Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is one of those rare games that brings back the feeling of being up early on a Saturday morning, binging your favorite cartoons, and high on sugary cereal. It's one cardiac event of excitement after another, riding rails at reckless speeds, taking on huge hordes of nefarious forces with increasingly ridiculous weapons, and flying through dimensional tears with the Rift Tether. When you do stop for a breath to buy a new gun or hunt around for a collectible, you'll get to appreciate just how damn pretty it is too, Ratchet has never looked fuzzier, and Clank has never been shinier.
Release date: June 11, 2021
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This time around, the dynamic duo has a big problem. Thanks to a device called the Dimensionator, and the meddling of Doctor Nefarious, the world as they know it facing a dimensional disaster. Rifts have opened up to alternate dimensions, the plucky pair have been separated, and the Dimensionator has been destroyed. It's a perfect setup for some interdimensional madness, and a clever way to introduce Rivet, Ratchet's counterpart in a version of their world ruled by a much more successful Nefarious. And yes, this will involve big guns that do silly stuff.
Swapping between Ratchet and Rivet as the story dictates, you'll travel between different planets to try and find a way to build a new Dimensionator and stop the collapse of, well, everything. There's a main questline to follow, optional side quests (which you'll do because somehow Insomniac Games has managed to make them all a bloody delight), and the usual collecting of raritanium for upgrading weapons, and golden bolts for unlocking extras like visual filters. This time around there's also pocket dimensions, little puzzle boxes of platforming where, if you can get to the end, you'll be rewarded with a new piece of armor for Ratchet or Rivet, and Lemmings style logic problems Clank will need to solve, directing tiny versions of himself through obstacle courses. Use a little robot buddy called Glitch to fix broken computers, and you'll be transported into a miniature where you'll blast viruses and bring down firewalls. Honestly, there's so much packed into this game it's like some sort of crazy game mechanics pinata.
The variety extends to the main game too. Each planet has a distinct feel and environment, and the game will throw some new way to explore it at every turn. You might be flying on the back of a dinosaur-esque mount, or using rocket boots and your tether to race across ancient mountain paths before they collapse. A personal favorite moment was creeping through a dark space station, chased by something angry and unpleasant, and using dimensional jumps to get through safely.
I only encountered two real issues in my exploration, one side quest where some enemies that needed to be cleared had gone stuck at the edge of a lava pool, and another where a nightmare to seek out and destroy, and another where an enemy got stuck behind a closed door. I could hear them, but I couldn't get to them to take them out and move the story on. There was some swearing and a few checkpoint restarts before I managed to blast the particularly dumb enemy to bits before the door shuts. Other valiant members of the GamesRadar team experienced a number of game crashes in their playthroughs, but reported that the game's constant checkpointing and speedy loading times means it was more of an inconvenience than a massive drama. There's a good chance these were the pre-patch bugs of a game that was still getting a final lick of polish, but if you get stuck helping a chef at any point, for the love of god check the lava pits.
Welcome to the gun show
Of course, the series has always been famous for its guns, and while I'll always miss the Groovitron disco gun from Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the new Topiary Sprinkler glove is a close second. It shoots sprinklers that transform any enemy into a beautiful garden hedge, complete with blooms and falling leaves as you smash at them with your wrench. There's just something so satisfying about turning a giant, malevolent spaceship into something that would look good on Grandma's lawn. It's not all just for show though, the more you play the more you realize there's a strategy to upgrading and swapping between weapons, picking the right tool for the right carnage. We're not talking Counter-Strike levels of tactical awareness, you can do pretty well just blasting, but you can't help but get a feel for certain guns, and learn to use them to avoid an inconveniently timed death. The ability to use your tether on dimensional rifts in the battlefield add a little something too, giving you a quick way to get behind enemies, dodge mega attacks, and reach platforms at the speed of a button press.
A pat on the back to the gameplay team at Insomniac Games too for not making it a slog to unlock all the weapons. I love a shiny bolt, and smashed every crate I saw, but was able to kit Rivet and Ratchet out (the characters share an inventory so you don't have to play favorites) without having to take a break from the thrust of the story to go on grindy bolt-hunting missions. I did the side quests, raced through the main missions, and was able to finish the game with everything unlocked. Nothing's meaner than a game that wants to keep the best toys away from you.
Beauty and the bot
Even with the high-speed pace, the game always looks pristine. I'm even going to lean on the old cliche "like a Pixar movie" because the characters and world deserve it. The series has always been a marker for what PlayStation exclusives can do with the power of a new console, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is upholding that tradition. Characters are colorful and expressive, the world is layered with textures and detailed whatever planet you're on, and I often found myself stumbling on a collectible just because I was wandering around wanting to take in more of the scenery. The game is also the perfect showcase for the DualSense's adaptive triggers, giving you nuanced feedback for guns and actions that send signals to your brain you don't even realize you're getting. You'll fire a shot, feel resistance under your trigger finger, and know that if you keep pushing you'll get a bigger blast. I'm still a massive fan of the potential of PS5's haptic feedback, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart makes a great exhibit A in my campaign to convince the world.
As well as the looks and the fancy tech, it feels like the story-telling of the series has really evolved with Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. Don't get me wrong, I've always liked the lombax and his shiny sidekick, but it's never been a series I've engaged with emotionally beyond a yearning for the next unlockable weapon. This time around I was all in, especially when it came to the story of the depressed robot companion Kit. With her sunny yellow body and dour mood, she's an icon for our times, and I wanted a happy ending for her so badly it gave me low-level anxiety. It feels as though Insomniac's writers have taken their cues from more recent Marvel movies, managing the tricky balancing act of cartoon mayhem and emotional payoffs. It made me, a casual lombax fancier, more invested in the series than ever before, and hoping we get to see a lot more of the fabulous foursome soon.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.