Ratchet & Clank are back, returning to their roots after their rather lacklustre tower defence game and guest appearance in PlayStation Move Heroes, but can Insomniac capture the magic that kickstarted the franchise? The answer is a resounding yes, with a grin spread across your face from the opening few seconds through to the very end.
Based on the forthcoming film which was in turn based on the original game, the story here is roughly the same as it was fourteen years ago. It actually makes use of over twenty minutes of the movie as cut scenes, but instead of a simple remake, Insomniac have raided the entire history of the franchise and created a Ratchet & Clank remix with elements from the later games. You’ll see the return of Clank puzzle sections, dogfights, and the Discotron weapon, all of which have been merged into this origin story.
But this tale is told from a slightly different perspective. The game opens with Captain Qwark banged up in prison, only to discover from his new cell mate that there is a holo-game of the holo-movie of his adventures – a very funny nod to the real world. He decides he will tell his own version of Ratchet’s tale, and it’s this version of the story that you play, complete with in-game narration from Qwark.
Certain areas of the game such as Novallis, Aridia, Pokitaru and Rilgar are similar in layout to the original game whilst others such as Veldin and Kerwan have been almost completely reworked. There are also brand new planets including Gaspar which has a jet pack section, a feature that was first found in Enter the Nexus. With the new graphics and animation even the levels which have had little change seem brand new, the geometry may be similar and I had the odd twinge of deja vu when playing, but overall the experience felt completely fresh. The controls have been also tweaked and as the game has been built from scratch, the enemy AI is much better than the earlier titles.
You will no doubt have seen how gorgeous the game looks. The worlds are bright and colourful, the animations smooth and often amusing and even when there are thousands of bolts flying around and twenty sand sharks attacking you, the frame rate is rock solid. Whilst we are still a smidgen away from Pixar level visuals we were promised back on PlayStation 2 the in-game graphics are of a quality as good as, if not better, than many of the CGI cartoons you find on TV. It can be really quite difficult to tell which cutscenes were lifted from the movie and which were using the game engine, it is that good.
The game soundtrack also seems to have benefited from the movie with some gorgeous orchestral themes and there are Uncharted levels of voice-over work. Between the enemies, Qwark’s narration, Clank’s hints and Ratchet’s own comments, there is barely a minute when someone isn’t speaking. The script is often laugh out load funny and if the movie is half as good as the game, it will deserve to be a hit.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always combined frenetic shooting with platforming and after eight games in the main series, Insomniac have perfected the acrobatic controls. Jumping, climbing, swinging, swimming, gliding, all of it is effortless, with opportunities to go off piste and explore secret areas. The combat is more frantic than ever before, with the PlayStation 4 allowing Insomniac to put many more enemies and leave thousands of bolts lying around at the end of a fight. Battles also require some tactical play as you have to decide which of the many unusual weapons to use to maximise the carnage.
The entire arsenal has been given an overhaul, with weapons cherry-picked from the series and including the welcome return of fan favourites such as Mr. Zurkon and the Sheepinator. The latter is hilarious to use in narrow corridors with low level enemies, and you can create huge flocks of baa-ing sheep within seconds. There is also a new edition in the shape of the Pixeliser, although it really should have been named the Resogun as you blast enemies in to voxels.
The weapon’s firepower upgrades with use, as introduced in the second game of the series, but you can also add extra power, ammo and features by spending Raritanium, which was first seen in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, in each weapon’s upgrade matrix. Gold bolts seem to be slightly more common in the remake and now unlock concept art and videos. There are also trading cards to collect which can unlock bonuses, most of which are for the harder modes of the game.
Building on their years of experience with the series, Insomniac have nailed the game’s pacing and continually add new weapons and abilities to keep you engaged and entertained. Platforming and destruction is mixed with jet pack flying, grind rails, first person turrets, dogfighting, boss battles, swimming, battles on moving platforms, and hoverboard races. You get to play as Clank during puzzle sections, which I actually enjoyed after hating his outings in the Future games, and these make for a nice change of pace alongside the Trespasser door puzzles.
Insomniac have included an auto-solve option for these puzzles, as some of them are rather hard and if you couldn’t bypass them the story simply won’t progress. There is even a stealth like section near the end in which you have to use a disguise to bypass security features and this has some of the best incidental dialogue in the game with the computer solemnly intoning “Bulging pectorals detected!”.
My first play through on the normal skill level took at least fifteen hours and I’ve already started my second game on a more challenging difficulty. With budget pricing of £30, you certainly get your money’s worth, especially when considering the quality of the game. My one complaint would be a couple of sharp spikes in difficulty about two thirds of the way through the game. There are some heavily armoured bullet-sponge ships and it took almost every bullet from every weapon to get past them, and there is very little in the way of extra ammo, a stark contrast to the rest of the game where bullet crates litter the landscape.
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a game as much as Ratchet & Clank. From shootouts and platfoming to the practically perfect script. Younger kids are going to love the bright visuals and characterisations, while us big kids will be chuckling at Qwark’s jokes and the sly grin Ratchet gives to the camera when he gets his paws on a new weapon. Welcome back to PlayStation, Insomniac. We’ve missed you.