Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that truly are the best. This also applies to the realm of gaming, and no better example has been provided of this adage this year than Ratchet & Clank for PS4. Sold at a discounted $39.99 USD/$49.99 CDN price, and boasting a simple, straightforward gauntlet of shoot ’em up-style 3D platformer challenges, Ratchet & Clank is also meant to tie into the feature film of the same name, which hit theatres back in April, and is now available to view at home via Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download. If you recall my review of the movie from the theatrical release, you’ll know I thought it was decent, but didn’t fully capture the same spirited, cheeky entertainment value of the source games.
This combination movie tie-in and remake of the very first Ratchet & Clank game made for PS2 in 2002 however, is a very different story. This is the real essential Ratchet & Clank experience, and it stands as perhaps the PS4’s best exclusive of 2016 at this point, as we head into the crowded Fall/Winter game release calendar that will fill the rest of the year. Even beyond the fact that this is a rare example of a movie tie-in game that’s actually great, let alone good, the fact that Ratchet & Clank is sold at a very agreeable price, and offers accessible, fast-paced entertainment for both casual and hardened gamers alike, makes it a true must-play exclusive for PS4 owners. The game being colourful, memorable and frequently hilarious is great icing on the cake too!
Ratchet & Clank is a big visual standout among this year’s busy catalogue of PS4 game releases. The crisp, vibrant graphics effortlessly and consistently create the impression that you’re playing an interactive animated movie, and the sheer amount of detail in environments, textures and character models is some of the finest visual work that the PS4 has demonstrated to date! Never has a Ratchet & Clank experience looked or felt this good to play, and fortunately, the graphics don’t come at the expense of a perfectly stable framerate either, even if said framerate sadly unfolds at a more stable, but less snappy 30fps clip, not a full 60fps clip. There’s never even a mite of slowdown in the game, on the bright side, even during the most insane and destructive moments of busy physics and rendering, but some longtime fans may be disappointed that the series’ PS4 debut isn’t upping the performance from prior installments on PS2 and PS3.
Still, when the game looks this great, it’s difficult to care that the action is still unfolding at 30fps. The crisp native 1080p resolution brings Ratchet & Clank to an awesome new visual standard, and given the ambitious nature of the graphics, and constant demands of the explosive action, keeping the framerate at 30fps to avoid slowdown, an issue that cropped up in the older Ratchet & Clank games made for PS2 especially, was certainly the right call. On higher difficulties in particular, Ratchet & Clank demands that players constantly move around and balance leaping and firing amidst hordes of enemies, and the way that the game never compromises on that sense of colourful action is very impressive. In fact, considering how dazzling and frenetic the game’s constant firefights are, and how eye-catching the graphics in general are, Ratchet & Clank stands as a rare example of a game that’s just as much fun to watch as it is to play!
The only slight drawback to the graphics, and it is very slight, is that the in-game cutscene animations are kind of stiff. The pre-rendered cutscenes ripped directly from the Ratchet & Clank movie look amazing, but whenever Ratchet and Clank stop to interact with characters in-game, they always just stand still and talk in a very basic, disengaged manner, even when the voiceovers are more energetic and full of personality. This creates a weird, distracting contrast, but fortunately, it’s ultimately a very minor problem.
Beyond that minor blemish, the rest of the game’s presentation is absolutely sublime. Don’t be fooled by the budget price! This is one of the most polished and visually impressive games that the PS4 has seen throughout its entire life cycle at this point, not just between this year’s offerings. Even being a colourful and cartoony experience, the game boasts cutting-edge physics, lighting and modeling detail that wonderfully flex the PS4’s muscles, and while this game just barely falls shy of perfectly replicating the visual fidelity of the movie, it comes far closer to that feature film-level animation standard than most any other cartoon-style game before it!
Ratchet & Clank’s soundtracks have always cutely blended cheeky cosmic-themed synthesizers and heroic orchestra, and that remains true in this new PS4 offering. The compositions on offer here also make for one of the series’ better soundtracks, even if much of the music still can’t be heard over the frequent blasts and ruptures of weapons and scenery. The game definitely sounds the part of the movie though, for what that’s worth, even if the music sometimes could have been a bit more pronounced, considering how lively and entertaining the rest of the game is.
Fortunately, the sound effects are also superb in every respect. Each of the many weapons that Ratchet and Clank get to wield over the course of the game sound mighty, but not so violent as to distract from the game’s colourful sense of mischievous fun. Familiar sound cues from collected Bolts, the game’s currency, to freed, health-restoring Nanotech will also be comfortably recognizable to longtime fans, while retaining the gratifying appeal to listen to for newcomers as well. The real star of the sound design however is definitely the action, which walks the fine line between cartoon and violent warzone with aplomb, as this series has consistently done throughout its long history.
The voice acting in Ratchet & Clank is universally excellent as well, even if not every actor from the movie reprises their role for the game. Ratchet, Clank, Doctor Nefarious (who is in this game and the movie, despite not being part of the original 2002 game at all), and Captain Qwark are still voiced by regular actors, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Armin Shimerman and Jim Ward respectively, of course, and both Bella Thorne and Rosario Dawson reprise their roles as Cora and Elaris in the game, respectively. John Goodman, Paul Giamatti and Sylvester Stallone sadly don’t reprise their roles as Grimroth, Chairman Drek or Victor Von Ion, respectively, but fortunately, their soundalikes are actually pretty great, and you’d be hard-pressed to know the difference. Drek’s soundalike is particularly fantastic, to the point where you could be forgiven for honestly mistaking him for Paul Giamatti! Rest assured, the usual charm of this series is alive and well in the audio, particularly when the strong voice acting ensures that every well-conceived joke gets the proper chuckle.
The fundamentals behind Ratchet & Clank have been left largely unchanged since the series debuted in 2002, and developer, Insomniac Games is still fortunately not fixing what isn’t, and likely never will be, broken. Ratchet & Clank, like its predecessors on prior PlayStation platforms, is all about taking on hordes of robotic and alien enemies with no shortage of hilariously unnecessary firepower. The gameplay is quite straightforward, and a lot of it simply involves moving from one checkpoint to the next as you defeat enemies and interact with NPC’s to solve simple objectives in the quest to repel the evil Blarg aliens. As far as modern video games go, Ratchet & Clank is pretty uncomplicated.
In the case of the cutting-edge PS4 and its many highly ambitious, mature-minded game projects however, the straightforward gameplay style of Ratchet & Clank feels like a virtue, especially since it’s so well-refined. Ratchet & Clank only passingly ties into the movie release that likely inspired it, and is smartly more concerned with taking the gameplay ideas of prior installments, and bringing them together in a sort of ‘greatest hits’ style remake/reboot that unifies the best and brightest hooks of the series’ former games. Gone are the time-bending shenanigans and especially intricate conflicts that defined the series’ mainline PS3 offerings during the previous console generation. What replaces them is a more by-the-book Ratchet & Clank gameplay experience, even by the standards of a remake, but one that also feels especially refined and entertaining in its execution.
From the second you leap into a firefight with the game’s healthy array of challenging foes, you’ll see just how important this simple, but fun touch truly is. The stage designs, which unfold across a variety of planets that should be mostly recognizable to anyone who has played the original PS2 game from 2002, with just a handful also being featured in the movie, do a standout job of balancing platforming and firefights, making all of them feel well-paced and satisfying to traverse through, even if their main paths don’t require much thought. Instead, the game is more about testing your reflexes, weapon management and platforming skills, to the point where Ratchet & Clank genuinely feels like a very welcome throwback to a simpler era of gaming. The firefight areas also smartly capture this feeling, using elevation, terrain obstacles, traps and other hazards alongside smart enemy placement to create battles that feel universally exciting, fun and challenging, without ever being unfair or tedious.
Of course, something that makes or breaks a Ratchet & Clank game even more than this, is the weapon selection. Fortunately, this new PS4 entry definitely doesn’t disappoint, having a tantalizing array of diverse weapons that all have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. None of the weapons feel superfluous, and they all deftly balance being badass and vaguely amusing. Early in the game, aside from Ratchet’s default Omniwrench melee attack that you wield with the Square Button, you’ll make use of simpler weapons like the straight-shooting Combuster pistol and basic Fusion Grenade, but as you reach and explore new planets, you’ll unlock more ambitious specialty weapons such as the Groovitron, which forces enemies to helplessly dance while it’s active, and the brand new Pixelizer, which uses a shotgun-like blast that turns enemies into a mess of lo-res pixels. Many of the weapons will be recognizable to fans who have played through most or all of the previous Ratchet & Clank games, but Insomniac’s decision to create a smorgasbord of the series’ best and most effective weapon ideas is one that suits the gameplay incredibly well here, and helps motivate players to utilize a variety of weapons across firefights that make them all the more fun to blast through.
Similar to most of the series’ previous entries, both Ratchet himself and his weapons will level up as you play, and become both stronger and more effective. Using weapons will gradually net them EXP, allowing them to gain up to four additional levels that increase their damage output and capabilities, while defeating enemies will allow Ratchet to gain EXP, with every level he gains increasing his maximum health meter, allowing him to last longer in combat. You can purchase new weapons by accruing Bolts, which can also be spent to refill your health and ammo at any Gadgetron Vendor that you come across, and you can also accrue a separate item, Raritanium, which can be spent on a table of upgrades for any weapons that you own. Using weapons frequently may make them stronger, but using Raritanium can allow players to strategize and tailor their arsenal to their own play style in a much deeper and more satisfying way, with options to give weapons more ammo, increase their range, increase their duration, and other context-sensitive benefits. Unlocking certain upgrades in a ring pattern on the upgrade grid can even unlock mystery upgrades that grant weapons even more outrageous capabilities, such as elemental affinities.
Ratchet & Clank does a pretty good job of allotting you a solid supply of Bolts and Raritanium as you play through it, though you can make accruing these currencies even easier if you also collect Holo Cards, which can be located in hidden areas or dropped from enemies. Each location has a set of three Holo Cards, and completing a set will allow you to earn more Bolts and Raritanium from pickups. Holo Cards can be found in packs much of the time, though opening a pack can sometimes get you duplicates. Fortunately, if you amass five duplicates, you can easily trade them for a card that you don’t have, turning what could have been a very annoying luck-based collectible into another fun incentive to explore around and visit even non-essential planets.
As I said, path progression in each planet is mostly linear, though there are a few hidden areas that you can access if you have a keen eye, and a few tools that you can find in certain stages. Equipment like the water-relocating Hydrodisplacer and jump-enhancing Helipack will open up new areas across the Solana Galaxy, granting more avenues of exploration even on some planets that you’ve already fought through and conquered. Many of these hidden locations contain more Holo Cards, with a special set even netting you access to the game’s ultimate weapon, the R.Y.N.O. (yes, unlike the 2002 original, you no longer need 1,000,000 Bolts to get your hands on it, just the right Holo Cards), though quite a few of these secret paths also contain Gold Bolts, a key collectible from throughout the Ratchet & Clank series. Gold Bolts primarily unlock cosmetic changes, though they’re also necessary for amassing trophies, which completely take the place of another of the series’ usual collectibles, Skill Points, Insomniac’s ingenious forerunner to achievements/trophies pioneered during the PS2 era, which are now completely removed from Ratchet & Clank to be fully replaced by the PlayStation Network Trophy system. Honestly, that was inevitable at some point.
You have plenty of free reign to explore during most of the game where you play as Ratchet, though the handful of sections where you control Clank are appropriately more claustrophobic. Clank’s sections, as usual for the series, are much more based around puzzles than they are combat or exploration, with Clank having to pick up and toss around themed Gadgebots to open up new paths in order to reach an objective. A few sections also have Clank fleeing a pursuer, which substitute for the platforming challenges that Ratchet normally undergoes at periodic intervals. The Clank section puzzles are generally pretty clever, and the later ones can be pretty good brainteasers, even if they’re the one portion of the game where your difficulty setting is irrelevant.
The same difficulty irrelevance is true of the hacking-style Trespasser puzzles that Ratchet sometimes has to deal with as well, though these are significantly less fun. They don’t have a time limit thankfully, and you can press a button to automatically hack through them at the cost of forfeiting a big Bolt payout for doing it yourself, but this also means forfeiting a trophy, so that won’t be an option for completionists. The Trespasser puzzles don’t feel like they have the cleverness of the Clank sections, and will simply have players furiously rotating, activating and deactivating a series of rings, lasers and barriers in an effort to point unimpeded lasers at a series of lights. It brings the gameplay momentum to an irritating halt for anyone who doesn’t simply want to bypass them without the prizes, unlike the Clank sections, which are still pretty exciting, even when they vex your brain. Still, at least Insomniac give you the appreciated option to just skip these hacking puzzles if you’re impatient, so it’s difficult to complain about them too much.
Fortunately, the platforming and shooting still occasionally take a backseat to more enjoyable diversions whenever it feels appropriate. Certain gameplay sections will mix things up with hoverboard racing and spaceship combat, both of which are very simple to learn, but are still very engaging and exciting to try and master. The hoverboard races even provide another side quest of sorts to earn more prizes and trophies, and they’re held on more than one planet to boot, with a variety of difficulty settings and tracks. Naturally, a handful of boss battles will also show up at set points in the story, all of which are fun and challenging, and do a great job of encouraging players to vary their weapons and strategies, as the bosses make use of new tricks with their growing desperation. The final boss fight is a particular standout, brilliantly putting players’ skills to the test in a very challenging and exciting showdown, despite said showdown not really existing in the movie.
Ratchet & Clank’s gameplay package entirely consists of the single-player main quest, which will take you about 10-12 hours to complete, and possibly a couple more if you’re playing on Hard difficulty, though for the reduced price, this feels like strong value. The highly enjoyable gameplay, hidden collectibles and side tasks, and most importantly, the unlockable Challenge Mode, accessed by beating the game at least once, will also provide solid incentives for players to keep enjoying the experience, likely while they strive for the pretty reasonable Platinum Trophy. Challenge Mode is quite a lot of fun for Ratchet & Clank experts as well, allowing players to carry over weapons, upgrades and any other progression from a completed save file, then take on extra-tough variations of the game’s enemies and obstacles, with prolonged survival increasing a Bolt multiplier that lines their pockets far quicker than the main game. You’ll need to complete the game in Challenge Mode to score that Platinum Trophy as well, but fortunately, it’s yet another fun obstacle course in a game that is effectively built on fun obstacle courses.
Considering that this is a game about mayhem and zaniness, there’s also a fantastic elegance to the package of Ratchet & Clank’s gameplay. It focuses purely on playing to the series’ strengths, going back to the foundation of what the series has always done well, and putting a fantastic sense of snappy, modern polish on it, with later innovations like strafing and fine aiming, made better than ever by the silky-smooth Dual Shock 4 controls that this new PS4 entry offers. The great controls blend with the challenging firefights and smart, responsive platforming to take that simplicity, and make it feel like something better, without the need for gimmickry or reinvention. All the more satisfying is that Ratchet & Clank exceptionally proves that there’s still plenty of life and appeal in the 3D platformer genre, especially considering its huge worldwide sales numbers. Frankly, the PS4 has been starved for a game like this, and Ratchet & Clank represents a big breath of fresh air in a modern triple-A game industry that is stuffed to burst with dark, violent and serious-minded endeavours.
Ratchet & Clank brings back several story elements from the original 2002 game, but beyond that, it almost completely re-imagines the origin story of both Ratchet and Clank, who are placed in an adventure of similar, but not identical stakes as this series’ PS2 beginning. For those unaware, the premise of this game (and the movie it ties into) is that a cat/rodent-hybrid-like alien called a Lombax, named Ratchet, works as a spaceship mechanic on the planet, Veldin, but dreams of being a Galactic Ranger, part of an intergalactic police force that fights against spacefaring criminals like the infamous Doctor Nefarious, a fan-favourite villain that was introduced in 2004’s Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, but has now been retroactively made a part of this rebooted origin storyline. When a defective Warbot built for the alien Blarg forces, who want to invade various planets of the Solana Galaxy for reasons unknown, crash-lands on Veldin, Ratchet finally gets his chance at being a hero, and, after christening the robot, “Clank”, the two begin a quest to save their star system from disaster.
The good news about the game’s storyline is that it’s expanded and spreads across more planets and locations than it does in the movie, making for a better version of this plot than what the movie tells. The series’ reliable and hilarious humour is also on full display in this game, which is easily funnier and more memorable than the movie is overall. As much as the game effortlessly creates laughs and fun where the movie doesn’t always succeed though, this remake still slightly suffers from the movie’s issue of dumbing the story down in an increased effort to appeal to children. The original 2002 game meanwhile was primarily designed for teens and up, which means that its storyline was more ambitious, and it didn’t hold back as much with some of its jokes. Obviously, the remake still gets plenty of laughs, but its own version of the story does feel a bit less interesting than the 2002 original, namely due to the fact that it cleans up so much of the humour and storytelling for the younger audience.
The plus side of this however is that you can more easily share Ratchet & Clank with your own kids, if you have any, and if you’ve been playing this series since its 2002 beginnings, and now have your own little ones, the more kid-friendly story makes this a great family-friendly introduction to this duo’s adventures. Adults will primarily play this game for the silly giggles, since the story doesn’t offer much else that they haven’t seen before, especially if they’re already longstanding Ratchet & Clank fans, but kids and the uninitiated will find a worthy origin tale to introduce them to this franchise. This franchise has told several better stories for sure, even including the 2002 original, but what is here is good silly fun, so long as you’re not expecting too much depth.
In the case of Ratchet & Clank, less truly is more. The package would feel a bit underwhelming for the full price of $59.99 USD/$79.99 CDN, but for the reduced price it sells for, the value in Ratchet & Clank and what its gameplay offers is just right. Going back to basics and focusing on the core appeal of the series has led to not only the most enjoyable Ratchet & Clank game since the series’ PS2 origins, but probably one of the most enjoyable PS4 exclusives in the console’s history to date! Any PS4 owner who already enjoys Ratchet & Clank will find this to be a must-own game, regardless of their opinion of the movie, if any, and if you have yet to experience this franchise at all, this is the best jumping-on point that it’s offered since the PS2 era.
This game isn’t bursting with depth, but it has just enough to feel engaging and interesting, even if much of the experience is just about having fun. In this unending technological arms race and obsessive desire to constantly outdo dark, dramatic storytelling in much of the biggest triple-A games these days, it’s important to remember that games are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to entertain us in one way or another, and Ratchet & Clank focuses on that pure, simple mission of entertaining its audience, whether they’re familiar with every series entry and will appreciate the coming together of the series’ best innovations, or are just picking up their very first Lombax arsenal to see what the fuss is about.
For its modest price and tightly-constructed gameplay experience, Ratchet & Clank is a superb crowd-pleaser for any and all PS4 owners, and makes the series fresher and more exciting than it’s been in about a decade, if not more! It’s also a great love letter to 3D mascot-driven platformers, and wonderfully scratches that itch if you’ve been starved for a new and enjoyable one, as many people are. We’re overdue for a renaissance of those kinds of games, and Ratchet & Clank will hopefully serve as a first step to that, hopefully lightening up the glut of dark, moody modern video games.
Lock and load, friends! Ratchet and Clank are not only back, but they truly are better than ever!
Simple in execution, but overflowing with fun, Ratchet & Clank not only single-handedly revitalizes its franchise, but deftly proves that 3D platformers can still be highly entertaining on PS4!
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THE GOOD STUFF
Gorgeous, vibrant graphics that capture the style of the movie
Outstanding gameplay that perfectly blends shooting, platforming and vehicles