The Ratchet & Clank series dominated much of my time with the PlayStation 2. Every game seemed willing to experiment with the formula that the folks at Insomniac Games had set, and each one added a new flavor to the action platformer. After being burned by some of the series’ more bizarre spin-offs—most notably All 4 One—I was excited to hear that the franchise would get a fresh take on the PlayStation 4. And in its retelling of the heroic duo’s origin story, Ratchet & Clank feels like a triumphant return to form for the series—even if it is sporadically bogged down by slow sections and a reluctance to let go of players’ hands.
The concept behind Ratchet & Clank sounds more like something you’d fabricate during a fever dream rather than develop a proper game around. It’s a reboot that’s inspired by an upcoming movie that’s based on the 2002 PlayStation 2 game of the same name. True to form, however, the game acknowledges the ridiculousness of its premise from the beginning with a cheeky intro starring an imprisoned Captain Qwark, who retells the tale of his downfall at the hands of Ratchet and Clank with a near-obscene level of envy and snark. Snide humor is in no short supply in Ratchet & Clank, with jokes that land consistently. They might not have you laughing out loud, but there aren’t any cringe-worthy goofs either.
Much of said humor comes across in the game’s animation, which is absolutely stellar. I hadn’t realized how absent the squash-and-stretch fundamentals of cartoonish animation had been in gaming until I started playing Ratchet & Clank. The fundamentals of animation applied to 3D models that you’ve come to expect from the likes of Pixar are layered over a lush and colorful world. It’s a refreshing change from the system-pushing attempts at realism we’ve come to expect from big budget releases. It’s also worth noting that no matter how many explosions or particle effects were thrown on screen at once, my PlayStation 4 never chugged while trying to handle the commotion.
Once you’re exploring planets as Ratchet, thwacking and blasting foes is immediately rewarding. Bolts fly from defeated enemies to be collected with satisfying clings and clangs in a way that only the lombax/robot duo can, and anyone who played past games will be immediately overcome with a sense of nostalgia. Dedication to making a great game via tight platforming and over the top battles comes before pulling on sentimental strings in Ratchet & Clank, though, and the game is much better for it.
Just like in past titles, while you’re annihilating enemies with weapons—like the shotgun-style Pixelizer or explosive Fusion Grenade—your guns gain experience, leveling up incrementally until they reach level five, when they transform into a different, even more powerful weapon. Seeing the way your guns mutate after reaching max level is exciting; my favorite was seeing the Sheepinator, which morphs enemies into harmless sheep, turn into the Goatinator, making morphed enemies a bit more aggressive. I wish there had been more fanfare when the change occurred, though.
Weapons can also be upgraded using raritanium (obtained occasionally from enemies) to unlock power-ups on a grid system. Most of these upgrades don’t give a noticeable impact on your guns’ performance, however, as they usually just offer slightly-boosting damage, range, clip size, or raritanium received from kills.
While playing, Clank will occasionally have to detach himself from Ratchet in order to explore tighter spaces in puzzle-driven segments, and those sections are where a lot of Ratchet & Clank’s issues pop up. These areas put Clank in control of other robots that can be transformed into bridges, batteries, or trampolines. The puzzles are largely simple, mostly requiring players to localize the bots into one spot in order to open a door, but anytime they do offer a challenge, Clank chimes in with unwelcome tips which fall just short of handing you the solution.
Unfortunately, Ratchet & Clank’s unwillingness to allow players to decipher its secrets on their own is its greatest downfall. There were multiple instances in which Clank told me to go the opposite direction I was headed, only to be informed by Ratchet seconds later that I should follow the same directions as those given by Clank. Another time, a full cutscene—accompanied by Qwark’s omniscient narration—informed me about switches I had to activate in a specific order. While I do understand thatRatchet & Clankis intended for younger players, information is often presented in a way that would be downright insulting even to adolescents.
A few sections offer a reprieve from puzzle solving and blowing up enemies, but they are somewhat lacking when compared to past titles. Hoverboard races are fun while they last, but with just two courses offering three difficulties each, they’re largely forgettable. Meanwhile, flying sections are a bit of a mess. Clunky controls and objectives that don’t go far beyond pointing your guns at big ships make these sections feel less like an opportunity to show off your ace piloting skills and more like a hindrance. Also, the lack of an Annihilation Nation-style colosseum, something with which I’ve come to associate my fondest memories of the Ratchet & Clank series, is extremely noticeable when I’m trying to take a break from saving the galaxy.
That said, there is plenty to find on each of the game’s many planets in the way of collectibles, and each have their own in-game payoff. Stat-boosting holocards can be acquired either from enemies or booster packs hidden throughout levels, while rarer cards work towards unlocking the series’ iconic BFG-style weapon, the RYNO. On top of those, rare golden bolts and hard-to-find telepathapus brains are enough to keep completionists occupied for quite a while.
Once I completed Ratchet & Clank, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed starting over again. In a new game plus-style challenge mode, I was allowed to keep my weapons and power-ups in order to take on a more difficult version of the game. The mode also added a few more options—like further upgradeable guns—with a new weapon transformation at level 10, and a bolt multiplier that racks up points after kills. However, I’m not looking forward to going through Clank’s puzzle sections once again as part of the process.
When the on-screen action is high, Ratchet & Clank is thoroughly enjoyable, but anyone hoping for an evolution of the series will most likely be disappointed. Updated gameplay makes this a great entry point into the series, and Ratchet & Clank superfans will also be pleased by the variety of collectibles—but anyone in the middle of that spectrum probably won’t be wowed by Ratchet & Clank.
Ratchet & Clank is a return to form for the series, but anyone looking for something more than that may be disappointed. The game tugs on many of the original’s addictive strings, but is also bogged down by a few slower, more passive segments.
Sony Computer Entertainment
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Ratchet & Clank is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|