Developed by: Insomniac Games Released: April 12, 2016 Price: $39.99 (PS4)
Ratchet & Clank is a fully remade version of the original Ratchet & Clank game for PS2. This reboot follows the adventure of a Lombax named Ratchet (a mechanic with big dreams) and a defective warbot named Clank. The duo meet in a random twist of fate and find themselves travelling from planet to planet to save the galaxy from a sinister threat. To do this, they join up with the Galactic Rangers, a group of heroes led by self-absorbed celebrity Captain Qwark.
The original Ratchet & Clank, released in 2002, was a much beloved classic of the PlayStation 2 era. It spawned a sprawling series of sequels, spin-offs, and all sorts of nods and references from other Sony Computer Entertainment games, as well as the upcoming motion picture. With an unorthodox blend of action platformer and third-person shooter, the series still has its own unique feel that’s contributed heavily to its longevity.
So you can imagine that the 2016 Ratchet & Clank title, which is a reimagining of the fourteen year old PS2 classic, has some pretty big shoes to fill. How does it fare?
Well, on most counts, fantastic! But… in other ways, terrible. It’s complicated. I’ll step through the major aspects of the game and it should become apparent where this remake succeeds and where it fails.
Graphics & Sound
I’d like to get this category out of the way first, because frankly I have very little to complain about here. This game looks absolutely gorgeous. Piggybacking on the creative and colorful planets of the original game, Ratchet & Clank reconstructs them in jaw-dropping detail and fidelity. Environments are bright and beautiful and a joy to navigate and explore. Most levels are rebuilt section for section from the original game’s level design, but many have entirely new areas that add more spectacle or action to the progression. These areas are peppered with the same sorts of space-themed electronic backtracks as fans have come to expect from the series. The music, while not really remarkable, is usually a nice compliment.
Weapons have the same punchy sounds and crazy explosions and effects that many have come to love from the series, capitalizing on the PS4’s capabilities to deliver a chaotic maelstrom of particle effects to dance around in as your enemies explode. The folks at insomniac know what they’re doing when it comes to making absurd weapons; the way they look and sound is incredibly satisfying. The use of motion blur can be a bit overzealous sometimes, but I got used to it pretty quickly.
Platforms & Guns
While the levels and story may be pulled from the original Ratchet & Clank, the game plays like a showcase of the best moments of the series. It incorporates a number of wonderful mechanics from the latest game in the main series (Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus), including branching weapon upgrade trees and a jetpack that makes for some awesome aerial gun battles. Though the latter of those was woefully underused, the game still boasts a collection of some of the best and zaniest weapons in the series. While it still features a few mostly-unchanged weapons from the original game, it also includes a bunch of absurd new weapons from later entries in the series, including the fan-favorite Groovitron (which basically just makes enemies get down to disco tunes while you take your time clearing them out). It also features a couple of brand new weapons that are some of the most fun yet.
The game runs with slick controls that have been refined over the last decade of Ratchet & Clank releases, including giving players the shooter-style “lock-strafe” control option. The smoother controls make this the ideal way to experience many of these classic levels, which were at times nigh impossible in the original game due to clunky controls. With such a long-surviving series, the refinement really shows in the controls and difficulty tuning, which is still challenging but more merciful with checkpoints than the original. An unfortunate side effect, however, is that the greater number of checkpoints tends to show just how short some of the old game’s levels are compared to the PS3 era titles in the series, whose levels generally felt a bit more fleshed out by comparison. That said, the decision to include more checkpoints definitely makes the game flow a better and keeps it from becoming frustrating. It’s also worth noting that this is by no means a hardcore game; it can be challenging at times but it won’t compare to the average first-person shooter when it comes to difficulty.
Standard par for the series, of course, is not just the main story but also a smattering of hidden collectibles and unlockable cheats and aesthetic options that come with finding them. Ratchet & Clank doesn’t disappoint, leaving hidden Gold Bolts around most of the levels as well as a new collectible called Holocards. Holocards are a nifty new addition because they not only grant bonuses for completing sets, but also pay homage to the game’s legacy, each containing descriptions of some weapon, character, or location from other games in the series and citing the title they originally appeared in. It’s a small touch, but fans of the series are bound to appreciate it.
Unfortunately, the game has one thing that’s always been pretty hit-and-miss in the series: Clank puzzles. These are small sections of the game that Clank tackles alone, and are more puzzle-oriented than the rest of the action. While not inherently boring, these sections often become a bit of a slog because their puzzle mechanics are pretty shallowly explored. One of the problems with making puzzle segments such a small aspect of the game is that they never become deep enough to be satisfying to solve. Usually solutions are just an obvious sequence of “Well, this is the only action I can really take at this point.” The last few main series games (Into the Nexus and A Crack in Time) had more unique and inventive puzzle sections that were more enjoyable because of their novelty. These ones, however, are fairly dull and, thankfully, infrequent.
All in all, though, the vast majority of the game is wonderfully fun to play. It showcases some of the best game mechanics in the series, carefully refined controls, and a plethora of insane weapons to point at your enemies; what more could you ask for?
Story & Jokes
Well, we had to end up here at some point. Here is where my major beef with this game lies. Fans of the original game, or of the characters in the series as a whole, are likely to be very disappointed here. While the main characters of the series have the same wonderful voice cast as always, the game is mired in the unnecessary inclusion of shallow new characters and a couple of characters from elsewhere in the series. Perhaps even more disappointing is that because the story was condensed, some important conflict between the main characters was completely removed. Instead, they become immediately chummy for no apparent reason. Other characters are made to be much more sympathetic than their original incarnations. By itself, this isn’t really a problem; however, it does reflect the overall disneyification of the story by making nearly everyone redeemable or needlessly nice and denying it a lot of the character and nuance that the original title had.
While the story still has the same basic sequence of events, it spends a lot of its time introducing characters who serve only to provide instructions during gameplay. These characters never really have an interesting part to play and most of the main cast are equally devoid of depth. Introducing all these characters and hardly using them also gives the game some weird pacing issues, making it seem like the end of the story arrives way too soon, almost as if it has no second act.
But there’s one other important part of the storytelling that I need to touch on, isn’t there? Is the game funny? Thankfully, the series’ usual wit is here in full force, and most of the ambient dialogue and banter between characters has the same quirkiness and morbid-yet-goofy humor that fans have come to love. As a staple of the series, the humor went a long way in endearing me to the game’s storytelling despite its disappointing pacing and characterization. One can hope that the movie adaptation will keep the same humor but manage to restore some of the actual personality to Ratchet, Clank, and the rest.
Despite being a little too short and having a tragically underwhelming narrative, Ratchet & Clank still delivers with fun gunplay and gorgeous environments to explore. At $39.99, the game is also reasonably priced for the amount of content it offers. If you want to see the best of what the series has in store, you’ll probably have a good time running and gunning through the crazy levels of Ratchet & Clank. If you’re a fan of the original, well… let’s be honest, you’ll still probably dig the running and gunning part, but the treatment of the story and characters may leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Fans of the original and/or people willing to play a cartoony game that focuses on fun and mayhem will probably have a pretty good time with Ratchet & Clank.