Prior to the arrival of a new console generation, there’s a certain level of excitement based purely around what games might look like running on fresh next-gen silicon. Exactly how much detail developers will be able to cram into their environments and characters. And based on that, this excitement leads to the expectation of, well, being blown away.
For the debut of the PlayStation 5, when Sony lifted the lid on the latest installment in the Ratchet & Clank series, it was more than the vibrant animated visuals and real-time ray-tracing that effectively blew people away. It was the promise of a new way to play this style of classic 3D action-platformer -- one born from the new super-fast drive found inside Sony’s latest console.
With loading-screens all-but eliminated, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart takes that very concept -- near-instant access to data -- puts on a sweet pair of hoverboots and runs hovers with it. And with dimensional portals opening and closing throughout Rift Apart’s many locales, the general idea is you can instantly travel between highly-detailed worlds.
With loading-screens all-but eliminated, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart takes that very concept -- near-instant access to data -- puts on a sweet pair of hoverboots and runs hovers with it.
In the time it takes to grapple through a space-time rift you can go from a detailed futuristic neon-lit city to warm sunset-infused grasslands full of prehistoric creatures. Like the portals from Portal, except each side features its own massive playspace.
There’s no doubt that thanks to this mechanic alone, playing Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart feels new and exciting. A feast for the senses in every sense of that term. The sort of experience that would have no choice but to go through a series of compromises to simply run on PlayStation 4 hardware.
Outside of the dimensional rifts though, the benefits of the PS5’s super-fast data streaming can be felt throughout Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s story, and it all adds up to a cinematic flow that is immersive. Highly-detailed real-time cinematics not only present worlds, characters, and animation at a fidelity beyond what was possible a couple of years ago (thanks to the PS5’s next-gen CPU and GPU grunt) but the transitions to new angles, locations, and set pieces happen in an instant.
In Rift Apart when a cinematic fades to black and you get a slight pause and fade-in on a new scene, the effect is purely that -- cinematic. There’s rarely a moment where you can spot any sort of loading taking place, and the effect is more in line with animated films and cinematic language than that of how an interactive game might present a cinematic-filled story. For this alone, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a milestone release.
For immersion and flow, the result is -- and this is perhaps the most impressive and subtle aspect of Rift Apart -- remarkable. What it brings to the digital table for the first time is the feeling of actually playing a role in an impressive animated film. As something new it can be a little jarring in the sense that the minimal HUD means that those initial “Time to take control of Ratchet or Rivet now” transitions feel more like “Wow, that looks amazing. Wait, I can actually take control of Ratchet or Rivet now”.
Outside of the dimensional rifts though, the benefits of the PS5’s super-fast data streaming can be felt throughout Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s story, and it all adds up to a cinematic flow that is immersive.
And it’s here where the new paves the way for a slice of the old. Where the action-platformer gameplay found throughout Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart features a classic old-school feel. From exploration to third-person shooting to puzzle solving, it’s all AAA-spectacle-ified but presented in a style that has you adventuring through a series of ‘3D levels’ more-so than open-world playspaces.
In fact, the first few hours of Rift Apart lean more towards scripted-spectacle than a game that embraces any sort of player freedom. A presentation and flow that extends to the interdimensional hopping to and fro between locales. Intrinsically tied to the story, the dimensional stuff (from a gameplay perspective) is mostly there for show rather than a tool to use.
Thankfully, like any great animated film developer Insomniac pumps the brakes after the action-packed first act to allow the world and its characters to shine as bright as the neon-lit cities and ray-traced robots that populate them. When Ratchet & Clank effectively get separated and the alternate-dimension-Lombax, Rivet, is introduced, the planet-hopping tale to put an end to a catastrophic chain of events is given enough time to breathe.
The level-based approach that Rift Apart takes isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, especially with the traditional 3D action-platformer mostly being a thing of the past in 2021. Here we get a nice little reminder of just how much fun it can be to jump, blast, and dash your way through exotic locales. And put on a sweet pair of hoverboots. And how one level might introduce something new and original and play with that singular idea for a while.
Even the dimensional stuff is eventually given room to breathe, where Zelda-style light and dark world versions of the same planet can be visited and explored in a seamless fashion. Where hitting a crystal changes the entire world around you, moving from a zero-g wasteland to a bustling factory.
Calling Rift Apart decidedly old-school isn't a descriptor that fits perfectly as there are a number of modern touches found throughout. Like the character leveling, weapon skill trees, and spending digital currency on a glove do-dad that spawns little robots to swarm and fight for you. With the overall premise and story focused on Ratchet and his dimensional counterpart Rivet, and alternating between them in terms of control, all upgrades and skills and weapons are shared. So, the progression is fairly light and not at all punishing.
Like any great animated film developer Insomniac pumps the brakes after the action-packed first act to allow the world and its characters to shine as bright as the neon-lit cities and ray-traced robots that populate them.
This plays into the overall story which is vibrant, comedic, and clearly aimed at a younger audience. Like the action-platformer presentation, not a bad thing. The narrative is a little all over the place though, busy and seemingly in a rush to move to the next thing. For those without any sort of connection to the characters, or Ratchet & Clank as a series, it does take unusually long to get a good enough feel for who they are. New-to-the-series Rivet fares better simply due to the fact that she’s new, and there’s a clear focus on establishing her motives.
This feeling of trying to do much at times carries over to the weapons. Various projectiles and explosives and other tools, so many in fact that eventually there’s three whole weapon wheels to scroll through -- each featuring its own ammunition type and skill tree and upgrades. You get the sense that a few of them could have been combined or that an alternate fire or secondary mode could have cut the list down. It feels bloated, and there are more than a couple of weapons that just don’t feel as fun to use.
But, that slice of armchair-developer criticism presents something of a Catch-22 sitch in that the whole ‘saving enough for the next weapon’ angle is a key driver in adding variety to the combat. Where new traversal abilities open up new avenues for, well, traversal and exploration -- each new weapon simply offers up another method of getting through the rather straight-forward third-person action. Something that makes what’s not all that long of a game, feel a lot longer than it probably needed to be.
A lot of the combat in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, boss battles included, are wonderful to look at. They’re stacked with pyrotechnics, sparks, explosions, particles, lights, and smoke. Ray-traced reflections add a sense of depth and awe, amplifying the feeling of being in the thick of it. The excellent sound design brings it all together, as does the big budget film-grade animation. After a while though, the impressive nature of the light show fades -- even though the lights do not. And on that front the repetition or the simple straight-forward nature of the action, brings something else into focus.
Where new traversal abilities open up new avenues for, well, traversal and exploration -- each new weapon simply offers up another method of getting through the rather straight-forward third-person action.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is ultimately a visual showcase for the PlayStation 5, a thrilling dimension-hopping adventure, and a next-gen experience that feels like it could only exist - in this form - right now. In an age where realistic visuals, that is real-world settings and characters with proportional features to our own, are often the barometer for fidelity, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart reminds us that a heightened animated or cartoon-like look can offer a greater sense of immersion and believability than just about anything else.
But, in leaning into spectacle and somewhat simple combat a lot of the experience is ultimately not all that different to jumping on a roller coaster and not really being in control of direction or movement. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart features a number of literal on-rails sections that are exactly that. That said, roller coasters are awesome and the more elaborate they look the more inviting they can be. As far as PlayStation 5 exclusives go, Rift Apart is a head turner. A milestone release in terms of visuals, making it one of the most impressive digital roller coasters we’ve seen to date.
What we liked
Stunning highly detailed visuals
Nails the animated film look
Great use of the fast storage of the PS5
Great cinematic spectacle
Traditional, and fun, 3D action-platformer... action
What we didn't like
Combat is simple and over-used
Too many weapons
Over-reliance on spectacle and scripted 'on-rails' moments