Insomniac Games have a solid history of making terrific games.
Forget their recent foray into the smartphone/casual gamer market and you’ve got some big name franchises, like Spyro the Dragon, Resistance and of course, Ratchet & Clank. I’ll be up-front with you though; as much as I love Ratchet & Clank, they’re not my favourite platforming series (Crash Bandicoot). They aren’t even my favourite Sony-exclusive platforming duo (Jak & Daxter) but they’re still pretty great, and on the whole, their games have been pretty great too.
But with games now offering such fantastic graphics as, say, The Order: 1886 or the size and scope of Destiny or The Division, perhaps platformers are best left to consoles past, where their simple levels and character designs can mask the limited capabilities of the older tech. Is this new generation really the right place for cutesy, colourful platformers? Judging by Ratchet & Clank, I can confidently say: yes. Yes it is.
Ratchet & Clank is a loose re-telling of the duo’s first adventures together, which we originally saw back in 2002. Captain Quark recounts the tale of our heroes’ first meeting and of how they came to know Quark himself and the evil Dr. Nefarious. As you’d expect, the PS4 helps make both Ratchet and Clank look exceptional. Ratchet’s big floppy, furry ears flounce and flail their way across the levels with each hair being visibly affected by the surroundings, and Clank, as always, looks super-sharp and remains just the cutest little robot you ever saw.
It may seem obvious, but despite everything else in this game, it’s the bonds between these two characters – and the bonds between us and them – that really make this game tick. Our first steps as Ratchet are with him as a young buck, keen to join up as one of Captain Quark’s ranger scouts and his enthusiasm is adorable. Soon after, we meet Clank, and for fans of the series it’s an exciting moment as the kind-hearted Ratchet offers to fix-up his charming new friend.
This leads us to our missions, and cleverly, the “Tutorial” level is disguised as ranger scout try-outs. Some of the less obvious commands are explained by Quark’s narration, and his re-telling of the story explains both why we are playing (roughly) the same story again, as well as why there are some differences. Suffice to say, whether you’ve played the 2002 original or not, you’ll still enjoy the story as much as a newcomer.
Once we’re free to set off on adventures of our own choosing, we’re also handed the keys to Ratchet’s space ship, which is our transport between the different planets we can visit. Each planet has a different set of objectives, which usually include a story-related mission or two, a small number of hidden gold bolts to find that unlock extras, and a smattering of optional objectives and side quests such as completing hoverboard races or collecting RYNO cards. Completing these objectives then unlocks more planets and sometimes more missions on planets you’ve visited before, all displayed nicely on the planet select screen. This makes it very straight-forward to keep track of your progress, and hopping between planets to resume objectives or take on new ones is very simple.
Once you land on a planet, your spaceship’s landing pad acts as a hub area, with differing linear routes heading out in various directions; perhaps a cave behind you, a forest to your right and a factory to your left, each with its own secrets to find and objectives to complete. What really strikes you as you land on each and every planet though is just how good they look. Honestly, they are all absolutely gorgeous. The draw distance is mightily impressive with almost the whole level being in view at once, and the environments are pleasingly busy, with indigenous lifeforms, plants, trees and buildings lining the linear pathways and corridors. It’s safe to say that Ratchet & Clank is the closest we’ve come to Pixar levels of graphics and animation yet, and it really brings the characters and worlds to life.
For the most part, Ratchet & Clank’s traditional gameplay gives it a welcoming sense of familiarity, like slipping on a warm pair of slippers that you’ve had for years, but there are a few game mechanics of yesteryear that are less welcome. For instance, once you’ve cleared an area of enemies, it’s then devoid of life if you return, which limits your fun until you complete the game and begin once again in the unlockable Challenge Mode. There’s also some frustration caused by the health system. Having to collect health pickups feels rather archaic in the age of regenerating health systems, especially when death doesn’t have any real consequence apart from setting you back mere seconds – maybe a minute at the most. Often you’ll exit one firefight with only a few hit points left, only to enter a more fearsome fight without any chance of replenishing your health. In these situations you may as well resign yourself to a quick death; you’ll restart the battle with full health and some free ammo to boot after all.
By introducing new gameplay elements like playable Clank sequences however, where combat plays second fiddle to a bit of breezy yet entertaining puzzling, Insomniac Games show that they’re not afraid of tinkering with the classic formula. There are other examples too, such as the instances where you get to pilot your ship to engage enemies by air, and a smattering of fearsome boss battles. It all adds up to an unforgettable adventure that keeps you on your toes and never feels monotonous or stale.
Another new feature in Ratchet & Clank is the card collection system. Cards can be collected in a number of ways: as rewards for completing side-quests, hidden within crates and other destructible objects, or just placed in hard to reach or special hidden areas to name but a few. Each card offers a picture of and background information on various characters, weapons, vehicles and various other bits and bobs from the Ratchet & Clank series, and if you have five duplicate cards they can be traded in for one you don’t have. They’re a nifty addition and are perfect for those of us who love to collect things, and completing sets of three cards unlocks some nice bonuses such as increased Bolt and Raritanium pickups as well as new purchasable weapon skins in Challenge Mode.
As Ratchet & Clank’s currency, you’ll want to gather as many Bolts as you possibly can by smashing crates, defeating enemies or winning challenges. Collect enough, and you’ll be able to purchase a wide range of useful yet outrageous weapons at the Gadgetron Vendor points dotted across each level. Every weapon has its own unique upgrade path, with improvements such as increased ammo capacity, rate of fire and damage output unlocked by spending Raritanium, a crystal-like resource that, as its name would suggest, is a rare find. The system works like this: you start in the middle of a honeycomb structure and each honeycomb section, costing one Raritanium, provides one upgrade. Dotted throughout are special honeycomb segments which contain unique upgrades that cannot be bought; instead, you must buy each segment that surrounds the special one to unlock it. It’s a simple but well-implemented system, with further upgrade options being made available as you use weapons and level them up, enabling you to develop the weapons you use the most to cause maximum destruction.
As always, there is a large variety of weapons available including old favourites like Ratchet’s wrench, the brilliant Mr. Zurkon and one of my all-time favourite weapons from any game: the Groovitron. The Groovitron is a perfect example of Ratchet & Clank‘s sense of humour: throw one of these bad-boys at a group of enemies and watch as they halt their attack in favour of busting some disco moves under the light of your impromptu glitter-ball. There are new additions like the Pixelizer too, which will gleefully blast your opponents into shiny 3D pixels with ease
Opponents come in many shapes and sizes, including common Sand-sharks which populate the open areas of some levels, giving you a little opposition as you explore, giant green gelatinous blobs which split, not once but twice, into smaller versions of themselves, and huge tanks and armoured heavies who usually pop up once or twice per level to give you a real challenge. Each enemy is typically weaker against a certain weapon, but it’s far more likely that you’ll just use your favourite for every enemy type where possible rather than fiddle around changing between them all. With ammo sometimes rather limited however, there are occasions where you will have to. Thankfully you can assign a weapon to each directional button for quick access, and you’re also able to browse your full arsenal easily enough with a quick-menu, pausing the game momentarily to prevent enemies from getting some cheap hits in.
Whilst the third-person shooting is huge amounts of fun for the most part, there are a couple of issues. Ratchet & Clank’s auto-aim system for example, can be very hit and miss at times, with shots being directed at unintended targets even though they weren’t the focus of your reticule at the time of firing. Using free-aim by holding down the L2 button is the better option, but again, it’s not 100% reliable, and when using some of the larger weapons your movement is slowed to a snail’s pace, making it hard to avoid your enemy’s barrage of attacks. In the end though, the whimsical nature of the combat and the lenient checkpoint system makes issues such as this and the frustrations caused by the health system nothing more than minor annoyances.
In the modern adulterated world of videogames, it’s nice to still find pleasure in titles like Ratchet & Clank. Though it’s obviously aimed at the younger audience, even seasoned gamers that are into more mature titles would have to have a heart of stone to not find something to enjoy here. It doesn’t do anything ground-breaking to progress the genre, but then it doesn’t need to. All Ratchet & Clank needs to do to succeed is provide a bright and colourful world in which players can embark on an enjoyable rollercoaster ride of action and adventure. In this endeavour, Insomniac Games more than step up to the challenge, making this accomplished reimagining one of the highlights of the PS4’s catalogue. If you’re a fan of the titular duo, third person shooters, or even just traditional 3D platform games, Ratchet & Clank comes heavily recommended.