by Matthew Thompson
The newest Ratchet & Clank, released on PlayStation 4 this past April, is many things. It is sort of a remake of the series’ first game (many of the level layouts are ripped straight out of the PS2 original from back in 2002). It is partially a new game (brand new levels, bosses and weapons are present that weren’t back in the duo’s first adventure). It is a movie tie-in (a number of cinematics are scenes pulled directly from the this year’s CG movie). It even feels like a greatest hits tour for the franchise (incorporating many innovations and mechanics that have been added over the 13-plus years of the series’ history). And it is without question a whole lot of fun, a title I would recommend to just about anyone. Still, I couldn’t help but feel there were some missed opportunities that could have made Ratchet & Clank’s PS4 debut that much more special.
What is clear playing through the lombax and his robot companion’s latest adventure is that Insomniac has Ratchet’s core gameplay down to a science. The combat remains superlative with the inventive weaponry the series is famous for – turning enemies into livestock or making them dance remains as brilliant as ever – and its experience-based upgrade system – one of the most addicting mechanics in all of gaming and not present in the very first game this is based on – being the main attraction with light platforming elements complimenting it nicely. The level designs from the original game hold up well with some extra stuff thrown in the mix adding some new life for those already overly familiar with the first outing. For instance, I loved how they integrated Into the Nexus’ jetpack into some segments. Exploring Gaspar while collecting brains and fending off enemies with the aerial combat abilities afforded by the jetpack was particularly fun. Insomniac has the core gameplay of this series nailed down. Those craving a more traditional, full-bodied R&C game after some of the series’ experiments late in the PS3’s life will definitely be satiated with this first PS4 title.
While updating the original game’s template with the series’ myriad of gameplay enhancements from over the years was a success, I can’t say the same for the changes to the story. While the scenes brought over from the movie sure look nice, without the connecting tissue in between the whole thing feels a bit choppy. James Arnold Taylor playing the role of Ratchet this time around is a plus and making Ratchet a bit less of a jerk helps, but I’m not sure if the evolution of his and Clank’s relationship is as interesting here either. I can see why they’d want to include Nefarious as well. If you might only have one shot at this movie thing (which looks more likely now due to its performance at the box office), you probably want to include your best villain. But even he isn’t quite as good as normal. Finally, this game wasn’t nearly as funny as what I have come to expect from the series. Perhaps it was sanitized for the new audience they were shooting for, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. While there is still fun and laughs to be had here, I can’t say the story met expectations.
As a pseudo-remake, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with some of the content from the original that didn’t make it over to this PS4 game. Iconic planets were cut as were some of the first game’s signature weapons. It would have been interesting to see some of the old weapons with the series’ modern upgrade system. Or at least give us more new weapons. Too much of this arsenal is made up of overused armaments from the PS3 games. (Though I must praise the new Pixelizer, an inventive shotgun style weapon that turns foes into a mess of pixels. It’s wonderful.) And for all the more recent series’ staples this game included, I couldn’t help but wish they had added a battle arena. Overhauling the unfun hoverboard sections wouldn’t have hurt either.
That’s a lot of complaining in those last two paragraphs, perhaps more than a very good game like Ratchet & Clank deserves. Insomniac has the R&C gameplay loop nearly perfected at this point. I’m guaranteed to have a good time when I take control of the lombax in one of his more traditional adventures and that was certainly the case here. The same will likely go for others jumping into this one, whether they be long-time fans or newcomers to the series. Still, looking back, I was left thinking that this could have been something much more if certain aspects were handled differently. I know part of me always wanted this to be a wholly new game instead of what we got, so maybe that held it back in my mind. While the movie didn’t do too hot, the game sold well, so at least that brand new Ratchet & Clank title I covet is likely in my future and I’m already excited to see what it might have in store.