Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review
Great looking action with a familiar feel
The 3D platforming action adventure genre isn't quite the dominant force in the triple-A space that it used to be. Combining platforming with combat and otherworldly adventures was quite popular 20 or more years ago, but in recent times this genre has been largely relegated to smaller developers or reboots and remakes. Ratchet & Clank have a long history and are considered to be the mascots of the PlayStation brand, so fans have been patiently waiting for quite a few years for a new entry. 2016's remake brought back some good memories, but with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart we now finally have an entirely fresh adventure and one of the few truly exclusive PlayStation 5 games. It's an excellent looking game that should satisfy fans of these charming heroes, but it doesn't do a whole lot to push the genre, or next-gen possibilities, forward.
It has been a while since the Ratchet & Clank duo last saved the galaxy. But it seems that the universe is still grateful, as the new game opens up with a parade thrown in their honor. Clank also has a gift for Ratchet - a device called the Dimensionator, which can open portals to other galaxies. He had hoped that this would help Ratchet find other members of his Lombax species. However, the parade is interrupted by their arch nemesis Dr. Nefarious, who promptly tries to steal the device, but in doing so he breaks it, and creates a chaos of portals to other worlds. Ratchet and Clank fall into one of these dimensions and get separated; soon after, Clank meets Rivet, another Lombax. It seems that this dimension has its own heroes and villains – which are basically new versions of themselves. Over the course of the adventure, Clank and Rivet will try to create their own Dimensionator again so that the damage can be undone and Dr. Nefarious – along with his transdimensionsal twin version Emperor Nefarious – can be stopped.
The idea of dimension-hopping seems quite exciting, especially in a game series that has already taken players to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. But, as it turns out, the other dimension is just a spinoff, rather than a contrasting image. Rivet's personality is just a slightly different version of Ratchet, the two villains are similar, and you'll meet other versions of existing characters such as Rusty Pete and Captain Qwark. Rather than using this chance to break away from the series' staples, Rift Apart is content with more of the same characters, albeit with some twists. The story itself is also fairly by the numbers, and while it does have an interesting dramatic twist in the later half, it gets easily resolved. It could have used a better introduction to the heroes and the setting, for fans who are new to the franchise. Writing and dialogue remain focused on being accessible and perhaps targeted at younger audiences; the humor seems slightly turned down, but there are still nods to various pop culture references and previous games.
Despite having two lead characters, the gameplay is entirely unaffected. Ratchet and Rivet split the duties of saving their dimensions, which means they rarely meet, and when they do it is in cutscenes. You always only control one of them, and there are no gameplay sections where the two are actively side by side, which is a bit disappointing. This also means that for gameplay purposes, they are essentially one and the same – they share the same weapon inventory, money, and unlocks. As you progress through the story and explore different planets, the two will swap around, but for the player it's the same experience.
Returning fans will be familiar with the structure of the campaign. As you progress through the story, you'll visit a few different planets. Usually, you get a choice of where to go to next, and you can always return to the previous ones to find more collectibles or items. The planets offer a few different types of environments, from Earth-like setting to a pirate cove, to a space manufacturing facility. Each planet offers a linear main mission, which will take you through the level and its scripted sequences, and plenty of small side paths to explore. A couple of planets have a side mission as well which takes a bit longer. The main missions are typically filled with some big encounters and flashy set pieces, so the pacing of the game remains exciting even when the narrative elements are a bit passive. The optional paths will lead you to optional collectibles including Gold Bolts (which unlock new skins for your ship, wrench, and even render modes), and Spybots/Lorbs for audio logs.
Between the traditional third person action and exploration, there are isolated sections where you'll get some unique gameplay. In the mini-segments that focus on a small robot named Glitch, you'll explore inside of a virus infected system and remove the problem. Glitch is a squeakily voiced character that begins to grate after a while, as you guide her around small linear segments where you often have to traverse up walls and the ceiling, twisting your perspective. You just shoot some foes in these segments, and occasionally have to find a button to make the main enemies vulnerable. The other type of mini-segments has Clank solving a puzzle inside an anomaly. Here you have a constant stream of clones, and using 4 sphere types that can be deployed at intersections, you have to get them to the other end. The spheres can make the clones / other platforms become heavy, light, or increase their speed. These puzzles are very straightforward and take only a few minutes to solve, except for the final ones. Both these small diversions only marginally branch out on the rest of the core gameplay.
Although the franchise has often defined itself as a third person action platformer, the focus in Rift Apart is definitely on the former. You won't be doing much platforming; there is the occasional wall run, or a rail-riding section, but for the most part the traversal is basic and straightforward. Some sections use gravity boots to shift your perspective, but again, there's not much jumping to be had. There are so-called pocket dimensions, which are tiny side-levels that are custom made to create a unique platforming challenge, and they reward you with some armor at the end. Like the Glitch and Clank sections, these are quite easy and very short, on normal difficulty.
And speaking of dimensions, while they may be at the core of the story and frequently appear in the background, the gameplay doesn't change a whole lot. You can tether to rifts that exist in specific locations, and despite their visual effect of pulling the world towards you rather than you to it, functionally they are just simple tethers. You can't create rifts or anything of that sort. There are also occasional set pieces where you'll traverse multiple dimensions – and while that may sound impressive, the reality is that you're always on-rails and/or cannot leave a tiny area in the other dimensions. So it's not like the game is instantly swapping between full, interactive levels. It's a cool experience, certainly, just not a technology breakthrough that it may appear. There are also moments where you can interact with an object to change the level to another version – again, intriguing, but it has been done before in other games.
Most of your time between story cutscenes will be spend blasting at bad guys. And blast them you will, with an assortment of weapons that are functional but not overly diverse by the series' own creative standards. All weapons offer just one or two firing modes/functions, and none are particularly whacky. In previous games, you could get a grenade that made your enemies dance, but in this one you just make them stuck – whether incased in ice or in plant overgrowth. You've got a shattering grenade, or a grenade that spawns two different types of AI helpers that assist in combat. There's a gun that shoots blades, a rather typical standard rocket launcher, pistol and minigun, and so on. The weapons offer a couple of different approaches and in how they fire, but for the most part there's nothing that particularly stands out.
To expand your arsenal at the vendor found on each planet, you'll need to break all crates that you see, as this is the franchise staple mechanic. Crates and defeated enemies give you bolts, which is the game's currency (though you can unlock customizations to change them into orbs, etc). As you progress the story, new weapons will become available for purchase. With a bit of focus on smashing crates, players should have enough bolts to unlock every weapon by the end of the campaign, so there's no need to grind. The game's second currency is Raritanium, used to upgrade the effectiveness of each weapon via a grid – again something fans of the franchise should be familiar with. This currency is a bit more rare, but you should have enough to get your weapons to be effective – most of the upgrades aren't related to damage anyway, but rather firing speed, ammo, precision, and so on. You still earn experience as you keep using a weapon, which unlocks more of its upgrade tree. These two systems should keep players entertained, but they do feel a bit hollow; i.e. there are no other RPG elements such as overall hero progression. You can seek out pieces of armor, which provide small passive bonuses - whether you choose to wear them or not, which is a nice touch.
When you're thrown in the action, Rift Apart is heavy on special effects, and is very much a run-and-gun shooter. Enemies often arrive in waves and in decent numbers, so you'll often be blasting into the crowd and preferring weapons that have some area of effect capabilities. The Ricochet gun, which fires a bullet that continues to strike a single target with each trigger press, will go mostly unused as you lean towards more bombastic options. The amount of effects on screen from both your and enemy weapons can entirely obscure the view, so if you get in a tricky spot you might just find yourself shooting the biggest gun in the inventory into the center mass of the enemy crowd.
The weapon wheel is customizable as you purchase new guns, and you can place them in any slot; bringing up the wheel pauses the fight, giving you a moment to breathe and consider your options. On normal difficulty, Rift Apart is not a challenging game; many of the fodder enemies die in one hit – from a gun or your wrench in melee – and so you'll be most concerned with crowd control and working on the physically larger foes. There are occasional difficulty spikes in certain encounters, but in such cases the difficulty arises from the fact that you're stuck in an area with just one or two respawning crates that contain health and ammo. Most of the time you'll simply be out of both, and running in circles waiting for it to respawn.
Although the game will throw different looking types of enemies at you depending on the planet, they are functionally similar, be that reptile goons or robot space pirates. There are the already mentioned fodder enemies that die quickly, the medium sized foes that are either ranged or melee, and the flying enemies that will take potshots at you. The mini-bosses you encounter are large robots that have two or three of the same attacks, and are mostly dull to take down due to their long health bars. Proper boss battles are mostly entertaining, except one rather confined and poorly designed fight towards the end.
All of this combat is felt through some solid haptic feedback implementations on the DualSense controller. As an exclusive title, you expect the game to utilize all the bells and whistles of the hardware, and in this case you will hear some of the effects through the controller's speaker, feel the details of the explosions and some of the platforming, and also utilize the adaptive triggers. For some of the weapons, the adaptive triggers are used to differentiate between two different fire modes if you push only half way down. The different weapons also feel unique in the pressure required to fire them with R2. Because it's a bombastic and grand experience, it doesn't have the extreme attention to detail of something like Astro's Playroom, but the effects are well implemented.
Although Rift Apart looks and plays quite similar to its predecessors, one area where the game really tries to push for a next-gen experience is undoubtedly its visuals. From the art perspective, it's already a very pleasant and colorful title, much like the PS4 remake was in 2016, with its charming character designs. However, the technical aspects of the visual fidelity have been turned up to eleven, with an amazing level of detail on the characters, enemies, and the world. From textures to visual effects, this is a great looking game that at times becomes indistinguishable from an animated feature, and it's sometimes hard to tell that the cutscenes are not pre-rendered. However to get the best image – 4k and Ray Tracing – you have to play in the default Fidelity mode at 30fps. If you prefer 60fps, you'll have to let go of some of the image quality and resolution, and go for Performance mode, or the Performance RT mode which tries to keep at least Ray Tracing enabled but at the bigger cost to resolution.
Whatever mode you pick, the game is able to live up to its promised framerate. Elsewhere, the loading times are extremely quick, under 5 seconds in most cases, which is impressive, no doubt with the help of the SSD. However, the game does have a few bugs, as you might fall through the game world, or not respawn when you should. We've also experienced a couple of hard crashes. These aren't severe issues as checkpoints are plentiful.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a solid return for the enjoyable action franchise, and a strong debut on the PS5 console. The campaign is accessible and offers some nice set pieces, with a decent 12 hour runtime, plus a bit more for those who wish to find every collectible. It's certainly a great game to help sell the new system, but aside from the visuals, it's not exactly a next-gen experience. From the same, just slightly remixed, characters, to the familiar gameplay and level design, the game doesn't push the genre forward; it doesn't even advance its own franchise all that much. That's okay – everyone needs some solid, familiar entertainment once in a while. But launching at a full triple-A price tag, and as one of the first PS5 exclusive games, fans may have hoped for more.