Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart: Absolute Newbie Review
I’m not into platformers. I much prefer management, simulation and turn-based strategy games over anything that needs even a modicum of reaction time. I have never owned a console until my thirties. And I’ve never played any Ratchet and Clank games.
But I think (assuming you have a PS5) you should get Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.
That’s it. TL;DR done. Review over.
But why should you get it? Why am I recommending Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, even though it probably isn’t really any of my preferred game types?
New Game Plus
Let’s start with how easy it was to get into the game. I fired up Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, and with absolutely no background knowledge in the series, was able to enjoy the game.
For an industry that’s more and more fixated on rehashing franchises and building huge sprawling universes, I am beyond ecstatic that a new player doesn’t need to do extra reading to enjoy Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. Especially since it’s the sixteenth game in the franchise. I mean, Kingdom Hearts III was the twelfth game in the franchise and I think I need a university module to understand what is going on.
That’s not to say long time fans won’t be interested in the game. Old characters are still re-introduced in Rift Apart, but because Rift Apart is about multiverses, they’re introduced with a spin. That way there’s a cute reference to what they used to be in previous games, old fans have something new to look forward to, and new fans aren’t really bogged down by extra baggage.
I’m sure that’s why Insomniac decided to open with a scene about Rivet, one of the new characters, instead of Ratchet, and it was a great decision. Both new and old players are introduced to the game at equal footing, and after both Ratchet and Clank are introduced, each play equal parts as the hero of Rift Apart.
The desire to ensure equal access to all players extends into its gameplay options, with a wide array of ways to tweak the game while still keeping it fun. There’s the difficulty settings from easy to extreme, or options to input shaders on top of enemies or interactable objects to improve visibility. There’s also modifications to the vibrations or triggers to change how much force is needed to pull the trigger. Insomniac really tried to ensure that as wide a range of players could enjoy Rift Apart as possible.
I’ve been playing games on the Playstation that almost seem more like experiences. Death Stranding almost felt like a piece of art. Last of Us Part II was a moving piece of media. I recommend playing both of them, at least once. But were they fun? Were they games? I’m not so sure about that. And don’t even get me started on the bullet purgatory (because hell doesn’t loop) that’s Returnal.
Which is why Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is such a breath of fresh air to me. While I agree that great art can move and incite feelings, and they don’t necessarily need to be good feelings… sometimes I just want to shoot things and have fun, you know?
Hero goes into an alternate universe. Hero meets alternate versions of friends and enemies. Snark occurs. Hijinks ensue. Hero wins. Narratively and as a game, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart does not break any new ground. But that’s okay. As long as it’s properly pulled off, being a trope is fine; there’s a reason why tropes are popular after all.
Insomniac follows this philosophy in the gameplay too. There’s combat, platforming, rail-grinding and puzzle-solving, all mainstays of the Ratchet and Clank formula. And specifically in combat, there’s a wide array of bizarre weapons to use. I’ve read reviews that some people felt the weapons a tad vanilla, and they have a point. There IS the staple pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and gatling gun, after all.
Similarly, I don’t need every game to be an open-world action RPG bloat fest. Sometimes a focused platformer is exactly what is needed. Yes, maybe were sections that seemed a bit long, or puzzle-for-puzzles’ sake, but I think these are minor quibbles.
Honestly though, if Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart was meant to serve as a good jump-off point to introduce new gamers to the series (and I believe it is), Insomniac was right to balance both weird and normal weapons in the game. And even the ‘normal’ weapons are pretty funky and fun to play. Yes, many games allow you to summon creatures to aid you in battle, but it’s special when they are fungi that make bad fun puns. Yes many games have a freeze ray, but how many of them turn your enemies into topiary sculptures?
One last big plus for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart would be its (figurative and literal) polish. This is possibly the game that best shows off the graphical muscle in the PS5. Yes, Returnal also used the PS5’s computing power, but when you’re stuck in a drab, monocoloured environment, all the polygons or light effect in the world won’t exactly help. Rift Apart on the other hand combines the graphical oomph of the PS5 with the strong visual aesthetic of a sci-fi cartoon. Every metal surface is appropriately shiny, oily, or dinged up. Every strand of fur on both Lombaxes are immaculate. And the neon lights. The lights! They give me a shiver down my spine. Ray-tracing is putting in a lot of work here. I wish Cyberpunk 2077 looked half as good and had half the polish of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.
Insomniac Games also knocks it out of the park with its use of the PS5 DualSense controller. You know how everyone’s been raving about how the DualSense is a game changer in the controller market? Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart demonstrates why. The light ping of raindrops, the clang when you barrel into breakable items, the thrum as you get your rocket boots up to speed. The range of different vibration that the DualSense controller really helps immerse you into the game. Granted, I wasn’t as amazed by it as I was by Astro’s Playroom, but it really demonstrates what a studio could do with the hardware provided. Especially useful was the reactive triggers and half- or full-pull system. Given I’m not good with buttons and controls, having normal and alternate fire both mapped onto the same trigger rather than a combination of buttons was a great user experience and convenience improvement.
A Rift Apart
I’ve talked about how Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart makes the best use of the PS5 graphics and controller systems, or how the plot and characterization makes it a fun romp (I love that The Verge described it as Uncharted, by way of Pixar). But honestly, I love it because I think the developers did what they wanted to do; make a good, fun game. And Ratchet and Clank is a really good, fun, game.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is out on PS5 now.