to beat. Insomniac has mastered the art of making its games feel epic and fun to play, with stories — and, most importantly, characters — that you care about. That’s everything I want from a video game.
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