Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart Review – The First Real PS5 Showcase?

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a feast for the eyes, but is the rest of the game next-gen ready? Here's our review of the PS5 exclusive.

Ratchet and Clank
Photo: PlayStation Studios

While the Ratchet & Clank series has remained consistently popular over the last 19 years, the franchise has arguably never enjoyed a spotlight as bright as the one Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart finds itself in now. 

After all, Rift Apart is not only one of the biggest releases in what could prove to be a year of delays; it’s the latest entry in a key PlayStation franchise developed exclusively for PS5. There are many fans who hope that Rift Apart may just be the PS5 game that properly showcases the power and potential of the next-gen console at a time when incredible circumstances may be preventing other developers from fully utilizing the latest generation of gaming technology.

Well, Rift Apart doesn’t quite achieve PS5 system seller status, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the console’s most enjoyable experiences and one of 2021’s best games so far.

Ratchet and Clank action gameplay

Rift Apart Works Best as a Classic Ratchet and Clank Game

2002’s Ratchet & Clank distinguished itself from a considerable collection of platformers popular at the time through its action-focused gameplay that blurred genre lines and offered one of the most creative and engaging shooter experiences of the era. 

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Years later, not much has changed. Rift Apart works best when you’re jumping around, using your various navigation tools to gain momentum, and shooting waves of enemies with a series of elaborate weapons. While the thrill and splendor of these encounters shine through in just about every action sequence, veteran players will definitely want to bump up the difficulty level a few notches to get the most out of it. Indeed, some of the game’s more intense moments on higher difficulty settings made my hands sweat, which is a reaction I can’t say I’ve felt from a modern title since the Tony Hawk remasters.

Rift Apart is also a stunningly beautiful game. While even the title’s quietest moments are filled with visual details that will excite photo mode enthusiasts everywhere, it’s Rift Apart’s action scenes, and their side hustle as one of the greatest video game fireworks displays you’ve ever seen, that steal the show. Admiring the scenery is often all you can do to keep from getting completely lost in the onslaught of particle effects.

In fact, there are times when the game also seems to be struggling to keep up with the action. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of slowdown I experienced during Rift Apart’s biggest battles. I didn’t get to spend as much time with the optional Performance Modes and Day One patch update (they only became available recently), but I will say that both do seem to have helped performance overall, especially when it comes to the framerate.

Some of the PS5’s other notable features end up being something of a mixed bag in the final game. For instance, I like the idea of using trigger sensitivity to swap between a gun’s primary and alternate fire modes, but in the heat of battle, it can be a little hard to utilize that function without making mistakes. The DualSense’s powerful context-sensitive vibrations are also sometimes so intense that they can actually pull you out of the action rather than push you further into it. Thankfully, both of those features are adjustable in the game’s settings menu.

Ultimately, though, Rift Apart is simply a blast whenever it’s throwing enemies at you and forcing you to maximize the potential of your arsenal to defeat them. I also found many of the platforming sections (especially those that led to hidden items or new pieces of armor) to be an absolute joy. It’s when the game tries to do…other things that the quality takes a slight dip.

There are all kinds of gameplay diversions to be found in Rift Apart, and some are certainly better than others. For instance, I liked many of the rail sliding action sequences, but most of the game’s puzzles felt tacked on. You even have the ability to simply skip puzzles (even those that yield collectible rewards), so even the developers seem to be acknowledging that they’re not the most essential part of the experience and that some players will want to simply move past them.

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Even if some of those “diversion” sequences are better than others, I can’t say that any of them offered the thrill of a massive battle, the joy of upgrading a weapon (through both regular use and an expansive upgrade tree system), or even the old-school platforming pleasure of exploring Rift Apart’s various planets in search of every hidden item and optional objective. There is a very, very good game at the heart of the basic Ratchet & Clank experience, which makes it that much stranger that Rift Apart sometimes feels so determined to abandon that game in favor of pursuits perhaps best left to other titles.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the “rift” part of the Rift Apart experience quite yet. Well, as it turns out, that’s both the game’s most enjoyable deviation from the Ratchet & Clank norm and one element of the game that often falls well short of its potential.

Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart Rift Portal

A Rift By Any Other Name

In many ways, Rift Apart’s interdimensional shenanigans defined the game’s pre-release promotional period. You’ve probably heard someone close to the project hype up the way the game would utilize the PS5’s SSD to allow you to seamlessly jump between vastly different dimensions in nearly instantaneously.

In reality, the game’s rift mechanic isn’t quite that ambitious. Most instances of interdimensional jumping are limited to highly-scripted sequences (which actually sometimes include “pseudo loading screens” disguised as cinematic transitions), quick jumps between areas of a combat arena, trips into secret zones, or a version of the kind of back-and-forth dimensional hopping previously seen in games like A Link to the Past (though the mechanic is certainly executed here in a more organic and technically impressive way).

While I don’t believe it would have been possible to feature all of those ideas as cleanly without the power of the PS5’s SSD and processing hardware, the game still occasionally reminds you that this is an early next-gen title and that Insomniac is still obviously figuring out the PS5’s full potential. I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect a game even this advanced to let you simply jump between vastly different dimensions at will via some kind of Portal-like weapon (even if the game plays with this idea somewhat with an amusing late-game gun), but Rift Apart may still leave you feeling like it teased more than it could fully deliver. 

Having said that, some of the game’s most memorable moments are closely tied to the rift mechanics. Without getting into spoilers, there was one sequence in particular that played with the idea of Ratchet jumping between two distinct threats across different dimensional timelines that eventually comes together in a fascinating and satisfying way. Even when the game is just using rifts as a way to change the scenery, or as a shortcut facilitator, the ability to jump between dimensions with relatively little downtime still enhances the overall experience. 

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Most Ratchet & Clank games probably would have benefited at least somewhat from even Rift Apart’s simplest uses of the rift concept. There are, however, some ways that Rift Apart may have benefited from taking a closer look at what made those classic R&C titles work.

Ratchet and Clank Rivet Gameplay

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart Sometimes Suffers From Cuteness Overload

2016’s Ratchet & Clank, a kind of remake of the first game based on the R&C movie, was praised by many for its gameplay, visuals, and accessibility, but criticized by some longtime fans who felt that the remake’s more “Pixar-like” style stood in stark contrast to the slightly drier, more sarcastic, and sometimes darker writing and characters of the original games.

Well, Rift Apart follows in the 2016 game’s footsteps so far as that goes, which is enough to ensure that at least that aspect of the game will once again divide fans. 

To Rift Apart’s credit, the writing feels stronger overall than it did in 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, and some of the new characters created specifically for this story (which includes the wonderful Rivet and some others I won’t spoil here) are quite good and fare better than some of the Ratchet & Clank mainstays who were reworked to match the universe of the 2016 game. By the end of the game, I found myself surprisingly attached to many of the new additions.

Rift Apart is also a pretty funny game whose lighthearted nature often feels like a relief in comparison to the darker fare of so many modern Triple-A titles. While there are lines of dialogue that will inspire eye rolls, the game’s scenario writing is genuinely clever. Some of the best lines come from minor characters, and some of the most laugh-out-loud moments occur when you turn a corner and find yourself facing a truly unexpected set of circumstances. There are times when the “new” style absolutely works.

Yet, there were other times when I also found my mind drifting back to the writing, humor, and characters of the earlier Ratchet & Clank games. I hesitate to use the word “edge” to describe the difference, but it did feel like those earlier titles benefited from occasionally employing more of a sarcastic and snarky vibe that balanced the more cartoonish tones of the classic platformers it was building upon. Without those darker tones, Rift Apart sometimes suffers from a cuteness overload that occasionally feels more disingenuous than it was probably meant to be. 

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It’s highly unlikely that this is going to be the element of Rift Apart that destroys someone’s ability to enjoy the game, but it is another example of how there are times when Rift Apart fails to speak with its own voice. Instead, it pulls a bit too hard from other sources out of what could be seen as the fear that this kind of game may not be as appealing anymore.

Yet, it’s precisely because there are so few games quite like Rift Apart that the experience proves to be so worthwhile.

Ratchet and Clank Rivet Robot Fight

The Eternal Joy of Ratchet & Clank

Even if Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart sometimes tries too hard to be cute and forces gameplay variety, those moments do little to diminish the joy of what’s made the Ratchet & Clank franchise work for all these years.

Rift Apart is a stunningly beautiful action platformer that offers an impressive array of sidequests, collectibles, and challenges that make it easy to pick up and play even after you’ve beaten its admittedly sometimes uneven campaign (though the unlockable Challenge Mode does offer a fantastic excuse to play it again). There just aren’t enough action platformers on the modern market, and even if there were more, it’s doubtful they could rival the joy this game so regularly delivers, and it’s even more unlikely they would be this visually impressive.

Rift Apart’s unevenness, as well as the specific nature of the things it does so well, may not make it a system seller, or even a must-have for every PS5 owner, but fans of this series and those who crave a colorful, fast-paced, and lighthearted adventure will almost certainly come to consider Rift Apart one of the most entertaining games of 2021.

While I would love to see what the developers at Insomniac Games can do once they’ve really figured out the power of the PS5 and perhaps the direction they want to take this franchise in, Rift Apart is, at the very least, a very good time that occasionally flirts with greatness.

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4 out of 5