The retelling of an intergalactic wonder for a new generation.
The original Ratchet and Clank series was never really part of my childhood. By the time the first instalment hit the Playstation 2 in 2002 I had already graduated from the colourful 3D platformers that I had played as a youngster such as Spyro the Dragon and Croc: Legend of the Gobbos to a new-found obsession with more mature titles. By then I had a taste of the deliciously-violent Grand Theft Auto III thanks to my older (and thankfully irresponsible) cousin bringing his PS2 and copy of the game to a family dinner and my edgy pre-teen self wanted more. That and I never owned a PS2 anyway. 14 years later, Insomniac Games have dropped their soft-reboot of the hit game that started it all for the Playstation 4. Now well into my 20’s, I had the opportunity to finally see what all the fuss was about.
The 3D platformer is not a genre that has had a whole lot of love in recent years. What was supposed to be Banjo-Threeie was scrapped and became the not-quite-as-welcomed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. And Activision, after getting their hands on Spyro the Dragon, literally drained the life out of the poor bastard before casually merging him into a different franchise altogether. Thankfully the genre is making somewhat of a comeback and leading the charge is Insomniac Games.
Long-time fans and newcomers alike are in luck though; Insomniac have decided that rather than deliver a new chapter in the Ratchet and Clank story, they’ve remade the original classic as a sort of re-imagining of the duo’s origin tale. To commemorate the event they’re also releasing a feature length film.
Ratchet, a Lombax spaceship mechanic with an aspiration to join an elite squad of heroes tasked with defending the galaxy, is thrust into an action-packed adventure where he meets Clank, a small defective robot on the run from a mechanical army that wish to see him destroyed. Together the two travel the galaxy in Ratchet’s ship, hopping from planet to planet using an arsenal of creative and wacky weapons to mow down their enemies and save their world.
“Long-time fans and newcomers alike are in luck though; Insomniac have decided that rather than deliver a new chapter in the Ratchet and Clank story, they’ve remade the original classic as a sort of soft re-imagining of the duo’s origin tale.”
Accompanying Ratchet’s wealth of contraptions, gizmos and guns is his base wrench which he can use any time for a melee attack, handy for when his ammo is depleted or would just rather not waste it on weaker foes. But players are more likely to favour the selection of gadgets and firearms that can be purchased and upgraded throughout the adventure using bolts dropped by enemies and crates as currency.
The weapons on offer range from your standard run-of-the-mill flame-thrower to (my personal favourite) the Pixelizer, a gun that turns enemies into 8-bit pixelated sprites and the Groovitron, a disco ball grenade that causes enemies caught in its radius of raving lights to dance uncontrollably leaving them vulnerable to attack. Each and every weapon is a blast to use and can be upgraded in a non-linear way, giving the player some choice to cater to their play style.
Visually, Ratchet and Clank is something else. As players travel between planets and explore every nook and cranny of each level they’re treated to pure eye-candy all the way. The environments and change of scenery across the galaxy differ greatly from futuristic cities to toxic swamps and scenic parks.
While the game runs at a steady 30 frames-per-second, even with large amounts of enemies and action happening on-screen in addition to the highly-detailed backdrops, the trade-off for its stunning visuals are well worth it. The end result could possibly be one of the Playstation 4’s best looking titles of this generation.
“Visually, Ratchet and Clank is something else. As players jump between planets and explore every nook and cranny of each level, they’re treated to pure eye-candy all the way”.
The story unfolds in a less conventional fashion than say Nintendo’s more straight-forward and simple approach to its Mario platformer series. Ratchet and Clank features a more detailed plot with a cast of colourful characters, a John Williams-esque soundtrack and a universe that feels surprisingly deep under a script riddled with sci-fi gibberish and mostly hit-and-miss jokes. The humour and overall tone is clearly targeted at younger audiences over adults. The more subtle and tongue-in-cheek jokes that were a staple of previous games have been traded in for more less-subtle meta quips that poke fun at the game industry. Despite this, the story remains entertaining and exciting enough to keep older players at least somewhat interested. I’d liken the experience to being dragged to a Dreamworks version of a Star Wars movie by your young niece or nephew.
Occasionally players are given stages that offer some different gameplay and a break from the constant jumping and shooting, including hoverboard races and piloting Ratchet’s ship to shoot other spacecrafts out of the sky. But these aren’t always as fun as you might hope; the flying levels in particular are hindered by an odd control scheme that has you both steer and aim using the left thumbstick and the hoverboard racing while pretty fun comes with some frustrating rubber banding mechanics.
While most of the levels contain secret areas that Ratchet can only explore after acquiring gear found later in the game, returning to these levels later on feels kinda lonely when they’re all deserted like a theme park after hours. Logically it makes sense but it doesn’t make for an exciting time when it creates a unnecessary downtime between the action.
Despite my gripes and failure to really engage with the characters and humour of Ratchet and Clank, it remains beyond a solid platformer that marks the return of a not only a classic series but one of the greatest genres that graced my childhood. Between this and the spiritual Banjo-Kazooie successor Yooka-Laylee from Playtonic Games slated for release later this year, 2016 is gonna be a great year for the 3D platformer.