Ratchet and Clank’s first PS5 adventure is shaping up to be something special. And as a longtime player of the franchise, seeing over 30 more minutes of Rift Apart gameplay in a hands-off demo solidified for me that this proper, full-length, brand new Ratchet and Clank could be both a perfect starting point for newcomers and one that, so far, looks to be the best showcase for how developers can push games on the PS5.
My demo consisted of two major sections: what appears to be either the very start of Rift Apart, or something very close to it, as Ratchet and Clank receive a parade honoring their years of heroic service, as well as a section sometime later, following Clank being thrown into another dimension and teaming up with the new lombax Rivet.
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The scale and spectacle is clearly, um, ratcheted up right from the first dimensional jump in what seems like clear lessons learned from Insomniac’s work on Marvel’s Spider-Man. And, most importantly as someone who’s been playing this series since 2002, Rift Apart looks to be the most nuanced on an emotional level, with Ratchet and Clank’s friendship and their own personal histories coming into play alongside the fascinating depiction of Rivet, who, somewhat unsurprisingly thanks to the studio’s track record, is an endearing, funny, and welcome addition to the core cast.
A Web of Influence
Something really striking about both sections of gameplay I saw came from the sheer scale of what Insomniac is pulling off. The expanse of what Ratchet can do on PS5 became clear in the State of Play, from the bustling density of Nefarious City to the meticulous detail of Ratchet’s fur. And while the franchise has been part of Insomniac’s DNA for much longer, it’s hard not to feel some of the impact of a couple Spider-Man games under their belt influencing the more cinematic take on the action I witnessed here.
My Rift Apart demonstration didn’t really include quicktime events, but did offer familiar moments where gameplay would seamlessly transition into a brief cinematic and back into gameplay, all without loading, and all while keeping the tension and pace up. These brief, show-stopping moments, like when Ratchet is tumbling through the air from one parade float to the next, offer chances for not only the gorgeous animation work to shine through, but for more personality to be displayed alongside behind-the-back shooting and platfoming sections. They feel inspired by superheroic quicktime events in Spidey’s outings, and they elevate the thrill of what could be a typical combat section.
It’s that sense of driving everything to be more impactful that lends the increased scope a sense of not making everything bigger just for the sake of it. Take a lengthy rail-grinding section in RIvet’s chapter I saw. Insomniac showcased a brief glimpse of it in the State of Play, but it’s part of a much larger story beat. Rivet and Clank are attempting to find someone known as The Fixer, who turns out to be this giant mech surrounded by scaffolding.
After turning The Fixer back on, Rivet and Clank discover that it has been enduring a bit of an existential crisis. If The Fixer can be broken and not repaired, can anything really ever be fixed? Perhaps all beings are better off left in their eventual, inevitable state, destroyed. And so the kaiju-sized robot begins wreaking havoc, unshaken from this new, pessimistic viewpoint. Rivet and Clank really need the bot’s help, though, so as the two begin grinding through an extensive area, narrowly missing falling scaffolding and deathblows caused by The Fixer’s destruction, they need to come up with a solution.
Now, Ratchet is a series full of wild weapon combat, delightful wrench smacks against foes, and more, but, as The Fixer continues lamenting, Clank has a realization. The fix The Fixer needs is an internal one – a realignment of its viewpoint, not necessarily a mechanical, external one. In a desperate attempt, Clank calls out to the robot to tell him not to worry, because even though Clank has suffered a mechanical injury, he’s not broken. He’s still Clank, and The Fixer can be The Fixer.
It’s a change of heart (or circuitry) that takes hold. In fact, Clank’s improvised epiphany is built out of something Rivet says to him earlier in the scene. The Fixer calls Clank broken, too, but Rivet asserts that if he’s broken, well then so is she, and she thinks they’re both pretty awesome. So “broken” must be the wrong way of looking at it. In just a few short moments the sequence deftly balances extreme rail grinding with an attempt to get to the core of an emotional and mental health issue. It’s equal parts touching and thrilling, and immediately endeared me to Rivet, thanks in part to the animation, writing, and Jennifer Hale’s performance.
Insomniac developers described Rivet as an intriguing parallel to Ratchet – whereas he’s always had Clank alongside him during these adventures, Rivet has been a rebel fighting for good but fighting alone. She has a tough exterior, but is also deeply empathetic and caring. She can be vulnerable and knows it. That dichotomy really lends itself to a new bond with Clank, who she affectionately calls “Bolts,” but also offers another emotional buy-in to the central story. The Dimensionator is meant to let Ratchet hop to the dimension where the rest of his species is, but the parade scene clearly shows he has some reservations. Clank explains some of this to Rivet, who doesn’t do the best job of hiding how desperately she would love the opportunity to find other lombaxes.
As I said, there’s likely still so much more to see of where the story goes from here, but if my time with Rift Apart proved anything, it’s that the humor and spirit of Ratchet and Clank has absolutely made its way to Rift Apart, and it may have more heart than ever before.
The Suit Maketh the Lombax
While the twists and turns of Rift Apart’s story are largely still a mystery, the showcase of action in both Rivet and Ratchet’s parts made it clear that traversal and combat also stick to the core of what’s made the franchise work so well in the past, but with refinements and additions that offer some sorely needed updates.
Ratchet’s DNA of third-person shooting and platform collectathon gameplay is certainly intact – the worlds are littered with crates to smash, pocket dimensions or gold bolts to collect, and waves of baddies to systematically demolish with Insomniac’s trademark knack for wacky weapons. Rather than mess with what’s still quite fun to play, especially having just revisited 2016’s Ratchet and Clank thanks to its PS5 performance patch, Insomniac has instead added and iterated on what’s there.
It’s worth noting that, rather than make the two heroes massively different, switching from Ratchet to Rivet sections won’t be a jarring experience – their core moves are the same, and their arsenal and health progress is shared across the two. (This seems to, amusingly, be explained away when weapons dealer Ms. Zurkon explains how Rivet’s fellow spy friend – Ratchet – has also been contributing to their rebellion.)
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Regardless, the two lombaxes are more agile than ever before, with a dash move that the developers explained can let the heroes phase through enemy attacks, and is something that’s unaffected when gravity comes into play. Among the many other changes, strafing has been improved, enemies show some signs of damage with armor pieces flying off, depth of field comes into play to allow the player a better focus on enemies, and ammo for your currently equipped weapon is shown beneath the reticule so you can keep a better eye on it.
And speaking of weapons, those will likely be some of the most anticipated elements for players. I still haven’t gone hands-on with the game, so descriptions of how DualSense haptics or the adaptive triggers are used to enhance the immersion are, for now, just that – descriptions. They’re certainly one of the aspects I’m most curious about, and if any developer can make great use of those features, I’d bet my money on Insomniac and Ratchet’s arsenal.
So far, the weapons on display seem like a great mix of enhancements to previously existing weapons like the Buzz Blades, but I’m already in love with some of the new additions. The Topiary Sprinkler literally roots enemies in place by covering them in flora, which is great for circling around enemies with big shields, while Mr. Fungi is a Mr. Zurkon-like sentient weapon, who gleefully shoots spores at enemies to harm them.
Add in weapons like the Ricochet, which takes its pinball inspirations and turns them into a projectile that players can not only bounce multiple times on enemies at will, but even has a little timing minigame baked in where sending it back at a foe at the right moment will deal extra damage, and the ingenuity is clearly back in full force. I can’t speak to the full suite just yet, but it’s clear Insomniac is trying to up Ratchet’s arsenal.
The visual flair that comes with all of these weapons, the character animations, and the incredible level detail across planets is certainly stunning, but that too, like using the DualSense, is something I didn’t get a full flavor for in this demonstration. Given the recent State of Play and the gameplay you can see right now, I’ve no doubt Ratchet and Clank has the capability to look as good, if not better, than the Pixar movies it’s always compared to, but a streaming video demonstration just doesn’t offer the full effect. That’s not to speak anything ill of the game or the animation work, but if anything it only makes me more excited to get to play Rift Apart as it’s intended – on a large, 4K HDTV.
There’s so much more I could go into from my time just watching Rift Apart gameplay, and a small slice of it at that. From the dimensional twists on established characters, to Captain Qwark’s hilarious writing and performance at the parade, to the enemy variety and more – Rift Apart is quickly assuaging any fears that it might be a light package coming at the start of the PS5 generation. It looks dense, both in its graphical detail and in its gameplay offerings, and the character moments I saw made me love this cast all over again, and fall in love with what the team is doing with Rivet. Ratchet and Clank may have been out of the game for a bit, but with Rivet by their side, Rift Apart may just thrust them back into the spotlight in fantastic fashion.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, host of Podcast Beyond!, and PlayStation lead. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.
Source: IGN Video Games All