Believe it or not, Ratchet & Clank are up to their 16th game in 19 years. That’s a pretty good output all things considered, and it’s not including the remasters of the original series. Bear in mind the last fully fledged title was the reboot from 5 years ago, and you realise Insomniac have been pumping these out with a regularity that would put other studios to shame. Sure, there’s been a dud (All 4 One), and a couple of quick mobile games, but to produce consistently high quality action/adventure games like these takes a lot of skill. Each iteration of PlayStation hardware since the PS2 has been showcased by a Ratchet & Clank title, and for the PS5 they’re going big with Rift Apart. It’s a bombastic romp through alternate dimensions that uses the ultra high speed loading of the SSD and the processing power of the machine to deliver an unbelievably pretty realisation of our heroes universe. Don’t just think this is all about looks though, there’s no loss in the series’ ability to deliver variety, compelling gameplay and buckets of charm… it really is something special to behold.
Picking up after the events of Nexus, Rift Apart starts out seeing our heroes celebrating their success with a parade in their honour. All the dignitaries are there – Captain Qwark, Rusty Pete, Skidd McMarx – and Clank has a surprise present for Ratchet planned at the end of it all. This isn’t going to go to plan though, is it? Not long into the parade the Goons for Hire show up and try to spoil the party, and Doctor Nefarious himself arrives to steal the main gift… the Dimensionator that Clank had invented to help Ratchet hunt down his Lombax people. A good time goes bad and holes are ripped in the fabric of the universe, shoving Ratchet and Clank into an alternate dimension, along with the evil Doc. Not only is it a strange version of their own home, it turns there is at least one parallel universe where Nefarious has managed to conquer the galaxy and install himself as emperor. To top off a crappy day, the duo are separated and need to make new friends to find the Dimensionator so they can get home. It’s a great setup for allowing the familiar gameplay loops to assert themselves, and change up the dynamic without ruining the bond fans have with the characters. Plus, it just looks amazing throughout.
Key in keeping things similar whilst being different is the introduction of Rivet. Essentially she is the alternate Ratchet in this new universe, though there’s some strong hints in audio logs that suggest Lombaxes were scattered to the four winds (dimensionally speaking) many years ago, and therefore they’re not just different versions of each other. Rivet plays the same as Ratchet, though has a distinctly different look and personality, as well as wielding a hammer instead of a wrench. As you’d expect in a R&C game, levelling up health, armour and weapons is a core mechanic, and this is handled nicely by ensuring everything is shared across both. This streamlines upgrades and removes a double grind, and is tackled early on by the ubiquitous and frequently hilarious Mrs. Zurkon ammo vendors. Removing Clank from Ratchet’s back also gives a reason for collecting or regaining abilities as both main characters are missing some of the tech that would have been present at the end of the last game. It might seem reductive to strip some of the starting abilities back, as well as the weapon collections, yet it fits well with the story and gives new players the chance to settle in. Plus, revisiting worlds, finding secrets, and collecting and upgrading the massive amounts of firepower on offer is one of the best parts of the game.
Building the arsenal is one of the core parts of Rift Apart, and by the time you’re done you’ll be 20 deep in tools of destruction. A couple of staples return from older games, though everything gets a new twist to it, and levelling them up as well as buying upgrades can significantly change their power and usefulness. There’s also a fair amount of silliness baked in, particularly with the likes of Mr. Fungai and the Topiary launcher: the former is a flying mushroom that blasts enemies like a drone toadstool, and the latter turns every enemy it fires on into garden shrubbery. None quite hit the heights of the disco fuelled Groovitron from previous titles, but they’re a lot of fun. They do however have the advantage of the DualSense features like it being used to feedback your shots through the haptics, and employing the adaptive triggers to control primary and secondary fire modes. You’ll end up falling back on the classics – blaster, shotgun, rocket launcher variants – to deal with the more stubborn enemies, though the constant desire to see what else they have to offer means you’ll keep swapping between them in order to hit the upgrades. The more foes you despatch, the more weapon XP you earn, and the higher the level of the gun. Layer on additional upgrades like ammo capacity, explosive radius, effect durations and special abilities through purchases made by collecting Raritanium, and it’s a deep system to get to grips with, although it’s not complicated. XP works for Ratchet and Rivet too, enabling more health as they meet bigger and tougher challenges.
Switching up our protagonists outfits and getting additional modifiers comes from collecting armour pieces that have been scattered around the worlds. Each set has three pieces to find, with each part contributing to a percentage improvement in an area, like 10% more bolts dropped by enemies. The nice part about these outfits is that the stat increase happens when you find it, not just when it’s equipped, so that means your hero can be dressed however you like without compromises. Rift Apart isn’t an RPG that has you manage the minute detail of every armour element, it’s got a Dave Lister mentality – let’s get out there and twat it! Most of the time these pieces are hidden inside a pocket dimension which is like a self contained traversal puzzle made up of whatever mess has been sucked through from the original universe. Finding and completing them is a neat distraction from the main story, and they’re not usually too far off the beaten track to find. Secrets like the Gold Bolts and Spybots also make a return, and they come with toggles for gameplay modifiers like wrench skins, head sizes and even infinite ammo if you’re dogged enough to find all of them. It’ll sound like a greatest hits collection to series stalwarts, though that doesn’t mean it suffers for it.
Part of the appeal of the Ratchet & Clank games is their familiarity and knowing what you’re going to get – explosive action and lush visuals with endearing characters in a fun, yet uncomplicated story. There are some sojourns to the formula to be found in the series, most notably using Clank on his own as a puzzle solver, and Rift Apart follows suit in this regard. There are a couple of other deviations from the run and gun gameplay which break the flow up nicely, and even then there are some arena based combat challenges if you can’t get enough of the blasting. It all stacks up to a hefty wedge of gameplay that will take roughly 15 hours to see it all through on the first play. Arguably the best in class at new game plus, Insomniac have added more than enough to head back into the story mode and experience something new, even if it’s just the additional weapons that round out the collection. It’ll be time to start using those gold bolt bonuses and the cash multiplier that comes into effect, and you’ll need them if you want to unlock all the Omega variant weapons. With level caps increased there’s all the more reason to go nuts and see exactly how much damage a fully maxed Pixeliser can do. If you’ve got the circle strafing down from the first go then the challenge mode won’t take too long to get through, and it might just be more satisfying.
So far we’ve been talking about the gameplay and the content it has to offer whilst interspersing the words with pictures that you might think are pre-renders from promo materials. They’re not. Each image on this page has been taken using the photo mode, or simply grabbing a screenshot. Rift Apart looks utterly fantastic in every single frame. There’s a lot going on in every one too. The biggest step on comes from the amount of activity that’s happening around the worlds as you’re exploring and battling to an objective. The opening sequence is a high point for seeing how many of the parade crowd are being rendered as you trigger confetti cannons and watch the reflections in real time across Clank’s body. It’s mightily impressive. The lighting, shadows and ray tracing give it a glorious visual sheen, but it’s really the art direction that makes it pop into life. I marvelled at the amount of inconsequential detail going on in both the characters and the backgrounds, and it’s hard to not be blown away by the reactions in Ratchet and Rivet’s fur as they journey around. It almost seems a shame to put armour on them and hide those details. Running the game in fidelity mode locks the framerate to 30 fps, and easily looks amazing. If you prefer a zippier experience though you can hit up performance RT which keeps all the bells and whistles, though drops the amount of objects rendered to improve things to 60 fps. Or you can eliminate the ray tracing and have 60 fps with everything else… there’s plenty of choice and they all look stunning.
Rift Apart’s real selling point though is from its title – travelling through the rifts. This is where the SSD and data throughput on the PS5 come into play. There are three main instances – rift tether which moves you to a visible point in the distance instantaneously; rift jump that see you move seamlessly from one world to another; and pocket dimensions which are bubbles of fractured space set within the maps. All require the hardware to fully render an entirely new space with new assets at the drop of a hat, and it’s brilliant, particularly the world jumps as that’s when you really notice you’re in another level entirely. Standard loading between planets exists, though that’s done in a fraction of the time taken for the animation of your ship arriving in orbit, and from cold boot to being in the action it can’t be much more than 10 seconds once past the developer logos. It’s staggering stuff and something that we’ll begin to take for granted as it becomes used more and more often. Still, when you’re showing off R&C to your friends and family (and you will), it’s still going to be the reflections in Rivet’s eyes that you highlight, rather than the fact an entire open world has materialised at your fingertips like some kind of sorcery.
As a huge fan of the games to date, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has been on the pre-order list since it was first announced, and after playing it’s unequivocally a must buy for every PS5 owner right now. If you are wondering what that massive hunk of black and white plastic taking up valuable shelf space is capable of, this is it. Insomniac have brought together the gorgeous looks, the tight and responsive gameplay, and the compelling story in their own unique way; and whilst there are a few next gen titles out there that look and play great, for my money right now there’s only one that makes you fully believe in generations and the leap forward that’s been made. The scary thought is that this is still classed as a launch window title, and that history tells us that things will get better and better as the hardware comes into its own. It’s exciting stuff for gamers, and if this is the start of a new series of Lombax adventures I’m in for the long haul to see where it eventually takes us.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is available now, exclusively on PS5 for around £65 depending on where you buy it from.