Ratchet & Clank Review
In a time where reboots, remakes, and HD-upgrades seem to dominate our popular entertainment, it is no surprise that established game franchises grab the opportunity to renew themselves. With Ratchet & Clank, Insomniac put their own twist on the trend with a reboot of the popular platforming franchise. After 8 core games and a number of spin-offs, Insomniac is now releasing an animated film based on the first game in the franchise and this Ratchet & Clank (2016) is the inevitable game based on the film. In short, it’s a game based on a film based on a game. We’re going full Inception mode here.
Unlike many of the HD releases that have been released in the last few years, like Insomniac’s own Ratchet & Clank Collection, this reboot is not a simple port of the PS2 version. The game has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. Insomniac has also added weapons, characters, and game-play elements that were introduced in later installments of the series. These additions do not change the game so significantly that it feels like a different game. In fact, they have done a great job of staying true to 2002 original while evolving the areas of the game that needed it. The fleshed out characters and worlds help increase the scope of the adventure and let us know the people and worlds better.
And it is a universe that is a pleasure to get to know. The visuals are stunning, creating one of the best-looking games on the PS4, at least in terms of stylized design. The different worlds are wonderfully put together, each with a unique style and theme. The lighting compliments everything it hits, from the short fur on Ratchet’s ears to the shiny metallic surfaces of Clank and the duo’s many weapons. Colorful effects fill the screen as you unload your many weapons on enemies, accompanied by scattering debris, explosions, and currency bolts flying to Ratchet’s pockets. The more enemies, the bigger the fireworks, and the frame rate never drops.
The destruction is complimented by a cast of charming and witty characters, each fully realized by quirky design and solid voice acting performances. Many voice actors return to play the characters they have played in previous installments, most importantly Ratchet, Clank, and (my personal favorite) Captain Qwark. Their talent put together with the funny (sometimes downright hysterical) writing is comedy gold, but there is also a lot of personality and emotion to the characters. Insomniac hits the same notes as Disney with their writing, where jokes and characters can be interpreted differently by audiences of different ages, and this helps to make the game approachable for everyone.
The story in the game is essentially the same as in 2002 original, so don’t expect any new twists. There are new additions that expand on the story, such as new boss fights and an hour of added animated scenes, but it still follows the same overall narrative. The story progresses quickly, much like the combat. Despite the added cutscenes, the game doesn’t rely on lengthy scenes to push the plot forward. The scenes are short and to the point, relaying the information necessary without needless small-talk. Most of the dialogue happens during gameplay, both when you explore or in the middle of combat. As a result, the game is constantly flowing forward without noticeable slow points. It feels like Insomniac has taken all the experience and lessons they have learned about storytelling and game design and used it to make an evolved and fully realized a version of the original game. The universe comes together wonderfully, and I’m sure it will bring in many new fans to the franchise.
In contrast to the similar story, the combat gameplay has gotten a solid overhaul since the release of the original game. It incorporates new elements and weapons that were featured in the later chapters of the franchise, as well as introducing some brand new tools of destruction. As in previous games, there is a good selection of weapons, each with a unique style. Everyone is sure to find something that appeals to their preferred type of gameplay. That is all well and good, but the magic here is that the game really encourages you to try out different weapons, approaches, and combinations. Changing weapons on the fly is easy and fast, so you can easily use three or four different weapons in one single encounter. As a gamer who usually stick to my preferred weapon through the whole game, I was surprised at how many different weapons I used during enemy encounters. I had a blast (pun intended) experimenting with them and coming up with new lethal combos as I switched between guns at the touch of a button. Different enemies and monster groups demand a variety of strategies in order to defeat them efficiently as well. The possibilities seem endless, and they all need to be explored. The combat is pure joy, plain and simple.
The experimentation is further encouraged by the weapon leveling system. The more you use a gun, the more experience it will get. As they level up you acquire new upgrades that can be unlocked by spending some collectible materials. This way the game rewards you for using each weapon. It is up to you if you want to focus on leveling up a select few faster, or if you want to be a gunslinging one-man army and spread the experience equally among your tools. I went for the latter.
While I have really enjoyed my experience with the combat, it honestly felt a bit on the easy side. The game is designed to be approachable for a young audience as well so the casual difficulty is a natural side-effect of that. There is a Challenge Mode that is playable after completing the game once, but this mode is a New Game+ with stronger enemies that don’t feel stronger at all because of your leveled up weapons. I would have loved an option to play on a Hardcore difficulty that really challenged my strategies.
Pure destruction is not the only gameplay element that the game offers. In addition to the platforming roots of the game, exploring planets are mixed up by the introduction of different gadgets such as the Thruster-Pack and Grind Boots. The gadgets introduce new ways of traversing the worlds and accessing areas that you couldn’t reach before. That way you have plenty of reasons to go back to worlds you have previously visited to find new collectibles and upgrades. There are also minigames based around hoverboards, so you can take a break from your adventuring to win prices in the races, if that is your thing.
As someone who never played the previous R&C games, I was excited about the announcement of the reboot. And boy, am I glad I decided to take the plunge with this game. I have thoroughly enjoyed Ratchet & Clank from beginning to end. It is a charming, witty, and fun game that always has some action to offer. The graphics are wonderful; the characters, worlds, and weapon effects look fantastic. The universe is easy to like thanks to a fun cast and great writing. It is a bit on the casual side, and I miss the opportunity to play on a harder difficulty. However, the combat never gets boring as you experiment with the numerous weapons and gadgets to find the most effective and stylish way to defeat your enemies. There is something here for every playstyle, and the game encourages you to try out now ones on the fly. The result is one of the most genuinely fun games I have played on the PS4 to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun adventure in creative destruction.