If you had asked me to guess which upcoming PS5 game plans to explore the duality of man, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart would not have been my first answer. Insomniac's PlayStation franchise has historically been more interested in letting players shoot disco balls out of gloves or turn enemies into ducks than asking them to ruminate on the very nature of existence, after all.
But, in a recent PlayStation Blog post announcing the Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart release date, creative director Marcus Smith pointed to the game's "theme of duality [...] of opposites forming a more powerful whole" as a key inspiration for its box art, adding that this idea will be "expanded even more through [its] alternate-dimension counterparts of characters and worlds".
It's certainly a step into new territory for everyone's favourite Lombax-robot duo, but look between the dimensional cracks, and it's clear that Rift Apart is the inevitable evolution of a franchise that has remained a comforting constant amidst decades of turbulent PlayStation history.
Indeed, when you think about it, maybe Smith has a point. What are Ratchet & Clank if not two opposites – a shrewd, fastidious robot and carefree, streetwise mammal – coming together to form an unstoppable team? This truth has a meta resonance, too. Each time either character has gone off to lead their own solo spin-off game, the results just haven't landed as effectively as when they're on the front cover together.
Ratchet and Clank are basically inseparable, intrinsically tied to each other's legacy like all great dynamic duos, and this is exactly what makes the set-up for Rift Apart so interesting. After losing Ratchet through one of many interdimensional hops, Clank finds himself lost and alone in a strange new world, his partner nowhere to be seen – except, perhaps, for a female Lombax who looks suspiciously familiar...
Is this an alternative dimension Ratchet? An entirely new character? A transgender Lombax, as some have theorised? Insomniac's not revealing anything for now, apart from the fact that she's a "resistance fighter", and a playable character that you'll be able to control at some point during the events of Rift Apart's campaign.
What we do know is that this new Lombax will play an integral role within Rift Apart's story, as evidenced by her sharing equal space on the box art with Ratchet himself. What's more, her relationship with the pair, and with Clank in particular, could significantly shake up the traditional dynamic of an Ratchet & Clank game, and, oh look, those themes of duality are suddenly coming back into focus.
How does a unit of two transition into a trio? What does it mean to hold up a mirror to those we love dearest? Expect Insomniac to masterfully weave these questions into its otherwise playful and effervescent sci-fi odyssey in a way that only a studio of its unique talent and history could.
Set after the events of 2013's Into the Nexus, Rift Apart is technically the ninth instalment in the mainline Ratchet and Clank storyline, and thus sits on nineteen years of lore that it can happily draw from. At the same time, Insomniac stresses that while "longtime fans of the series will find deeper layers of connection to previous games", Rift Apart is an "excellent one [for newcomers] to start with, as the adventure is a stand-alone storyline."
Perhaps the best comparison is HBO's Watchmen show, which made more than enough nods to the source material to please longtime Watchmen fans, but could nevertheless still be enjoyed in isolation by those who'd never touched a page of Alan Moore's graphic novel.
Already, for example, fans have mined dozens of franchise callbacks and Easter eggs from last year's extended Gamescom demo, but the 12 minute showcase is also perfectly capable of speaking for itself as a eye-pleasing glimpse into what the PS5 can offer, regardless of your familiarity with the IP itself.
More than anything, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart looks to be a celebration of the franchise's history and a glimpse into its future all at once, as forward-looking as it is retrospective, ushering in a new generation of fans for the next generation of Insomniac Games. Clank's ray-traced bodywork is just the icing on the cake.