One of the stalwarts of the last decade of gaming, Ratchet & Clank have been with us since their first not-so-humble outing on the PS2, managing to blend humour, action and exploration with slick and entertaining gameplay. It’s not often you find that combination, and the Insomniac team have kept true to the formula in nearly everything they’ve developed (All For One and Q-Force were a bit of a departure, and not quite the same standard as the core games). Ratchet & Clank: Nexus is the latest instalment, and might be the last if the trailers are to be believed because it’s billed as an epilogue to the series, though whether that’s to the “Future” series on the PS3, or all games in total, isn’t very clear. Its price also reflects the shortened story nature, but does this make it any less of a game?
This is the 12th game in the series – not bad for 11 years work, especially when you consider 3 Resistance games, Outernauts and Fuse were developed alongside them; and follows the more traditional Ratchet & Clank game style of planet hopping to chase and stop villains from destroying the universe, something Q-Force departed from to go down the tower defence route. I was originally a little concerned when it was announced, I’d avoided Q-Force after the demo didn’t grab me, and have yet to finish All For One because it wasn’t as engaging as the others, so I wasn’t sure which route Insomniac had taken, but I took the punt after seeing some gameplay trailers and realised it was back to the original format. Though, it isn’t entirely a return. I feel like this game takes a darker story tone than the others, with the opening sequence creating more of a dramatic impact than I’d seen since Ratchet: Gladiator (Deadlocked for our US readers). We’re not talking Beyond: Two Souls levels of gritty story here, it’s just not as light-hearted initially as you might expect.
Right off the mark though it’s classic R&C gameplay. Fantastic weapons that level up the more you use them, great gadgets for traversing the environment, a variety of enemies that make you think about which weapons and tactics you have to use. And it’s all very slickly presented. I’ve spent more time with the HD versions of the PS2 games over the last year than I have with the current gen ones so jumping into Nexus had me questioning whether someone had snuck a PS4 under my TV without warning. It looks absolutely amazing all the way through with spectacular detail in the environments. The routes around the worlds are linear, and they aren’t huge which makes navigating easy, but your first visit to each place always makes you stop and look around and appreciate the environment that’s been crafted to give backstory, as well as a fun place to blast monsters. In the faster paced moments things still hold up with explosions beautifully realised and weapon projectiles animated perfectly in a variety of wonderful colours. This isn’t, and never was, a place for going commando on drab grey, green and black-clad enemies with handguns. It’s worth noting the audio as well, there’s a full frontal assault on the senses when you’re in battle with a really meaty crunch to the shots and explosions. You definitely know when you’re being attacked.
The weapons have always been a highlight in the series, and the trademark inventiveness returns too. The levelling system works neatly with it having 3 upgrade levels initially that add various new effects as you continue to use each tool of destruction, and you can upgrade each further to increase ammo capacity, range or power through spending collected Raritanium (how I wish that was a real element!). I initially didn’t think much to the Nightmare Box, a jack-in-the-box that scares the nearby enemies, until I realised it could cause some of them to die or explode with fright, and also works as a distraction to give you chance to breathe. And levelled up it starts to attack back too. It proved a godsend at times because, feeling brave, I started on Legend difficulty. It wasn’t too bad after buying armour upgrades but I died a lot early in the game, though I’ll take it as character building. Some old favourite weapons return too, and you can never tire of the Winterizer that turns the bad guys in to snow-bad guys whilst playing Christmas tunes. I think they really tapped into the psychotic feelings we all get when subjected to Christmas music several months before the actual day. Whilst they’ve not upped the arsenal in this game over the others it feels like they are more focussed and considered, and because there aren’t as many you’re more inclined to use them all rather than just stick to two or three. Though Mr. Zurkon returns and this time brings the family, and when that happens you might not want to switch to anything else.
It’s not just about the ways you can attack the on-screen beasties, there are puzzle elements for getting to new places in the environments that seem Portal inspired, and some great shifting gravity puzzles that mean Clank can get in on the action. None of these are too taxing for Secret Agent Clank, but it throws in enough variety that you don’t get bored. And it you do want to earn some bolts (the in-game currency) for buying more weapons, improve your weapons, or just hit things, you can always take on the challenges of the Destructapolooza for arena based combat. It is familiar if you’ve played the other games, but it’s a welcome familiar instead of a tired retread, mainly because it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
It’s all been good so far, so what’s the bad part? Really, it’s just the length. In four days of casual playing both me and my girlfriend separately finished the game (she’s just pounding on the final boss as I type this). With a fair amount of exploring it only took 5 hours to get to the end, and then another hour to mop up all the collectibles. There’s a challenge mode that ramps up the difficulty and adds more weapon evolution levels, but it isn’t a change to the game. This is about the only thing I can fault the game on, it finishes a bit abruptly, with the final section coming right at the point you’ve found your groove. With the effort that’s gone into level design and structure, and the visual polish it’s got, I was hoping for more. That said, it’s half the price of a normal game and twice as much fun as some, so it’s not a massive detractor. One weird thing, and I haven’t been able to find out why, is that it asks you to agree to the PSN T&C’s at each boot up, but there’s no online access in the game, or link to the store to buy content. Unless it’s hidden deep in a menu I can’t see what the network features are that it wants me to use. If you know, stick it in the comments below
Overall I can’t knock it. Ratchet & Clank: Nexus is great fun to play from start to finish, and being reunited with the two heroes for what could be the last adventure has been done in well thought out way, leaving you wanting more. I’ll be starting that challenge mode at some point soon though, I’ve got weapons to level up and a RYNO I’ve not even fired yet, I desperately want to know how much damage it can do. And don’t miss the fact that it comes with Quest for Booty on the disc as well. If you don’t own that it’ll link you to a downloadable version, and well worth playing if you like pirates, space, ghosts and weapons.
Ratchet & Clank: Nexus is available now on PS3.