When you consider there hasn't been a brand new Ratchet and Clank adventure in close to seven years, blasting holes in the space-time continuum is definitely one hell of a comeback. Due to launch in the PS5 "launch window", Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is set to see the heroic duo taking on their old nemesis Dr. Nefarious. The robotic mad scientist has got his glove on some Lombax tech capable of blasting holes between dimensions – handily called the Dimensionator.
Now, if you actually look into the lore of Ratchet and Clank, you'll understand that the Dimensionator is deeply connected to the near-extinction of the Lombax race. Also known as the "Lombax Secret", the Dimensionator is a giant helmet that allows its wearer to travel through realities. The device was protected by a Lombax called Kaden, who just happens to be Ratchet's father. It's appeared in quite a few of the Ratchet and Clank games to date – either as a blink and you'll miss it cameo or as a major plot device, as we saw in 2009's A Crack in Time – and the last we saw of it had Ratchet making sure that it couldn't be used to bring back the Cragmites, a militaristic species that once destroyed the majority of the Lombax race.
A new console dimension
Now, the Dimensionator is obviously incredibly important to the story of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, but in this case, it's more than just a plot device. It has ended up being a handy weapon to draw on from the Ratchet universe to deliver the kind of game Insomniac wanted to make when it first learned about the capabilities of the PS5. "In Rift Apart, we were working backwards," explains creative direct Marcus Smith. "We knew that there was going to be an extremely fast SSD [in the PS5], so we were trying to leverage that as much as possible."
"Part of the reason we wanted to add dimensionality as a theme is, it's wide open. This is one of the few franchises that can get away with doing anything. We can basically do whatever we want. And being able to transport players nearly instantaneously, which is a huge, new feature of the PlayStation 5, that was something that we were aiming to do and really capitalise on. And I will say, even hearing about how fast it was, I was blown away when we saw how fast it actually was."
Insomniac has said multiple times that this kind of game wouldn't have been possible without the SSD inside the PS5. Without it, the gameplay would have been otherwise littered with loading screens, which would completely break the cinematic nature of these world-shifting segments. For Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, the developer has eliminated loading screens completely, so prepare to be travelling through worlds via the Dimensionator, but also portals within worlds with your new Rift Tether tool.
You'll see it in the extended gameplay demo that was shown off during Opening Night Live, with Ratchet pulling himself through the world to travel to different spots within the same area – sometimes using them to get a different perspective in battle or simply for easy traversal.
"What you don't get to see, of course, is that you can also feel this [rift] coming [with the PS5 DualSense controller] – like, the energy of a portal is sort of its own unique sensation. You get a sense of the distance of it, because the haptics add so much sort of texture to that experience," adds game director Mike Daly. "And the same goes for 3D spatial audio. Basically, you know, all the other new channels of feedback we have, reinforce this notion that you are passing through this portal."
But these added dimensions aren't just linked to gameplay and the physicality of actually playing one of the upcoming PS5 games, but also to the game's story. Thanks to the Dimensionator, you'll be able to travel to and explore new and existing planets within a single game, with some familiar locales seen "through a different lens", explains Smith. It also allows Insomniac to introduce a brand new playable character in this mysterious female Lombax.
"[Previously], we were trying to tell this story that revolved around, you know, strengthening these two heroes, who are basically diametrically opposed. They don't see eye to eye on anything, but they're better together," says Smith. "And we really wanted to make sure that we had a message about that – that these are, you know, tumultuous times, and people need to have more empathy, and see past each other's differences to make sure that we're made stronger together, right? It's the overarching message of the franchise."
"And with Rift Apart, we're trying to tell a story that involved seeing another version of these characters, who have never really become the heroes that they could be. So we immediately started talking about this duality of multiple dimensions. And then, of course, we already had this device from the franchise that does what we need it to do. So we've spun a yard that incorporates the Dimensionator."
"And, it helps a lot that the Dimensionator adds so much to Ratchet's story" adds Daly, "because it gives us a lot of intriguing clips to drive that character forward and let him grow."
Interestingly, from talking about the story, Smith seemingly suggests that the female (and, as of writing, unnamed) Lombax may actually be a Ratchet from another dimension, thus creating a kind of Ratchet and Clank multiverse. You could read into the fact that at the end of the gameplay trailer, the female Lombax doesn't question for a moment who Clank is, but rather questions why he's calling her Ratchet. Of course, go deep into the lore and canonically female Lombax don't have tails, whereas our new playable heroine does.
"I will say that in the dimension that Ratchet is from and that we are used to, that very well could be a rule of Lombax physiology," laughs Smith when I ask him about it, although he says the team isn't ready to start talking about the intricacies of her character or how she'll play just yet.
What we do know is that this is a game that continues on the Ratchet and Clank Future series, although isn't a direct sequel to Into the Nexus as originally thought. However, it still maintains plenty of the series DNA, despite the leap to PS5 and the introduction of multiple worlds. A huge part of that is the arsenal of inherently silly weaponry at Ratchet's disposal, with my personal new favourite from what's been shown off so far being the Topiary Sprinkler, which turns your enemies into literal topiary shrubbery.
"We had been brainstorming tonnes and tonnes of super-fun, exciting ideas that got thrown at the wall. We decided, right there, that we need to make five sequels, [just] so that we can make all these weapons. But we ultimately have to pick one, and the Topiary Sprinkler stood out," says Daly. "My favourite part about the weapon is that now that we have all this extra power and fidelity of 4K graphics on the PS5, you can make it actually feel like topiary sculptures, because topiaries have these tiny, little, detailed leaves that aren't just a flat mesh."
Insomniac is also utilising various features of the new DualSense PS5 controller to add more dimensions to its weapons. From being able to control the individual shotgun round releases with a half- or full-trigger press, to the additional haptic control, Daly and Smith both joke that "it feels like the PS5 controller was designed with Ratchet and Clank weapons in mind".
"The fact that we can layer haptics as a new channel of feedback over everything, all parts of core gameplay stand up," explains Daly. "For example, for traversal, now you get this extra layer of feedback when you attach to a grind rail or switch, or if there's a huge car incoming. You get that extra layer of feedback when you swing on a swing shot. You can sort of feel his acceleration, and the wind blowing past. It just gives you an enhanced sense of velocity that you don't fully realise just from the visuals and the audio. So it enhances traversal, and it greatly enhances weapons. It enhances the UI – just all parts of it feel a little bit better than they ever have before, just thanks to this new, ever-present thing."
It's difficult to really appreciate all of this from a gameplay trailer alone of course, but thankfully that launch window release date means we'll be playing the new Ratchet and Clank sooner than expected. Maybe we'll see that alt-Clank Insomniac teased too, and find out what's going on with that female Lombax.