Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Among the games announced at Sony’s PlayStation 5 reveal, the one that I was most excited for was Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, since it was the first new game in the series since the 2016 reimagining and would return to the original timeline as a sequel to Into the Nexus. On top of this, the reveal immediately showed off the PS5’s potential with the dimensional travel gimmick and the new character Rivet (who was unnamed at the time) was the first female Lombax to be introduced since Angela Cross all the way back in Going Commando. Rivet’s reveal also made a splash on the internet for this reason, however I opted to wait to play the game for myself to see how she was handled rather than indulge in any of the hype. I will admit the game’s $70 price tag was almost a turn-off for me, though I pre-ordered it regardless, finding it to be a much-welcomed return for Ratchet & Clank and a true showcase of what the PS5 can do for the series.

In another dimension, Emperor Nefarious has spread his influence across the entire galaxy, though a lone Lombax named Rivet take part in an underground resistance movement against him. Meanwhile in their own dimension, Ratchet and Clank have a parade thrown for them in their honor, at the end of which Clank gifts Ratchet a fully-restored Dimensionator so he could look for the other Lombaxes. This is interrupted, however, when Dr. Nefarious steals the Dimensionator for his own ends. As Dr. Nefarious looks for a dimension where he always wins, Ratchet shoots the Dimensionator, causing space-time to be thrown into chaos. Just as Ratchet attempts to defeat Dr. Nefarious, the Dimensionator explodes, splitting Ratchet, Clank and Dr. Nefarious across Rivet’s dimension. Shortly after Rivet discovers Clank, Ratchet spots them leaving the planet and tries to get Clank back.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor, right) is stuck a dimension where Nefarious has won.

The core concept of the game, about a multiverse thrown into chaos, has been compared to Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, which came out within a year of Rift Apart, and as someone who has played Crash Bandicoot 4, I can vouch for said comparisons. Oddly enough, however, I found myself comparing the actual story more to Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension of all things, since it shares some plot points and story beats with a different execution. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, though more of an observation.

On its own merits however, the plot is surprisingly compelling, if a little predictable. The Lombax storyline begun in the Future Trilogy advances in interesting ways, exploring Ratchet’s feelings about finding the other Lombaxes as well as how Ratchet and Rivet interact upon meeting each other for the first time. Rivet feels like a fully-fleshed out character in her own right and her arc serves as a different take on Ratchet’s, showing how things might have turned out if he never met Clank when he did. Another new character named Kit, who is Clank’s dimensional counterpart, also has a well-written story arc of her own and I wouldn’t mind if she or Rivet ever came back for another game.

Rivet (Jennifer Hale, right) is a well-written and compelling character in her own right.

The general gameplay is largely similar to the of Into the Nexus, though with some differences. New mechanics include the Phantom Dash and Wall Run, as well as a Rift Tether that allows you to use dimensional tears to zip across parts of the map with ease. Planets also have a more open world feel to them, each one having a sidequest and hidden collectibles, essentially presenting a bite-sized version of the Marvel’s Spider-Man experience while retaining that distinct Ratchet & Clank flavor. Among these collectibles are Securitybots that provide intel on each world and a piece of the plans for the RYNO 8, and Armor pieces that come in sets of three and provide collection bonuses that are active even while not equipped. Gold Bolts make a return in this game, though now they provide cosmetic mods such as changing the appearance of Bolts into Overcharge cans from Sunset Overdrive or making damage numbers appear above enemies’ heads when you strike them as though in an RPG, though collecting 24 of them grants you access to Infinite Health and Infinite Ammo. You can also find Dimensional Pockets in each world, which are small hidden areas that reward you with Armor pieces for completing them.

Much like previous games, completing the main campaign unlocks Challenge Mode, which increases difficulty and adds a Bolt Multiplier as you defeat enemies. This also allows you to purchase more powerful Omega versions of weapons, as well as the Pixelizer and Bouncer weapons, the former of which could be accessed early through the Launch Edition of the game and the latter of which allows those who missed the pre-order window for the 2016 game to finally use it. Playing far enough in Challenge Mode to purchase these two weapons is also required to get one of the Trophies needed for a Platinum, which is otherwise not too difficult to obtain.

Rivet’s gameplay is similar to that of Ratchet, except she carries a Hammer instead of an Omniwrench for use with melee combat and Hammercranks, and different planets are divided between playing as her or Ratchet. Additionally, all Weapons, Gadgets, XP and collectibles are shared between Rivet and Ratchet, making for a seamless experience when playing as them. Clank has his own puzzle segments for fixing Dimensional Rifts, and an antivirus program named Glitch is used to complete hacking minigames that involve shooting viruses.

Rivet uses a hammer as her weapon of choice.

The game also takes full advantage of the DualSense controller in a way that increases the immersion. Haptic feedback is handled in a way that every weapon feels different from each other and allows you to really feel when you are either firing or out of ammo, plus each of them produces a unique sound from the controller when selected. Different surfaces also create noticeable, yet subtle differences when walking on them and Bolts and Raritanium now produce their own subtle vibrations upon collecting them.

The visuals take full advantage of the PS5’s power to present an utter spectacle, with an even more impressive level of detail than the 2016 game while still maintaining the classic art style. In addition to a lack of loading screens when switching between planets, the dimensional rift gimmicks take even more advantage of the PS5’s hardware to allow for instantaneous travel through Dimensional Pockets and when using Rift Tethers, as well as a gimmick on two planets that allows instantaneous shifts between two different versions of the same environments, something that would not be possible with the PS4. As a general note, the game has a much sleeker UI than previous games, including having the ammo count appear in the crosshairs for each weapon you use in addition to a counter in the corner to allow you to focus more on the main action.

The Rift Tether mechanic takes full advantage of the PS5's performance.

Despite the impressive visuals, however, one thing that got mildly distracting was the tendency for the glass bulbs on the heads of Kit and the Nefariouses, and in one instance a ship, to not render properly when seen from any angle except the front, producing noticeable large black pixels. There was also one in-game cutscene between Rivet and Clank where Rivet’s scarf kept flying upwards when she started to speak, which I quickly figured out meant that her character model was being spawned again every time it was her turn, which took away from the moment a little. Following a patch, I encountered a glitch where using the Cold Snap on a Fendersnax Wasp on Torren IV somehow led to it getting caught in the level geometry during its death animation (in which it expands before exploding) and it never de-spawned while I was still on the planet, though I don't know how much of it was the patch or not.

Pairing with the impressive visuals is equally impressive voice acting. James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye and Armin Shimmerman really show their experience when voicing Ratchet, Clank and Dr. Nefarious, with Shimmerman continuing to make Dr. Nefarious an entertaining villain to watch, matched only in this department by Richard Horvitz as the voice of Zurkon Jr. Jennifer Hale impresses as Rivet, delivering a nuanced performance that brings out the emotional depth of her character and playing off of Ratchet well when the two interact and complimented by Debra Wilson’s role as Kit. Robin Atkin Downes also handles his role of Emperor Nefarious quite well, making him out to be more of an actual threat when compared to Dr. Nefarious and having more of a presence whenever he’s onscreen.

Though not without flaws, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is easily one of the best entries in the series and a must-play for both PS5 owners and Ratchet & Clank fans. Acknowledging that current PS5 stock shortages (as of this writing) are already a roadblock for some fans, the $70 asking price can very easily and understandably turn some people off, in which I would recommend potential players wait for the game to go on sale first. Additionally, though the game can be played and enjoyed on its own in theory, if you wish to get a full understanding of the story, I would suggest also playing the Future Trilogy (Tools of Destruction, Quest for Booty, A Crack in Time) and Into the Nexus at the very least.

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