As a Grunthor (that’s Ratchet & Clank-speak for “big ugly dinosaur”) flings a boulder towards me, I Phantom Dash out of reality, throw down a sprinkler to morph it into a hedge, barrage it with unhappy purple mushrooms, double jump to safety, fire off my quadruple barrelled shotgun, rift across the battlefield, then backflip away from a second incoming boulder. This is how combat goes in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – everything is hectic and hilarious. As the game goes on, I get to turn my enemies into ice cubes, play pinball on their skulls, summon an army of robot minions, and even shoot them with a sniper rifle that slows down time. There’s an all-guns-blazing kinetic energy to battles and traversal in Rift Apart, but it knows when to pump the brakes too.
You play as the titular Ratchet and his dimensional alternate, Rivet, with the duo sharing an equal amount of the spotlight. Since every explorable planet you encounter is either a Ratchet planet or a Rivet planet, your exact playtime as each character is determined by which world you want to explore the most, but you haven’t been conned by the marketing into hoping for a Rivet game when all she gives you is a cameo. The new lombax is a major player throughout.
In pure gameplay terms, Ratchet and Rivet are indistinguishable. They share the same moveset, the same arsenal, they level up together… if Ratchet finds a helmet, it makes its way to Rivet’s pocket through lombaxian osmosis. Both feel intuitive and whimsical, and if it ain’t broke for Ratchet, don’t fix it for Rivet. Narratively, they are very different characters though. Across the story, Rivet steals the show from Ratchet, making him a sideshow in his own game. She’s wittier than Ratchet, has a bigger arc, and receives more of the major narrative beats. This is her dimension and Ratchet is simply living in it, and while he tries to piece everything together, she has room to shine. Purists need not be disappointed, however – a huge theme this time around is ‘partnerships’, the most obvious one being Ratchet and Clank. However, since Clank is off with Rivet (who has lived her whole life as a Ratchet without a Clank) there’s more development there. If anything, by separating Ratchet and Clank, Rift Apart highlights what an effective pair the two of them are.
You’re likely going to hear a lot of comparisons to Pixar in conversations about this game. It’s not just that they’re both cartoonish in appearance, but because of the technical detailing (zoom in on Ratchet or Rivet in photo mode and you’ll see every fuzz of fur), humour, and emotional story that leads to an ending with a message that’s right out of the Pixar playbook. Unfortunately, if this is playable Pixar, it’s The Good Dinosaur rather than Toy Story 3.
There’s heart in Rift Apart – I said The Good Dinosaur, not Cars 2 – but the pieces never quite fit together. While it has a healthy, 20-hour runtime buoyed by interesting collectibles and side quests off the main path, the resolutions feel rushed. Characters bicker, fall out, and patch things up just for the sake of it. The big emotional punch in the final act lands, but the rest just tickle. When the characters are working together or just riffing with each other, they have a fantastic dynamic. Each planet is like a miniature open world, dense enough to feel alive and give the characters things to discuss, open enough to let us cut loose and explore. They’re big enough that they seem like a real planet and not just a platforming set piece, and small enough that they don’t feel overwhelming. It’s the perfect balance, and introducing tension into the mix only to resolve it with some platitudes feels wasteful. There’s already enough drama with the dimension business and bad guy, Dr. Nefarious, so these internal squabbles don’t add anything – especially when most of them are over before they start.
Underneath it all, the story is still decent enough. This is the first Ratchet & Clank game to develop themes and layer its plot with nuance beyond just ‘Go do this thing for this reason’, with the characters evolving over the course of the game – it’s above and beyond even what A Crack in Time managed. It’s the best narrative in a Ratchet game to date, but it falls short of Insomniac’s most recent title, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and is perhaps a little too ambitious, wanting too many strands resolved in too short a time. Insomniac has set itself a high bar in recent years, and while the story isn’t bad, it’s the only area that feels like a miss, at least by the developer’s own standards.
The influence of those high standards are on display across Rift Apart too. While the traversal is less organic and fluid than Miles Morales, it’s hard to give that momentum to a protagonist who largely stays on the floor. There are different ways to swing across canyons, and the wallrunning is forgiving enough to let you chain in and out of it with dashes even if you don’t quite get your aim right. With the silly arsenal, rail grinding, and emphasis on verticality in certain combat environments, it feels like Sunset Overdrive shaped Rift Apart more than anything else in Insomniac’s stable – as much as I love the Spidey games, that’s a relief in some ways. I’m not sure we’ll ever get another Sunset game, so if Insomniac is going to be backflipping between Spidey and Ratchet from now on, both games need a clearly distinguishable identity, and even with the swinging and wallrunning, Rift Apart provides that.
Part of this traversal comes via the rifts themselves, and while the marketing has correctly emphasised how important Rivet is to the whole affair, the rifts have been overcooked. They’re necessary to reach certain collectibles, and are generally useful in traversal, but you won’t use them much in combat. If there’s a spot you want to get to, rift away, but don’t expect to be flinging yourself across the terrain with tactical precision. There are too many enemies, too many guns you’ll just want to blast away with, and you need to be too close to the rifts for them to be worth it much of the time. What’s much more interesting is that a few of the planets have floating crystals that, when hit, will transport you to an alternate dimension, as Rift Apart takes a crack at Titanfall 2’s Effect and Cause. These levels make much better use of the dimensional shenanigans than the rifting ever does.
Of course, these crystals also share the lightning fast load times, as do the pocket dimensions you can wander in and out of across the various planets. The best thing I can say about these load times is that I never notice them. I’m on Sargasso one second, walk through the portal, and suddenly I’m in a completely different world. I even did the Homer Simpson “Australia! America!” bit and the game handled it with ease. I have had a couple of weird crashes for seemingly no reason while running around planets, but I’m hoping the day one patch fixes those. They were few and far between, and never happened when the game was at its busiest. Aside from that, I had to restart a wave battle after the last enemy got locked in a room and couldn’t be killed, but those were the only bugs I encountered.
Overall, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a wonderful table setter for the PS5, and a great summer blockbuster. It shows how the console’s loading power can be integrated into gameplay, and avoids the pitfall of ‘Bigger equals Better’ in favour of more dense and active worlds. Combat is sparkling and only gets better as you unlock more guns – since each gun improves as it levels up, the game pushes you to try them all, and as as soon as you think you’ve settled on a favourite, you’re handed a new one to try. Getting around is fluid and forgiving, even if rifts aren’t as important as we’ve been led to believe, and the franchise should be applauded for shooting the moon with the narrative, even if it falls short and gets over ambitious in places. Rift Apart is a magnificent game, one that sets the series on a clear path forward. Wherever it goes next, Rivet has to be there.
Score: 4.5/5. A review code for PS5 was provided by Sony.
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