Release Date: April 12, 2016Platform: PS4Developer: Insomniac GamesPublisher: Sony Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Platformer, shooter
Ratchet and Clank are back, and after blasting my way through the galaxy with them once again, it’s clear that we’ve been in need of heroes such as these for quite some time. The story has all of the heart, humor, and adventure that you would expect from a Ratchet & Clank game, and the production is polished to an absolute shine. The string of Ratchet & Clank: Future games on PS3 were often likened to playing a Pixar film by many in the media, but this PS4 release takes that feeling to a completely new level. In a day and age where games are increasingly becoming more serious and photorealistic, the cartoony characters and colorful worlds of Ratchet & Clank are a much needed breath of fresh air, and the variety of gameplay, from platforming and gunfights, to hoverboard racing and piloting gunships, ensures that formula never grows old throughout the 12- to 15-hour campaign.
Aside from its clever “game based on a movie based on a game” marketing campaign, Ratchet & Clank is billed as a “reimagining” of Insomniac’s original 2002 release, and that’s an accurate description of what we ultimately find here. While many of the planets retain their basic structures from fourteen years ago (or less if we’re counting the HD trilogy collection), other fresh secrets and pathways have been added or reworked to better accommodate the revitalized gameplay and slightly altered story progression. Sometimes these tweaks are visual affairs, like how Fort Kronos on planet Batalia is now set in the middle of a snowstorm, while others are more robust, like brand new Clank puzzling sections and a different opening segment.
My favorite stretch of new content is easily the massive extension of the fiery planet Gaspar, which gives Ratchet a jetpack to soar above the belching red seas and collect dozens of Telepathopus brains, similar to the addictive Desert Crystal system that was first introduced in 2003’s Going Commando and has since reappeared under various forms in subsequent titles. Insomniac isn’t afraid to take liberties with the source material and make the needed big changes by mixing the new with the old. Here, the Telepathopus brains quest works in perfect tandem with the original flow of the game, and the duo’s first adventure becomes all the more better for it.
Ratchet’s arsenal of weapons has also been given a welcomed shake-up from the original 2002 offering, with Insomniac restoring later fan-favorite guns like the Sheepinator, the Groovitron, and, of course, the volatile robot with the even more volatile attitude, Mr. Zurkon. Traversing old ground with new toys is a total blast, and a few completely unique and original weapons are also thrown into the mix, like the ingenious Pixelizer, whose shotgun rounds turn enemies into low-resolution versions of themselves that crumble into piles of feeble pixels after a follow-up attack. The physics in Ratchet & Clank are especially impressive: no matter how many bolts, pixels, or Raritanium are flying across the screen at any one time, the game always keeps up. Whacking crates with my wrench and being swarmed by clinking bolts is something that never gets old here.
But perhaps the best addition is one that has since become synonymous with the Ratchet & Clank name: the deep and incredibly rewarding weapon upgrades. This perfected system works twofold. First, weapons are upgraded through their own usage, which provides an amazing incentive for cycling through your wacky arsenal rather than simply favoring the most destructive guns. Second, you can directly improve each weapon’s attributes, like how much ammo they can hold or how many bolts their kills will generate, by purchasing connected attribute spheres with your Raritanium stash.
Besides the hidden Gold Bolts (which unlock a small variety of gameplay cheats and artwork), the new holocard system forms the bulk of the collectables here. A few packs of cards can be found through careful exploration, while the majority will be earned randomly just from killing baddies. A few uniquely placed cards are tied to unlocking the devastating RYNO weapon, another Ratchet & Clank staple which makes its brilliant (and destructive) debut on next-gen. The holocards are a nice and simple touch, but the real replayability is found in Challenge Mode, which turns up the difficulty and gives you enhanced weapons and a bolt multiplier. The only thing that’s really missed is the Skill Points, though a few Skill Point-esque objectives are reflected in the game’s trophy list.
At the end of the day, Ratchet & Clank not only succeeds as a smart and vibrant reimagining of itself for veterans of the original games, by cherry-picking the best elements throughout the series and throwing out what doesn’t work, but also as the perfect introduction to the heroic Lombax and his robot pal for a new generation of wide-eyed adventurers. With rich exploration through gorgeously varied worlds, imaginative weapons and a satisfying upgrade system, not to mention an endearing storyline of wonder and friendship, Ratchet & Clank has it all. If this is to be labelled a “movie tie-in game,” then this is the example that all other movie tie-in games need to learn from. I know I’ll definitely be standing in line for a ticket later this month.
Joe Jasko is a staff writer.