Reviews

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review – The Best PS5 Game Yet

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart opens with a celebration of our two titular heroes, a parade thrown in their honour. As the duo make their way through parade floats that reference their prior adventures Ratchet points out that it has been years since they’ve even done anything vaguely heroic, so why are they being celebrated? And do they really still have it? Are they still capable of daring-do and heroic heroism? Of course, as per the unwritten rules of video games things quickly go wrong; Dr Nefarious arrives just in time to steal the Dimensionator which Crank was going to gift to his friend in the hopes of letting him find his lost people, and the very fabric of space and time begins to rip apart.

It’s as exciting and fun as you’d expect from a Ratchet & Clank game, and a great way to kick-off the adventure. But it’s also a nod to the fact that the last R&C game was in 2016 and that was a remake/reboot of the very first Ratchet & Clank. So if you don’t count that it has been slightly more than a decade since the Lombax and his metal pal starred in a game. It has been a long time since they’ve done anything vaguely heroic, and I have no doubt Ratchet’s moment of self-doubt is a reflection of developer Insomniac – could they still do it? Could they conjure the old magic for a new Ratchet & Clank game? Would the world even care anymore?

Available On: PS5
Reviewed On: PS5
Time Played: 23+ Hours
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony

The answer to those two questions are yes, and yes. Insomniac still know how to make an absurdly entertaining game brimming with breezy humour, entertaining action and instantly likeable characters. With Spider-Man: Miles Morales launching alongside the PS5 and now Rift Apart showing off what the new hardware can do, Insomniac have proven themselves to be THE jewel on Sony’s crown. And if I’m any judge, the world is more than ready for a new Ratchet & Clank game.

But let’s get back to that intro. With Nefarious now in command of a gun that can rip open rifts to new dimensions it isn’t long before things start to get a bit crazy and we’re introduced to a new universe. In this new dimension there’s an Emperor Nefarious who is far more deadly and successful than his counterpart. He rules with a metal fist and a band of brave resistance fighters are barely managing to hold on. One of those fighters just happens to be a female Lombax by the name of Rivet, and you’ll be controlling her for roughly 50% of the game alongside Ratchet.

Rivet is voiced by the supremely talented Ashley Birch, who you might know for playing FemShep in Mass Effect or another of one of her many roles. She kills it here, injecting Rivet with intense levels of charisma and almost instantly making her just as likeable and fun as Ratchet is. Rivet is also a little different due to her having some serious trust issues and a metal arm that she made herself to replace a limb she lost while fighting for the galaxy.

It isn’t just Ratchet that gets a new counterpart, either: Clank has a dimensional sibling in the form of Kit, a tiny robot with a big personality. She’s shy, unsure of her place in the world and once again absurdly easy to like.

Rivet and Kit are great new additions to the cast. They do perhaps overshadow the old-guard a little by arguably being given a bit more narrative meat to chomp on, but Insomniac does a good job of giving everyone their own little arc – Ratchet is hesitant about finding his people, Rivet needs to learn to trust, Kit has a secret and Clank is feeling guilty of rebuilding such a powerful weapon.

The story also splits everyone up so we wind up with Rivet and Clank on one team and Ratchet and Kit on the other. It’s fun to mix things up and there’s still just enough of the classic Ratchet and Clank pairing to keep long-time fans from feeling like they’ve been short-changed. More importantly, the pairings give Insomniac a chance to introduce their new characters in the best way possible, retaining a sense of familiarity while showing the world who Rivet and Kit are. At no point did I feel like Rivet and Kit are somehow going to take over the franchise, instead it just feels like Insomniac has given themselves some awesome new characters to play with. Hell, maybe we’ll get to see a Rivet & Kit game in the future, too.

Over the course of the 20 or so hours I spent in Rift Apart I came to the firm conclusion that’s damn near impossible to take a bad image of it. This isn’t just a good looking game, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and almost physical staggering in the fidelity and depth of its image. I’ve sprinkled just a handful of the images I took while playing throughout this review, and I still stop and stare at them. Even compressed, the images look astounding, and I’m far from good at composing shots.

An amazing part of the game’s graphics is the depth that Insomniac have built into every vista. There’s layer upon layer upon layer of detail that zooms out into the distance, each one looking just as immaculate as the last. It can bring a near-3D quality to the image, especially with the ray-tracing and HDR making the lighting, reflections and colours.

Honestly, I don’t think I can gush enough about what Insomniac has done here. This is spectacular, and while I can’t say it’s the best looking game ever because obviously everyone’s taste in art-style will, I don’t have a problem declaring it one of the best looking games of all time. And from a purely technical perspective, it’s sublime through and through, from the incredible sharpness of the image to the excellent animations and the sheer wealth of detail that can be admired on character models. If this is what we can expect from proper current-gen exclusives in the future then we are in for a hell of a time. Hell, if you zoom into Ratchet’s boots you can spend ages admiring the aged leather, the imperfections in it, the texture of it.

The shift from cutscenes to actual gameplay is a sight to behold because you can’t actually behold it. Seriously, it is damn near seamless, and there were a couple of times I genuinely didn’t realise I could move because I still thought it was a cutscene.

The game offers you three different performance modes, starting with Fidelity which is all about that crisp 4k image, HDR and ray-tracing at the cost of 60FPS. Instead, you get a steady 30FPS. The opposite end of the spectrum drops the resolution to 1440p and removes ray-tracing to target a super-smooth 60FPS. But the one you want to pick is Performance RT mode which goes with the 1440p but brings back ray-tracing and shoots for that silky-smooth 60FPS which, to me, is what this current generation of hardware should be focusing on. First, the drop in resolution was notable on my 4K TV but not drastic, the image remaining sharper than Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones. Second, if the frame rate ever actually dropped from 60FPS I failed to notice, so I never felt the need to drop it down to Performance mode. But the biggest reason to pick Performance RT is that a lot of Rift Apart’s glorious visuals have been built around ray-tracing. There are so many surfaces and light sources designed to show off those lovely reflections that turning RT off almost feels like a crime. Yeah, the game looks good without it, but RT provides the extra layer of detail that brings the whole image to life.

(All images here were captured in Performance RT mode, so the game can look even better, if you can imagine.

It’s not like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is mere eye-candy, mind you. Once I managed to stop drooling like a baby with an ice cream being waved in front of its face and got into the gameplay I was happy to find that Insomniac still have what it takes to make a R&C game. By that I mean there’s crates everywhere and those little wooden bastards are just asking to be smashed.

It isn’t a Ratchet & Clank game without an arsenal of guns that you can inexplicably carry around with you. Where Ratchet and Rivet manage to store these firearms is a worrying prospect, but more importantly, there are 18 weapons in total and each one feels distinct from the others. Take the garden sprinkler that turns enemies into lovingly pruned hedges, or the Glove of Doom which spawns tiny robots who swarm your foes. Or you can turn bad guys into blocks of ice and watch as they gently slide off a platform to their death. And then there’s the Ricochet which launches a single projectile when hovers around an enemy and each time you pull the trigger it hits them again like a wasp that just won’t go away. If you fancy more traditional stuff there’s a powerful shotgun, a badass Gatling gun and a straight-up rocket launcher. By far the best, though, is the Ryno 8, a gun that rips open the fabric of reality and quite literally drops Playstion crossovers from the sky.

Every gun levels up individually as you use them, unlocking more and more upgrades that you purchase via Raritanium. These upgrades are displayed on a hex grid and the most valuable are colour-coded yellow. To get those you need to purchase all the adjacent upgrades, but it’s worth it because the yellow hexes offer the best boosts. And if you get a weapon to level five its name changes and its abilities alter slightly, which is a great idea. Once you wrap the game up, though, you can jump into Challenge Mode, a New Game+ in all but name where level 5 weapons can be now be repurchased in their Omega form, letting them go all the way up to level 10. Sadly there’s no final weapon transformation to look forward, but it’s still fun to upgrade your entire armoury to the point where it could wipe out an army.

Putting this arsenal of arse-whooping to use is nothing short of a joy. Combat in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is smooth and energetic. Keeping on the move is the key and the game makes that easy thanks to the tight controls, the ease at which you can jump around and the coolest dodge animation ever seen in a videogame. Seriously, it’s freaking awesome. It’s like you dash but a trail of Ratchet or Rivet’s static animations are briefly left behind. Anyway, the fights are fast and kinetic, the weapons feel great to use and the varied enemies you shoot spew entertaining dialogue as they battle. Ammo, especially once you buy some upgrades, is plentiful enough for you to favour a few weapons but still balanced so that you do need to swap. That gives fights a great rhythm, and figuring out what gun works best in a given situation is satisfying.

I can’t point to any one specific thing that makes the battles work so well. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has that intangible quality that cannot be explained or demonstrated. It can only be felt when you pick up the controller and start playing. Simply put, Rift Apart feels good to play.

When you aren’t shooting stuff you’ll likely be doing some light platforming. It’s all standard stuff; double jumps, swinging on anchor points, wall-running and so on. Again, there’s nothing specific to hone in on, the platforming just feels good. It’s smooth and precise, but Insomniac also play it very safe by having to jumps that require precision, which is something 3D platformers have difficulty with due to depth perception. In other words, you probably aren’t going to die during any of the platforming or fun rail-grinding sequences, but bouncing around is still enjoyable.

Special mention has to go to the awesome rocket boots you acquire on your planet-hopping adventure. These bad-boys let you zip around with ease, and you can gain some speed by pumping the left trigger while the Dualsense pushes some resistance into it. The levels are never huge, which isn’t a bad thing because they’re actually damn near perfectly sized, but it’s still nice to have a fast way to get around.

Speaking of the Dualsense, Insomniac put all that fancy controller technology to good use. Pull the right trigger down halfway and you’ll typically enter aiming mode, and then pulling through the resistance fires. Meanwhile, the constantly little rumbles, tingles and sounds issuing from the Dualsense do a great job of communicating the world around you, like the tapping of keys on a console as Ratchet or Rivet input something. You can practically feel every keypress. A lot of the genius behind the haptics is how Insomniac treats its usage more like music, using the full dynamic range to provide more impact when it’s needed. The controller goes from gentle bumps and movements to ramping up and giving your hand a proper shake.

And on the topic of audio, it’s solid across the board. Plug in some headphones to the controller and that 3D audio is put to good use with plenty of smart directional cues to let you keep track of enemies who aren’t on the screen. Ambient audio is excellent, too, filling the worlds with a variety of sounds that help draw you into them. And if you don’t use the 3D audio it remains a great sounding game. The only thing I would say is that while the music is nice it does fade into the background a lot. That’s fine if you prefer that sort of thing, but I would have liked a punchier soundtrack, myself.

You’ll hop from planet to planet on your journey, each one a new visual spectacle to stare at in wonder before remembering there are more crates that need smashed. To keep things feeling fresh and fun Insomniac finds ways to tweak the gameplay in each new location, adding or changing mechanics. While looking for a way to fire up a huge forge you’ll need to smack special crystals that jump you forward and back in time, from an operational facility to a ruined planet where you have to use magnetic boots to leap from metal to metal. Another planet is like a tiny open-world to explore, while another features speedy snails you ride around. With each new planet, I landed on I was excited to see what Insomniac was going to do next.

There’s a couple of moments where you get to take control of Clank to solve fun little inter-dimensional puzzles, or rid a computer of viruses using an absurdly cute little robot. Again, it all adds some variety to a campaign that is nicely judged in length, clocking in around 10-15 hours. It’s not too long, it’s not too short, it’s nicely in the gaming Goldilocks zone.

There’s quite a bit of extra stuff to get your grubby little hands-on, too, which I appreciate. Optional pocket dimensions are tiny little platforming challenges that reward you with new helmets, chest pieces and leg armour to don, and they all provide little stat boosts. There’s quite a few to find and I admit to being more amused than I probably should have been by dressing Ratchet and Rivet up. Weirdly, though, the stat boosts apply regardless of whether you wear the armour, which is good in one way but also means you don’t have to make any decisions about what to wear.

And then there’s the Golden Bolts to find, and these open up new skins for your ratchet/hammer and a bunch of other cools extras, like giant heads, PS1/PS2 era graphics, confetti bursting out of dead enemies and more. You know, it’s like back in the day when games had cheat codes and fun little extras that you didn’t have to buy separately. Also know as the better times.

Alright, I’ve heaped praise on Rift in Time like I’m trying to get into its pants, so let me take my hand out of its knickers and put on my critical hat for a few moments. Nothing is perfect and there’s a couple of bones I can pick.

First, As smooth and fun as the combat and general gameplay is, it’s not a revolution, either. This is undoubtedly the best a Ratchet & Clank game has felt, and while the arsenal of weapons isn’t perhaps as awesome as it has been in the past the combat was never anything less than great fun. However, it is still very much the classic Ratchet & Clank formula, so if you’re hoping for a massive leap forwards this isn’t it. Personally, I’m okay with this because I love how the series plays and wasn’t looking for the gameplay to be radically overhauled, but some people could find themselves let-down if they go in with the wrong expectations.

Secondly, while the story is certainly fun the writing isn’t as sharp as I would have liked. Partly this is because the series has lost that more adult edge it once had and moved firmly into being cute and family-friendly. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I remember being a kid and loving the Ratchet & Clank games because they were both kid-friendly and still willing to slip in some riskier material. Regardless of that, the overall story is quite basic and the emotional beats are simply okay. Nothing amazing. The thing that carries the whole tale is the personalities and the performances. Lots of people have compared this to a Pixar movie, but honestly, it would compare to one of the middling Pixar flicks at best.

Third, the dimension-hopping. A lot of the pre-release marketing was focused on how the SSD allow Insomniac to transport players from dimension to dimension, seamlessly loading in a whole new batch of assets. From a technical perspective, it’s bloody mind-bogglingly cool. Things like this have been done in the past, like Titanfall 2’s time-travelling or Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver or even the recent The Medium, but they all did it on a small scale while finding loads of ways to reuse assets and so on. Rift Apart does it on a huge scale, almost instantly transporting you to a different area complete with incredible detail and vistas.

But….well, is it fair to see I’m the teensiest bit underwhelmed? Like I said, from a technical perspective it’s spectacular, and a couple of missions make insane use of it by having you leaping through multiple dimensions in quick succession, each one looking just as detailed and as vivid as the last. It’s crazy to go through one and find yourself on a planet you visited prior with all the models and textures being completely different from where you just came from. But from a gameplay perspective, the rifts don’t actually do very much. I was expecting some mind-bending puzzles or maybe some wacky combat or perhaps even a few bonkers boss battles across various dimensions, but those things don’t happen. The big rifts are kept purely for a small number of on-rails segments. Apart from that, there are optional pocket-dimensions, and small rifts that you can use to jump across the battlefield. Although, those are pretty damn cool because you tap L1 to tether to them and then sort of pull the entire world to you. It’s actually jarring and disorientating in a weird way which is fantastic because that makes it feel even cooler.

The point is, after being told that only the newest hardware could handle Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, I’m not so sure that’s true. Sure, the PS4 certainly couldn’t do those big rift sequences without the hard drive screaming in Latin and then probably catching fire, but if you took those sequences out it could handle the rest of the game just fine. Yes, some of the magic would certainly be missing, but it could do it. The rifts weren’t as deeply tied into the gameplay as I was expecting. Maybe I’m being unfair, though, because I have no idea how hard all this was to do already.

My final complaint would be that having two main characters be playable would have been a superb opportunity to mix up their movesets and gear, bringing extra variety into Rift Apart. To my surprise, though, Ratchet and Rivet are identical in terms of their gameplay. They even share all the same weapons, something which the game does explain. Although it doesn’t explain how they share other things, like their rocket boots. Maybe Insomniac hoped nobody would notice. This isn’t a huge criticism, just more of a thing I think Insomniac could have capitalized on. However, given how much love and work has clearly gone into everything else it wouldn’t surprise me if the big-brained boffins at the studio thought about it and decided to focus elsewhere.

Ultimately none of these little nits that I have picked bothered me in any substantial way, though. Yes, the writing isn’t amazing but it’s solid and charming and has a breezy, light quality to it. Sure, the weapons are not the best the series has ever had but they’re still heaps of fun. And yeah, dimensional hopping might be just a teensy bit underwhelming but it’s still really freaking cool and technically awesome. These are criticisms I feel like I need to bring to the table simply because I’m writing a review. If I had just been playing the game I would have been too busy having a bloody blast to care about them.

Sony have shifted their path away from their promises of believing in generations, bringing what once would have probably been PS5 exclusives to last-gen platforms as well. But Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart offers a glimpse of what true PS5 exclusives could be capable of, at least in terms of performance and visuals. It’s almost painfully pretty, seemingly incapable of ever looking anything less than amazing and runs as smoothly as a Cheetah chasing down some fast food. And underneath all that eye candy is an entertaining, light-hearted game with fun combat, lovable characters and more raw charm Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. This is a hell of a game and it proves that Ratchet & Clank and Insomniac have still got it. That parade is well deserved.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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