For a few minutes there, I was worried. The PS5 has a lot going on inside that mammoth casing, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart makes use of it by rendering an ungodly amount of stuff. Explosions and neon lights and faraway space battles. Dozens of robots and slime-dudes and weird wriggling frogs. There are rails to grind and portals to open and everything explodes in a shower of shimmering nuts and bolts when struck. There’s a lot going on. Too much, at times, and for those first twenty minutes especially I could barely keep track of Ratchet as he navigated this circus of activity. But eventually, things slow down, just a little, and the details come into focus.
It’s in the little things. The glint of an alien moon as it reflects on polished metal. A gentle, haptic thump, thump, thump in your controller as you approach a cosmic night club. The eminently readable expression on a little yellow robot’s face, a character who slightly broke my heart by the end of the game. It’s all these wonderful specificities, and the immense attention they are given, that make Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart something cutting edge.
The gameplay feels slick, responsive, and precise. Exactly how I remember those original PS2 adventures, although they surely haven’t stood the test of time. Traversing the various planets throughout Rift Apart is a joy, each presenting new challenges and introducing fresh ways to engage with the environment. On Sargasso, a surprisingly colourful swamp planet, you’ll jet around at lightspeed atop giant, bulbous beetles (imaginatively named ‘Skeetles’). On Savali, you’ll have the chance to survey a huge open-ended map, brimming with collectables and secrets. The dimension swapping mechanic key to traversing Cordelion meanwhile, slows things down a little, roadblocking players with some soft puzzles and narrative set pieces.
The platforming is never particularly challenging, mind. This is an action game first and foremost, generous with its checkpoints and content to smother players in a storm of enemies and firepower. Which is fine by me; combat is manic and confusing and an absolute blast (in more ways than one). Enemies follow predictable patterns of behaviour. The little guys will blindly charge towards you, whilst long range laser-bots strafe left and right. It’s a simple affair, and not particularly deep, but a constant stream of unlockable weapons transforms these basic mechanics into an exuberant sandbox of destruction. My favourite weapon has to be the Glove of Doom, which lets you spawn dozens of snarling robot dogs who snap at your enemies’ ankles. I’ve got to give the Topiary Sprinkler an honourable mention, too, which transforms dastardly robots into artisan hedges in the blink of an eye.
Weapons level up separately as you use them, and can be bolstered by item-specific upgrades purchasable using crystals scattered across each planet. Some of these upgrades are great fun; an extra stream of bullets or the chance to lock onto more targets. Others are less satisfying, like marginally improved range or damage. This system is a great attempt at encouraging players to try out a variety of equipment and avoid sticking to the obvious favourites – but I still had to make a conscious effort to avoid cycling through the same three or four guns.
Your mileage may vary when it comes to the writing in Rift Apart. We jump headfirst into the action when Clank builds his bestie Ratchet a dimension-altering gun – which is almost immediately stolen by the creatively named Dr Nefarious. Suddenly our heroes are tossed between realities, ending up in an alternate dimension where Dr Nefarious rules the galaxy. Its rather predictable stuff, elevated by some truly Pixar-worthy animation, which brilliantly brings Rift Apart’s wide-eyed robots and limber Lombaxes to life.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t totally on board with the story until the last couple of hours, but the converging journeys of new characters Rivet and Kit hit me hard by the end. They each face intimate struggles with regret and forgiveness, learning to overcome the mistakes of the past and be kind in a cruel world. It’s wonderfully compelling stuff – if a little sickly sweet.
Most of all, Ratchet and Clank is just so much fun. A real game, you know? There’s nothing po-faced or self-serious about it; Insomniac leverages that colossal PS5 console in service of bright colours and wonderful worlds and kinetic, euphoric action. As it should be.