Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation 4 is a game that could so easily have relied on nostalgia and the goodwill of fans, built up by 14 years of memorable PlayStation adventures.
It’s not a stretch to claim that a mere HD remake of the first game could doubtless have shifted a ton of copies and garnered general acclaim, with little to no effort on the part of Insomniac Games. That’s why I’m so glad that it’s much, much more than that.
In short, Ratchet & Clank is a triumph. It’s a culmination of everything we’ve loved about the franchise for all these years; zany weapons, colourful locations, expressive characters, and genuinely funny dialogue – it’s that rare kind of game with a mass appeal to all ages, and nothing more than a sense of adventure and fun at its core.
So what is 2016’s Ratchet & Clank? It’s a videogame based on the new film, which is in turn based on the first game. As a result, it is kind of a remake of the 2002 original, but there are so many new elements in play that’d be an injustice to describe it as a remaster. Let’s call it a retelling.
The entire game is framed as a flashback, as told by none other than the pompous Captain Qwark (quite possibly one of the funniest videogame characters of all time).
His narration is often used to nudge players in the right direction, or sometimes just throw shade at the player for fucking up. It’s a clever and entirely unobtrusive trick that should help out younger players without feeling patronising to series veterans.
Developer Insomniac Games once again display their spot on penchant for meta-humour, and the script wastes no time in making plenty of digs at the fact this game is a reboot, and that we’ve seen some of these locations and levels before.
Make no mistake though, one of the biggest joys in this game is seeing levels from the PlayStation 2 original in glorious HD. This is an incredible looking videogame, and for my money one of the nicest looking efforts on PS4. Worlds are vibrant, enemies are full of life (until you get hold of them of course), and our titular heroes exude charm and personality.
And while long time fans of the franchise will find themselves recognising certain areas, there’s a perfect balance between old and new on display. There’s just enough “oh I remember that” moments to keep a nostalgic smile on your face – and more than enough new ideas to keep you playing.
Of course, you once again take control of Ratchet the Lombax and his robot buddy Clank, seen here with a much bigger arsenal of weapons, gear, and one liners than ever before.
The game is broken up into a series of planets, each with their own unique objectives and hidden goodies. You’re given a fairly long leash in terms of exploration, and there’s plenty of reasons to return to planets you’ve already visited once you’ve picked up new gear, as there’ll often be secret areas and optional objectives that you couldn’t reach before.
Every planet has a distinct setting and its own charms. You’ll be up to all sorts on your adventure, from grinding across vast arctic wastes, entering into hoverboard races, running along a train speeding through an alien city, and doing battle with genetic experiments aboard an enemy ship.
Then there are sections of the game where you play exclusively as Clank. These areas put more of an emphasis on puzzle solving, as Clank uses a slew of gadgets to cross large gaps, power up machines, and reach high up ledges.
These sections are undeniably charming, and full of some real head scratching conundrums – but I always found myself desperate to reunite with Ratchet so I could get back to causing chaos.
Variety is key in Ratchet & Clank, and this is perhaps best evidenced through the excellent combat. Ratchet has a standard wrench attack that I can almost guarantee you will rarely use – one of this game’s biggest draws is the selection of weapons that you can buy and upgrade.
You’ve got your standard fare of course; grenades, flamethrowers, and the like. Then there are the batshit crazy weapons that turn the game into an assault on the senses.
My personal favourites are the Groovitron, a projectile that emits a funky disco beat, causing all enemies in range to start dancing, and the Pixelizer, a short range gun that blasts foes into 8-bit chunks, complete with retro sound effects.
It would also be remiss of me not to give a shout out to the Sheepinator, a laser gun that turns enemies into – you guessed it – sheep.
Each weapon levels up the more you use it, meaning your own play style can grow and change in a very rewarding way. It also encourages you to change it up once in a while too.
I’ve got my preferred set of weapons, but I often decided to experiment with lesser used gear to see what it could do. Once a weapon reaches max level, it develops an awesome new ability, such as spray shots or greatly increased range, so there’s a real incentive to play around with everything.
There’s also a fairly comprehensive upgrade tree for every weapon, improving stuff like their range, rate of fire, and ammo capacity. Kitting out each weapon to its fullest was a surprisingly addictive process, and kept me coming back to see just how much carnage I could cause.
And there is plenty of chance to cause carnage, my friends. Enemies can swarm the screen in insane firefights. You can use as many weapons as you want to make it through, combining grenades, guns, and more for the best effect.
It’s impressive on a technical level that with so much going on on the screen (and there is a lot going on) the game never once stutters or slows down. It’s a smooth ride from start to finish.
Outside of the campaign, which offers a modest seven or eight hours of fun in itself, there’s still plenty to do and see. There are cards to collect, and gold bolts hidden across the levels that unlock all kinds of goodies like alternate skins, and cheats to fuck around with.
Then there’s a challenge mode, which lets you play through the game again with added difficulty – and grants you access to even more ridiculously powerful weapons, which is no bad thing.
To sum up then, Ratchet & Clank is a joy. It’s constantly inventive, relentlessly entertaining, and almost annoyingly addictive. There were countless times when I knew I should put it down and go to bed – but there was always one more level to see , secret to find, or upgrade to try out.
Whether you’re a series veteran, or a complete newcomer to the world of the Lombax and his robot chum, Ratchet & Clank is one of the greatest games so far this year, and most definitely one of the best currently available on PlayStation 4.