Developer: Insomniac Games
I wish my entire review of the new (well, sorta-new) Ratchet & Clank game could just be this GIF of a shocked cat. After all, that one image basically captures my feelings towards it.
I suppose, though, that a single image GIF review doesn’t pass muster of such a high profile game. But it should! Because, much like that adorably shocked kitty, my jaw dropped the moment I started playing Ratchet & Clank, and it stayed in that position for pretty much the entire time I played it. See, I’ve tried — and failed — to get into this first game in the R&C series several times. I tried it when it was remastered and re-released on PS3; I gave up because it didn’t compare to the R&C Future games that I’d played after it. I went back and got it on PS2, figuring that maybe it would be better if I played it as it was originally intended; still nope, only this time I found it ugly, too. And as much as I enjoyed the game as part of the remastered collection on the Vita, I can’t say it gave me much insight into how it birthed a beloved franchise.
All it took was a few minutes with Ratchet & Clank 2016, however, and I totally get it.
Admittedly, this isn’t entirely fair. After all, Ratchet & Clank on the PS4 may share the same rough outlines as its predecessors, but the way it’s colored in here is significantly different. Not only does the plot get fleshed out a lot more, with all kinds of new and extended scenes, there’s also an extra level of meta-commentary thanks to the addition of a frame story narrated by the delightfully oblivious Captain Quark. While none of the extra plot is necessarily essential, it does make the game feel much more fleshed out (which is probably good, seeing as the movie based on the game comes out in just a few weeks, which means the gaps were getting filled in somehow anyway).
Likewise, the universe here is a lot larger than it was in the original 2002 game. Not only are there a few new planets (each of which fit in pretty seamlessly), the planets that were already included in the game feel much more…full. The enemies seem to be more numerous, the buildings and structures seem more lived-in, and the various environments that make up the different worlds feel much more vibrant and varied.
Obviously, that’s a function of the fact that the PS4 is a heck of a lot more powerful and more capable than the PS2 was. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a Ratchet & Clank game and come away thinking it was one of the most beautiful games on its platform. This time out, though…well, just refer back to that first paragraph, and take a gander at how that cat looks. As I said, my jaw dropped when I saw how gorgeous this game was, which should give an indication of how gorgeous it is, and how favourably it compares to most other PS4 games. It just looks great.
If there’s one area where the game doesn’t seem like a massive step forward, it’s in the action — which, fortuitously, is for the best, since if there’s one area in which Ratchet & Clank games have never been lacking, it’s the action. Navigating through the many planets is slightly easier, I guess, but that’s to be expected, since (in my mind, at least) the PS4 controller is a step up from those of previous consoles. Beyond that qualification, R&C’s gameplay on PS4 is exactly what we’ve all come to know and love about these games on PS3, and PS2, and PSP, and the PS Vita: you’re battling all kinds of crazy-looking space monsters with a wide variety of hugely overpowered weapons, and it’s just a whole lot of fun. When you’re perfected the formula, there’s no sense in messing with it.
In fact, that’s probably why Ratchet & Clank have made such an astoundingly good debut on the PS4: because Insomniac knows what makes these games work, and they realized that they didn’t need to overhaul them from the ground up to make them work on a new system, too. Sure, the graphics may be nicer, and the story may be bigger, and the combat may be smoother, but deep down, this has the same DNA as all the other Ratchet & Clank games before it. And just as that’s led to several classics on earlier Sony consoles, that means that the lombax and robot duo’s first PS4 outing is just as exceptional as the very best of the series that have come before.