In 2002, Insomniac released the first Ratchet & Clank on the PlayStation 2, spawning a series that has endured the last 14 years, 4 consoles (and mobile) and 14 games whilst not really changing the formula much. On the edge of the release of the motion picture in cinemas, a new game is here… well, it’s really an old game redesigned to fit with the film and introduce a new generation to the quirks of a Lombax and his metallic sidekick. Does it manage to pull off the impossible – create a good movie tie-in game? Is it a needless cash in, pushed at the behest of a movie studio? Or is it something else entirely?
Fans of the series will find nothing new in Ratchet & Clank, which could genuinely be said about most of the other titles as well. These games aren’t about finding new and exciting ways of changing the gameplay, they never have been. Instead, they’re about providing a deep and polished experience for everyone to enjoy. You’d be forgiven for taking a glance at the screenshots and thinking this was something for kids only – a furry cat-type creature and a diminutive robot do sound like something spawned by Disney – they hide a combat, weapon and gadget focussed game that whilst never too taxing, definitely provides a third-person shooter challenge. Characterisation and over-the-top intergalactic peril are the defining attributes, and come in abundance in this update of the original game.
Ratchet & Clank retells the origin story of how the Lombax met the defective warbot, then set on a quest to join the Galactic Rangers and save the galaxy from the evil Chairman Drek, who’s helped in this re-imagining by Dr. Nefarious. Captain Qwark acts as narrator and guide for you during the 12 hours or so spent in the story mode, as well as featuring as the universe’s biggest ego and embellisher during the proceedings. The story does drift a little from the original, adding new characters and removing old ones, which I can only assume is to create something more compelling for the movie side. You get treated to snippets of the movie as you play, a number of the cutscenes are lifted straight from there, and it’s safe to assume that both the film and game are linked directly. It’s fairly easy to spot when the in-game engine hands over to the CGI, the movie scenes actually feel less atmospheric than the game, and it does worry me slightly that the film might actually be a bit rubbish. However, we’re here for the game, and that doesn’t disappoint. The core sensibilities and humour prevail, and even manages some self-referential moments as a nod and a wink to those out there trying to understand where this title fits as a reboot.
Bringing the series to the PS4 isn’t quite as much as a graphical leap as moving from PS2 to PS3 was. The first time I played Tools of Destruction it blew me away with the sheer level of detail and mayhem, and outside Uncharted there wasn’t another title that touched the use of the colour palette in the same way. What the latest generation of hardware brings is a spectacular improvement in particle effects and a rock solid 60 fps throughout, and this produces a truly stunning looking game, especially when chaos reigns, which it frequently will given the arsenal at your disposal. A hallmark of the games is the impressive array of weaponry and series favourites return like the Combuster, Bouncer, Glove of Doom, Sheepinator and the RYNO if you can track down all the parts (naturally). As with the original game each weapon upgrades with use, but taking a leaf out of the later titles there’s an upgrade “tree” available for every one that lets you choose which areas to improve. Want faster firing, wider area effects, or more ammo? Simply spend the requisite Raritanium currency on whichever one you want.
The majority of the action takes place on the ground with Ratchet platforming and shooting his way through levels, occasionally with a bit of light puzzle solving, usually when you take control of Clank. Enemies are varied and take different forms depending on which planet you’re on, and this encourages you to change tactics and firepower as and when you encounter something new. To keep things interesting, traversal is upgraded at regular intervals through the inclusion of gadgets. Riding rails with grind boots, flying through the skies with a jetpack, or swimming the oceans with an oxygen supply; all become options as you progress in your adventures. Most gadgets are given ample use through the story, or for revisiting areas to find secrets, with the only exception being the ship used to fly between worlds. Some past titles have featured quite a bit of space combat, and there are a couple of segments in Ratchet & Clank where you get to let rip, though the scattered nature of them made me wish there were a couple more.
Replayability has been key to the success of the games so far, and it’s the same here again. There are very few places you can’t revisit to find hidden Gold Bolts that open up bonuses, hunt for secrets, or even complete a trading card collection. Once the main campaign is finished there’s challenge mode as well that pits you against harder enemies, but gives you additional weapon upgrades and a score multiplier to make things fun. It’s a nice way to continue playing the game and really get the best out of the insane guns and bombs are your disposal. Everyone wants to make bad guys dance with the Groovitron, don’t they? What feels a little light is the number of planets to explore. Maybe it’s just because I’m familiar with the concepts and even remembered where some of the secrets were kept, I seemed to get through things quite quickly. There’s no combat arena which always sucked up my time in previous games, and Ratchet & Clank could have benefitted from it being in here just to add that little extra.
What Ratchet & Clank aims to deliver is the definitive experience of the origin story of PlayStation’s most enduring mascots, and prep them for the wider reaching world of cinema. It manages the game part with ease given the huge amount of experience Insomniac has with the characters, worlds and gameplay. What it doesn’t do is innovate in any way at all, which as a reboot/re-imagining/update it shouldn’t have to if it’s providing the core experience. Some will see that as a negative, possibly those very familiar already with the setup, but to most this will provide a fun diversion, and given the budget price (around £30 at release), it’s a very hard one not to recommend. What we don’t want to happen is for the game cycle to be driven by the movie industry and be left 3 years before they decide to remake Ratchet & Clank 2 (though I highly doubt they’ll stick with the Up Your Arsenal subtitle)… and that’s assuming the film does well at the box office.
Ratchet & Clank for PlayStation 4 is out now and the movie is due in cinemas from the end of April. If you want to get up to speed on the core stories, the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy is available on PS3 where the first three games were remastered for that platform.