You know what you’re going to get from a Ratchet & Clank game, just like you would from a new Grand Theft Auto. The studios behind these long-running series are world class, and that’s thanks in part to the tried and tested formulas that run through the franchises. The chance of a new game in the series being utter rubbish is infinitesimally small, so of course Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is brilliant.
The story begins some time after the end of 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, a game which rebooted the franchise, using the animated movie as a new origin story. During a parade to celebrate the two heroes, Doctor Nefarious appears once more brandishing the Dimensionator, a big gun that can rip holes through universes, and sending Ratchet, Clank, and himself tumbling through to a new dimension.
It just so happens this is one where Nefarious is now Emperor, while our intrepid duo find themselves separated from one another. Rather conveniently for Clank, he gets to team up with Rivet, a female Lombax who appears to be Ratchet’s alt-universe counterpart. Our heroes must then work together to find the Dimensionator, repair the universes and bump into some slightly familiar alt-universe characters along the way.
The gameplay is similar to that the 2016 game with the two Lombaxes (Lombaxi? Lombaces?), scampering around the worlds and battling enemies with a range of wild weaponry, blending new with old. Mr Fungus spawns large mushroom creatures which bounce around and attack enemies for you while the Toxiary Sprinkler is a garden sprinkler that immobilises enemies by covering them with vegetation. There’s wall running, slingshots, bounce pads, gliding, racing, and flying, and new to series is ability to focus on rifts that scatter the worlds and use them to quickly move the character to a distant area – great for avoiding enemy fire.
Scavenging Raritanium from each planet unlocks additional upgrades to your weapons – the giant gold bolt collectables also return – but you won’t get all of the weapons on your first playthrough. Additional variations on existing guns and more returning favourites will only appear once you’ve finished the game and unlocked the challenge mode. You will need to use all the weapons available as there is limited ammo and you need to fight tactically, using the stun effect weapons first to immobilise enemies, then launching waves of mushrooms and mini robots before going in with the rest of your arsenal.
Once again Clank gets his own mini-game, and fans of Lemmings will feel right at home. The diminutive robot finds himself in pocket dimensions where he must direct a never ending stream of ‘Potential Clanks’ to an exit point, using orbs that imbue the Clanks with properties such as flight or heaviness. Another mini game introduces Glitch, a robotic spider that infiltrates computer networks and destroys viruses in frantic shoot ’em battles that often occur on the ceilings of the levels.
There are some side quests which unlock as you play, hidden pocket dimensions where armour can be found, and some of the levels are huge with other smaller puzzles dotted across the play area. There’s also a battle arena hosted by the rather psychotic Zurkon Jr. which offers exclusive upgrades if you complete weapon challenges.
So far, so Ratchet & Clank, and you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. The difference this time is that this game is designed to really show off what the PlayStation 5 can do, and boy, does it do that! Huge levels have landscapes that stretch off as far as the eye can see, and even scenes that are on screen for just a moment are richly detailed and vivid. Cutscenes are of movie quality and while detail takes a slight step back in gameplay, it still looks much better than any animated cartoon on television. All the planets are populated with creatures who are going about their daily business and they all have voice work. It feels almost rude to run past what must have taken hundreds of hours of work just to get to the next mission.
There are three graphical modes. Fidelity runs in 4K with ray tracing, top notch lighting, top level VFX and as much scene density as the PS5 can handle, Performance mode runs ditches ray tracing in favour of 60fps gameplay, while Performance RT mode mixes the two, adds back ray tracing but rendering at a lower resolution and upscaling it before display.
My first playthrough was in Fidelity mode and I only had an issue with the 30fps when thousands of bolts were flying across the screen. It’s not that the frame rate dipped, so much as the screen becoming a blur of metal and explosions, rather like watching a Transformers movie. Performance mode does look less impressive and you can tell the lighting has been changed, but Performance RT mode does strike a good balance between visual effects and keeping a buttery smooth 60fps.
It pushes the SSD really hard as well. Cutscenes flow into gameplay, huge detailed worlds seeming to load in the blink of an eye, and huge numbers of enemies filling the screen while crates smash, bolts fly, and sprinklers sprinkle. The prologue is an eye-popping opener as Ratchet warps through four or five different worlds in quick succession, feeling almost seamless as it does so. OK, so it’s hiding the few moments of loading very cleverly – another example would be the interplanetary transitions – but it’s still impressive.
Elsehwere, the DualSense is put to full use with haptic feedback letting you feel the thump of a nightclub you walk up to, while the adaptive triggers are used to select the power of weapons as you’re blasting away. If necessary, that can be adjusted through a plethora of accessibility options, alongside helpers for traversal and contrast options for all game elements.
The game is a technical marvel but sadly missing one element from previous games: the humour. This is a franchise that has a game called Up Your Arsenal and has always had a plenty of chuckles. Even though the last game was somewhat sanitised through hooking into the animated movie that was aimed at children, Captain Qwark was still on hand to provide plenty of laughs. Sadly apart from one very brief appearance at the beginning of the game, Qwark doesn’t reappear – voice actor Jim Ward is very ill with Alzheimer’s and Covid, and we wish him all the best.
That leaves a rather dry, earnest story with moments where the game practically stamps a message of tolerance and forgiveness across the screen in giant neon letters. At one point Clank saves everyone from imminent death by persuading an enemy that “Hey, it’s OK to be different”. A good message to have, and it’s clearly aimed at younger players, but the gear changes to get to these moment are rather abrupt and don’t fit particularly well with the silly explosive action that precedes them. It had me wishing that simply getting the bad guy was enough of a plot rather than an on-the-nose moral messages. That said, there is still humour as Nefarious’ goons have some great one liners. It’s just a shame that they are often drowned out by gunfire.
What is welcome is the addition of the Mrs Zurkon, Rivet, Glitch and other female characters. Previous games in the franchise have been a total sausage fest, and it’s quite surprising that it’s taken nearly twenty years for the ladies to be front and centre in Ratchet & Clank. At long last they are kicking butt just as hard as their male counterparts.