For the first time in 2021, there’s a real buzz in the air. After weeks of rain-soaked misery, the sun is shining, pub taps are flowing, and the prospect of going to gigs feels shockingly plausible. In other words, rightly or wrongly, we’re gleefully celebrating a return to the ways of old – and it’s this same kind of buzz that kicks off PlayStation 5’s first summer blockbuster.
As the first Ratchet and Clank release since 2015’s Ratchet and Clank, developer Insomniac Games re-acquaints us with the dynamic duo by throwing them a hero’s parade. “They’re throwing us a parade?,” says a baffled Ratchet, “ but we haven’t done any hero stuff in years!” The lovable Lombax isn’t wrong. In the half a decade since the last Ratchet and Clank graced consoles, Insomniac swapped it’s love of Furries for Superheroes, releasing two critically acclaimed Spider-Man games.
It turns out, the kids really did learn a lot at Spidey camp, and Insomniac wastes no time showing off its new cinematic chops. From its tightly scripted set pieces to some carefully deployed camera angles, everything about A Rift Apart feels painstakingly polished. Regardless of which mode you opt to play it in (fidelity, performance or performance ray tracing are your choices and act as you would expect) the resulting explosion of colour and detail is pure visual magic. Take that tutorial parade, for example. Vast crowds cheer. Fireworks and parade floats fill the sky. A quick tilt of the right analogue stick reveals a believable bustle of hundreds of space ships soaring through the sky. Hell, walk in on someone playing A Rift Apart and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re watching the latest Pixar flick. I struggle to take it all in, marvelling at the sheer amount of things on screen – before returning to my prologue prompt and the very linear path ahead.
It’s an intro that’s stunningly detailed in a way that games simply haven’t been able to achieve before, yet one that also feels incredibly familiar. It’s a sentiment that sums up the entire game, really. The duo’s latest adventure is gorgeous, enjoyable and impossibly slick, ticking every box you’d expect with gleeful aplomb. Yet that’s also Rift Apart’s biggest weakness – it offers exactly what you expect.
OK, let’s address the inter-dimensional elephant in the room – the Rift mechanic. Sony talked a big game when it came to A Rift Apart’s tantalising dimension-hopping gameplay, and let’s face it – it looked phenomenal in trailers. Yet what could have been an equally next-gen highlight is instead woefully underused. Much like the anticlimactic reality-bending Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite, Ratchet and Clank’s much-touted rifts rarely send you on inter-dimensional journeys – instead they see you darting a few feet closer to some ammo crates. Instead, their show-stopping nature is simply resigned to a handful of boss battles. As someone who was blown away by that initial reveal footage it’s a crying shame, and one made all the worse when in the fleeting cases that dimension jumping is properly used, it’s genuinely exciting.
While PS5’s latest may be lacking in those SSD-testing ‘next gen’ mechanics then, thankfully, the core gameplay feels as smooth as it looks. Like the transformative 60 frames per second PS5 patch for 2016’s Ratchet and Clank, playing Rift Apart on performance modes results in pleasingly pacey platforming precision. Try saying that after a few beers. Where in previous outings dodging felt more like Ratchet and clunk, Rift Apart adds a snappy sense of momentum to combat, via a new Bayonetta-esque dash. Rather than just limply jumping around, this time bending mechanic lets your Lombax duck and weave their way out of laser fire, lending once static battles a playful sense of bounce.
Unsurprisingly, blasting things makes up the bulk of the gameplay in A Rift Apart. While you’ll do your fair share of leaping, swinging and rail-grinding, nothing in this 20-hour romp gets afforded the same level of care as the gunplay. As series veterans will expect, our furious Furries get kitted out with a diverse arsenal of goofy gadgetry. From the usual blaster pistols and shotguns to lightning bolt zappers and even your very own murderous mushroom pet, Mr Fungi, much of the fun in A Rift Apart comes from tinkering with and unlocking an increasingly amusing array of weapons. It helps, of course, that firing them feels immensely satisfying, too, with each new murder machine taking advantage of a unique DualSense implementation. From the convincing chatter the triggers make when you’re firing the minigun-esque Blackhole Storm to the lurching growl of the homing Drillhound, the DualSense adds a nice layer of immersion to battles – even if it’s not quite up to Returnal or Astrobot’s lofty standard.
Insomniac tries it’s best to keep things from getting stale throughout the nine planets you’ll visit, too, and just about pulls it off. From hover boot races and Crash Bandicoot: Warped style creature riding to optional sidequests and Clank-only puzzle sections, there’s just enough gameplay variety to keep you ratcheting that clank without things feeling repetitive. Where Nintendo’s best or even Hazelight‘s recent It Takes Two constantly throw new mechanics at the player, Insomniac seems to struggle with. Here though, it’s the jaw dropping and impressively varied locales that do the heavy lifting.
From the vast dunes of Corson V, to the Emperor Nefarious ruled Sci fi metropolis, no two places look the same, tapping into the stunning engine to deliver some eye-popping environments and those Spider-Man-esque spectacular set pieces. The sprawling rocky plains of Savali, for example, feels like something ripped straight out of Uncharted: Lost Legacy, adding a welcome sense of scope and variety to what can far too often be a very linear experience. Match this with your usual hidden collectibles and those aforementioned Clank puzzles (the less said about the ‘Glitch’ minigames, the better) and there’s a ton of fun to be had here. Yet the dull story and lack of truly novel gaming mechanics keep Rift Apart feeling like an enjoyable outing rather than a stone cold classic.
It doesn’t help the case that the story is so forgettable, either. While it certainly looks like a Pixar movie, the script isn’t even in the same universe. It’s perfectly serviceable stuff and the dialogue even elicits the occasional chuckle, but overall it’s far less witty than its 2016 predecessor. Story beats lean on the expected clichés, and as the adventure drags on through the final half, the cute jokes vanish and cutscenes elicit more yawns than grins.
Still, new playable character Rivet is a great edition to the franchise, offering a refreshingly different personality to everyone’s favourite Lombax. Yet once again, it’s hard not to feel like a trick was missed here. With the story hopping between Rivet and Ratchet’s perspective, our new hero offered a great opportunity to mix up the gameplay, yet weirdly she plays identically to Ratchet. Every weapon and upgrade you buy is shared between Ratchet and Rivet, making them borderline indistinguishable when they’re both fully kitted out in armour. The core gameplay is fun enough that A Rift Apart just about gets away with it, but again, it feels like an open goal was missed.
Ratchet and Clank is a fun ride, but it’s no classic then. In that regard, A Rift Apart feels a bit like a popcorn-ready summer blockbuster. it’s gorgeous, entertaining and for most of its run time, it’ll leave a big smile on your face. Yet once the credits have rolled, you’re unlikely to really remember much of the experience.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart releases on June 11. It’s available on PS5. Which is where we reviewed it.
A Rift Apart is entirely what you expect from a new Ratchet and Clank adventure. It’s a joyous, stunning, playable Saturday morning cartoon, providing a generous helping of family-friendly blasting. And that’s both its biggest strength and its greatest weakness. Despite its incredibly slick exterior, there’s little new gameplay wise to really push the envelope or surprise players. Where the constant reinvention of a Mario title keeps the gameplay feeling fresh by bombarding the player with new mechanics, a Rift Apart instead relies on visual splendour for its variation, wowing you with a string of setpieces between repeated sections of familiar-feeling gameplay. Those that came away from its initial reveal wowed at its Rift-based premise will leave bitterly disappointed. Still, that’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had here – and when everything looks this good, it’s easy to forgive a bit of repetition.
- Satisfying combat offers consistently enjoyable, family-friendly blasting
- Solid Dual Sense use
- It genuinely looks like a Pixar film
- Interdimensional mechanics are woefully underused
- The story is serviceable, but doesn’t do enough to keep your attention
- Repetitive gameplay prevents this from being a true classic