Are video games just playable movies? That is a question that has become more and more relevant — and exciting — as studios become increasingly ambitious in their storytelling and grander in their game designs. Games like the Uncharted franchise, The Last of Us, and The Witcher have all made their mark on the industry with their sweeping, seamless adventures, and have been rewarded with spinoff TV shows and movies of their own. The arrival of the next generation of systems and their upgraded technological capabilities seemed to herald a new step forward in this pursuit. And now, the PlayStation 5 (PS5) has its first game that truly feels of a new generation — a game that plays and dances with possibilities, managing to so engross you in what’s happening on screen that you forget the controller rumbling in your hand. And that game is Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.
Ratchet and Clank have been Sony mainstays for almost 20 years now, with their first adventure premiering on the PS2 in 2002. The story of the wisecracking Lombax Ratchet and his reliable robot friend Clank has been a reliable well for Sony to pull from, and this title further expands on their planet-hopping travels, with an interdimensional twist. The Ratchet and Clank series, helmed by the red-hot Insomniac Games (also responsible for the stellar Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales), has always been known for its top-notch graphics, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and guns-blazing gameplay. Rift Apart takes all of these series staples and turns up their dials to maximum, creating a game experience that takes full advantage of the PS5 and delivers at every level.
The game starts with a celebration gone wrong. As the world throws a massive party for Ratchet and Clank as a thank you for saving the galaxy, Clank reveals a special gift for Ratchet: the Dimensionator, a portal gun that allows the user to travel between realities, and will allow Ratchet to look for other Lombaxes. (As far as he knows, he’s the last of his kind.) But when the evil — and generally ineffective — Dr. Nefarious crashes the gathering, he steals the Dimensionator, promising to find a reality where he always wins. As Ratchet and Clank follow him through purple fractured rifts in space-time, they’re separated, with Clank ending up in the company of a new Lombax named Rivet. As Dr. Nefarious and his successful counterpart, Emperor Nefarious, both plot their domination, Ratchet and Rivet must work to reunite and take on the threat, with the fate of the multiverse hanging in the balance.
The game’s story is handled exquisitely, always full of momentum and pulling players forward from moment to moment. The dialogue is brisk and bright, while the characters are well-realized and easy to relate to. Even the beaten-down Dr. Nefarious has moments of sad sympathy. The real gem in the crowd is Rivet, voiced to perfection by Jennifer Hale. In a game where it would have been easy to make a character that was just “Ratchet, but female,” the game’s writers created a fully realized character in her own right and one who is completely capable of carrying a franchise of her own. The twists and turns of the story, hopping from planet to planet to fight waves of colorful enemies, will be familiar to anyone who has played a Ratchet and Clank title before. But the beats of the story are so smart and well handled that any sense of familiarity is comfortable rather than dragging, like a new installment of your favorite movie franchise. In all, the game carries a sort of Pixar-meets-Star-Wars energy throughout — two names that I do not drop lightly.
That excellent story is buoyed infinitely by the depth and care that went into the game’s design. Rift Apart makes the best case yet for the PS5’s updated graphics card. Every world is not only beautifully rendered, but also has layers of action and activity that hold up under close scrutiny. Whether it’s the brilliantly rendered, expressive face of Rivet in a close-up cutscene or the absolute brain-smashing overload of sights, sounds, and colors that greet you upon your arrival at every new planet, the game feels crisp and clean from every distance. The fights, which often have you taking on tens of enemies at a time in destructible environments, are never too busy to follow. Instead, the colorful whirlwind of flying beams and blasts just adds to the energy and excitement. Rift Apart is an important proving ground for the next generation of games, showing that a game doesn’t have to be serious, dark, and stormy to take full advantage of the new system’s graphical prowess. Ratchet and Clank pass this test with — pun intended — flying colors.
The gameplay is similarly well-tuned and impressive. Throughout the game, you amass bolts, which can be exchanged as currency for new weaponry. The guns range from the mundane (pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher) to power gloves that deploy angry little robots who attack your enemies and a sprinkler that turns foes into plants. Ratchet and Rivet have multiple ways to navigate a fight: rocket boots that speed you across the terrain, a phase shift players can use to dodge and weave through the air, and a grapple for pulling yourself through open rifts on the battlefield. Still, the fights do have a tendency to get repetitive. While the different weapons offer variety, enemy groups often remain the same, even fighting different characters on different planets. In addition, it’s slightly disappointing that the game makers didn’t create different quirks depending on whether you’re playing as Ratchet or Rivet — Both Lombaxes carry the same weapons and fight the same ways. Still, the fights are so fast-paced and the battlefields so vibrant that you never feel bored.
It has been a slow seven months of PS5 ownership, as the pandemic stalled game releases and stymied development processes. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart feels like PlayStation’s triumphant reminder that its next generation is on the scene. It’s a game that simultaneously feels true to Sony’s past and like a confident step forward into its future. Here’s hoping that this is just the beginning and that Rift Apart is the first salvo in PlayStation’s impressive arsenal.