There are moments at the beginning of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart where you get this sneaking suspicion that you’re being set up for another by-the-book Ratchet and Clank game. But before we get to the game itself, let’s take a pocket-dimension-sized detour for a quick series recap.
This game is fighting strong tides, setting aside for a moment the auto-boost it gets from being one of a handful of new-gen exclusives to come out right now. The last big entry in the series, released way back in 2016, wasn’t just a remake of the original game (and a fairly comprehensive one), but also a companion piece to a full-length animated feature that opened to lukewarm reviews. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, and the story and characters were clumsily written and starting to show their age.
With platformers not being the genre stars they once were in past console generations, it’s natural to wonder just how much time and effort was budgeted to this title when the studio’s other open-world Marvel-licensed game is out there getting all the attention.
Insomniac has always pushed itself to be a two-game/franchise studio, experimenting with new (and now shelved) IP like Resistance and Sunset Overdrive. With the overwhelming success of Spider-man, just where does Ratchet and Clank rank both inside and outside of Insomniac. And does this new entry do enough to make the franchise relevant again, especially amidst the rest of Sony’s stellar first part lineup. With the director behind Resistance 3 (arguably the best game in the series) and Sunset Overdrive calling the shots, there’s some promise.
For those of you in a hurry, you’ll be happy to know that the overall experience Rift Apart delivers across its almost 15-hour campaign run time is exemplary, and of greater value than just piece-meal critiquing of various areas (which we’ll get to). The equal parts personal and save-the-dimensions journey it takes you on, and the well-written characters that accompany you, make it wholly worth experiencing and more than earns a heartfelt recommendation.
While there are a few minor niggles that you’ll pick up on as you make your way through it, none of it takes away from the sum total – a beautifully crafted platformer with plenty of variety and just as much heart.
The game begins with an over-the-top ticker-tape parade in honour of Ratchet and Clank, complete with massive crowds, bigger-than-massive floats, and lots of fireworks. It’s a fairly short, linear level designed to introduce you to the two lead characters and the tight platforming and combat mechanics, before dropping you into a fuller world. Even if the whole vibe reminds you of past games, give it time and it’ll win you over.
The first hints of improvement you’ll notice, aside from the visual chops on display, is just how good the writing is. It’s apparent straight up that we’re going to be party to a number of fairly interesting conversations and relationships, at par with anything from the house of Pixar. The intent is established and the full game successfully follows through on that promise.
The story is also leagues above past games. These are characters (and alternate dimension versions of said characters) dealing with issues of their own, all while trying to foil a universe-spanning takeover plot by series baddie Dr/Emperor Nefarious. The characters are superbly written, well-rounded and likable. It also helps that some of the weaker supporting cast from past games are present in better written, albeit smaller, roles.
The campaign has you hopping between a small set of planets, which essentially function as the game’s levels, and meeting new characters who help you out on your quest. You also have the ability to jump between these levels once you gain access to your ship, but the next story-critical destination is always flagged so you know where to go and what to do to progress the campaign. The PS5’s high-speed SSD really shines here, as you’re only waiting a couple of seconds at most between boarding your ship and setting foot on the next planet. Another neat party trick is the alternate versions of levels that can be instantly switched to, seamlessly loading in a completely different map.
The game’s upgraded visuals, draw distances and level of detail are also on full show. As with Spider-man: Miles Morales, Insomniac’s game engine, coupled with the tech powering the PS5, lets the developers show off some truly impressive lighting, character detail (Ratchet’s fur, especially) and a large number of on-screen characters, ships, buildings, natural landscapes and creatures – all with a level of detail that really helps bring these worlds to life.
At its core, Rift Apart remains a platformer. The minute-to-minute gameplay has you traversing levels with moderately challenging pathways, using gear and abilities that you pick up along the way. This ranges from phase-dodging to grinding guardrails to wall-running to swinging from grappling hooks. You’ll also see a few titular rifts that let you zip about to different locations within levels. While we’ve seen a few of these mechanics in past games, their perfectly balanced design and execution here is a direct result of that prior experience.
Interspersed between these platforming sections are combat encounters, the occasional boss or mini-boss battle, as well as shorter interlude areas, the details of which I’ll hold back on. Intermixing these segments ensures plenty of variety and that you’re never left feeling like you’ve been doing the same thing for too long. The puzzle and combat segments are perfectly balanced on the default difficulty, and the challenge mode (tougher baddies, but with gear carrying over) that unlocks at the end of the story is an immediate draw.
As with past Ratchet and Clank games, there’s a steady stream of upgradable weapons to purchase – although they’re unfortunately not as out-there as the Groovitron, Sheepinator or Pixelizer. I kept waiting for the wilder weapons to drop, and it was slightly disappointing when they never did. Still, the weapons that are here are excellent, some with varied fire modes (effectively using the new Dualsense controller), and with ammo drops being perfectly balanced so as to encourage weapon swapping during combat. The in-game weapon wheel is unfortunately fairly rudimentary (but functional), and this applies to the menus as well. Perhaps a bit of additional time spent bringing the UX to a more current standard wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.
All the platforming and combat you’re going to be getting up to is accompanied by an excellent score by Mark Mothersbaugh. There are plenty of moments that’ll make you stop and take in the world, especially when a more sombre track kicks in after a massive battle. Adding to the whole experience is some exceptionally well done voice-over work. Every single character is voiced with range, timing and nuance, including the bullet fodder enemies – their barks are extremely entertaining and make the already enjoyable combat even more of a blast. You’re going to be thinking of the Goons-4-Less and Zurkon Jr. long after you’re done with the game.
This quality of craft does leave you wanting more though, and you’ll find yourself just wishing there were more planets to fly to, more side missions, and just more net new whacky content in addition to carryovers from past games. You know you’re playing something special when you’re looking for reasons to spend more time in the world. While there’s a well-crafted simplicity to the experience, with levels just about open enough to give you a sense of scale, it wouldn’t have hurt to actually fill it up with more NPCs to interact with, points of interest, chatter and conversation, especially given the quality of what’s here right now.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is an experience that you wish would just keep going, and I’d imagine that’s a compliment the developers would be extremely happy with. Even with a few minor nitpicks, the love and care that went into the characters, story, combat and world design make this another class act from Insomniac Games.