In case the thematic subtext of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart wasn't clear enough already, Insomniac's first PS5 exclusive opens with a literal celebration of our dynamic duo, as Lombax and robot enjoy a utopian street parade devoted to chronicling their achievements throughout the galaxy.
The entire sequence is one, gorgeous playable homage to Ratchet & Clank history, catching newcomers up on the series' basic premise and gameplay mechanics, all while hammering home the idea that these two are inseparable from one another; partners in crime and best friends for life.
Of course, if you've seen anything from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, you'll know that this iconic relationship is about to be put to the test like never before, as new dimensions, threats, and – yes – Lombaxes cause both characters to question everything they thought they knew about their reality.
"The story has become even more personal," explains creative director Marcus Smith. "Internal struggles take a more central role to focus on how characters relate to one another. With an alternative dimension, we get to see how these disparate versions of the same characters are different due to their circumstances, but more importantly, how they are true to each other."
After Dr. Nefarious cuts short the parade celebrations by stealing the rift-opening Dimensionator, our hands-off preview jumps ahead to focus on Rivet, the new playable Lombax character who teams up with Clank after he and Ratchet become separated.
The level is set in Molonoth Gulch, a dusty scrapyard on the planet Torren IV. It's a place rife with scum and villainy, though one friendly inhabitant assures us that Molonoth actually translates to "Paradise" in Junkish (we're not convinced). Rivet & Clank are here to speak with someone named The Fixer, in the hopes that he might help them repair a crucial piece of Rivet's ship. Unfortunately for them, The Fixer just so happens to be a giant war robot, recently decommissioned after coming down with a serious case of existential dread.
As hopefully gleaned from that character description alone, Insomniac's sharp, tongue-in-cheek approach to sci-fi storytelling is alive and kicking in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, invoking the spirit of Douglas Adams with every pithy punchline. A particular highlight comes when pirates interrupt the pair's mission to reactivate The Fixer; speaking only in lyrical rhyme, the motley crew are led by a French captain named Pierre Le Faire, who quickly establishes himself as bankable comic relief from the moment he arrives on screen.
Longtime Ratchet fans will recognise Le Faire as an alt-dimension version of recurring character Rusty Pete, and lead writer Lauren Mee teases that Insomniac has used Rift Apart to perform a number of these "metaphysical coin tosses" with familiar faces, reimagining them from the perspective of another dimension.
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"It's a way for us to take what's great about past games and make it fresh for both longtime fans and for newcomers to the franchise alike," adds Mee. "Bringing new characters into a franchise full of memorable and iconic personalities was a really exciting challenge, but I think players will really enjoy getting to spend time with our cast."
Rift Apart's comedic flair spills over into its action, too, where enemies react with slapstick gusto to Rivet's arsenal of weaponry, which is as expansive and inspired as you'd expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. There's new weapons, from the Ricochet, which pinballs around enemies with a satisfying "Ping!", alongside old favourites such as the Glove of Doom and Buzz Blades.
Insomniac has promised that all of these weapons will take advantage of the DualSense controller's Adaptive Triggers and Haptic Feedback to help amplify their distinctive handling, too, while telegraphing important information about their status in the heat of battle.
In a wise continuation of the advancements made by 2016's Ratchet & Clank reboot, you'll also level up these weapons the more you use them, meaning that your favourite firearms will be the ones that progress the fastest, and offer new functions over time. You won't be able to rely on the same core set of guns forever, though; some enemies, such as shield-bearing pirates, can only be taken down with certain weapons, but Ratchet/Rivet will tell you mid-battle when a certain tool isn't up to the job.
Speaking more generally, Rift Apart is layering a greater sense of strategy into its dazzling, particle-heavy action. While previous Ratchet & Clank games could be conquered through a relatively undemanding juggle of strafing, shooting, and jumping, Rift Apart wants you to think more tactically in combat.
This is evidenced most clearly by the ability to tether to rifts that appear in the world for quick teleportation around the battlefield, gaining the upper hand on foes with new lines of sight and flanking opportunities. Rivet and Ratchet also both sport hover boots that can speed them out of tight spots or towards more advantageous positions, ideal for a quick recovery from impending fail states.
Boss fights appear to be more frequent, too. Not five minutes after taking down a large robot named Wee Roger, Rivet finds herself face to face with what appears to be his twin, the somehow even more ironically named Not-So-Wee Roger. The dedicated health bars of these mini bosses set them apart from your average minion, requiring more focus and firepower amidst the spectacle of combat. Even with all these new threats, however, Insomniac is ensuring Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's accessibility remains on par with its all-ages appeal, as explained by game director Mike Daley.
"We know that our audience includes both kids and hardcore fans who have been playing Ratchet & Clank for 19 years. So it's super important to us that our difficulty settings hit on a very broad spectrum. So pretty much no matter where you're at, you'll be able to find something that's an appropriate level of challenge."
One giant leap for Lombaxkind
Outside of combat, Rift Apart offers some astounding set pieces that show off its cocktail of new and familiar traversal mechanics. There's the series' timeless joys of rail grinding, which can now be combo-ed with wall running to avoid incoming hazards, alongside upgraded variations on the Swingshot, such as the Hurl Shot, which sends Rivet flying across great distances within seconds.
One particular sequence, in which Rivet and Clank attempt to escape the clutches of a rudely awakened Fixer, is a non-stop theme park ride of visual pizzaz and adrenaline-pumping action, promising the kind of playable set piece that you could easily imagine Naughty Dog using as a case study for future Uncharted games.
It helps that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is utterly gorgeous from top to bottom, utilising the PS5's capacity for native 4K, ray-traced visuals and silky smooth frame rates to achieve what Insomniac calls the "playable movie" experience. The studio's promise of a loading-free adventure appears to be holding up this far into the campaign, too, with Rivet switching between dimensions, through rifts, and beyond without a single hint of processing on-screen.
If the power of PlayStation 5 hasn't won you over so far, then, there's a good chance that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will be the game that finally pulls you off the fence. Untethered from the limitations of the PS4, this exclusively next-gen title presents a no-holds barred look at what Sony's console is truly capable of.
But to simply view Rift Apart through the prism of PS5 would be a disservice to what Insomniac is hoping to achieve with its latest PlayStation blockbuster. This is Ratchet & Clank's most ambitious and mature adventure yet, one which flings the duo into a bright new future while retaining the series' core of heroism, humour, and heart.
"In many ways, the themes of Rift Apart were echoed during the development of the game," explains Smith. "We had to overcome adversity, such as threading the needle between staying true to the franchise's past yet bringing forward something bold and new, and the real world challenges of confronting a global pandemic, learning how to adapt and thrive while working separately from one another."
"Each member of the team brought their own perspectives and expertise to the production, and the results are so much stronger than anything we could have done on our own."