When the PlayStation 5 arrived about six months ago, we were promised a number of improvements under the hood that would change the way people play games. One of the big ones was that consoles finally moved to solid state drives for faster loading.
Available on: PlayStation 5
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Platformer, Action, Third-person shooter
ESRB Rating: E10+
Release Date: June 11, 2021
Price: $69.99 ($79.99 for Deluxe Edition)
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart takes full advantage of that upgrade. The latest game in the franchise, exclusive to Sony's latest console, throws the heroes through multiple dimensions, often at a moment's notice to show off that speed. But it also expresses it through chaotic combat and some zany platforming.
Still, it slows down just enough to examine the main characters' thoughts and vulnerabilities when it comes to heroism, their own confidence and which questions about your life are worth asking, making for some strong character moments amidst all the havoc.
Talk About Distant Relatives...
Rift Apart serves as a sequel to 2013's Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, but, at the beginning, at least, it serves as a fine entry point to the series. The game finds Ratchet, the last Lombax in the galaxy, and his robot compatriot Clank, being celebrated for most of their major achievements (cue the history lesson for newer players). And Clank has a surprise for Ratchet — he has repaired the Dimensionator, a device that opens rifts to other, well, dimensions, in the hopes that Ratchet can find one where the Lombaxes still exist and meet his family.
Ratchet is hesitant about this. Life is good. He's getting a parade. Why mess up a good thing with questions he's always had at the back of his mind? But there's a bit less of a choice when their enemy, Dr. Nefarious, steals it to find a dimension in which he's always the victor.
The chase to stop Dr. Nefarious leads Ratchet and Clank to a dimension where a small group of freedom fighters are led by Rivet, the last Lombax in the galaxy (that is, in her dimension). The game switches between Ratchet and Rivet, both of whom suddenly are partnered with someone very different, but also very familiar.
From there, the game hops between planets and dimensions, some of which are alternate versions of levels from earlier games in the franchise.
Rivet and Ratchet are similar beyond their heritage. Both are quick to take action and like to crack jokes. Rivet is a bit more competent than her interdimensional counterpart, but she's not used to working with others, robot or otherwise. Of course, meeting each other turns everything Ratchet and Rivet know upside down, and leads to alternate realities that flip what you may know about the franchise, too, with references to other games in the franchise taking a bit of turn.
Much of the game, especially its quieter moments, focuses on introspection and self doubt. Ratchet isn't sure how long he can keep the hero thing up. Rivet isn't sure if she can overcome her loner tendencies. Heck, even Dr. Nefarious' plan is based on the fact that he feels he's not good enough in his own dimension.
Two Different Lombaxes, Same Crazy Gameplay
Rift Apart is a single-player third-person shooter with heavy platformer elements. Much of the game consists of sections in which you transverse different planets on foot. But to get to your goals, you'll also wall-run, jump between platforms, stick to magnetic platforms, grind on rails and race with rocket boots.
The other big part is combat, where waves of enemies attack as you fight them off with increasingly bizarre weapons that you obtain from Mrs. Zurkon, a robot with enough southern charm that I'm sure she has a good cornbread recipe. These include the executor (a double barrelled shotgun), the lightning rod (yeah, it shoots lightning) and my personal favorite, the topiary sprinkler, which temporarily stuns enemies in place and turns them into landscaping. The game is heavy on the gunplay, but the violence is cartoony, making it more than appropriate for its E10+ rated target audience.
By time you're done with the game, you'll be shooting rockets, bullets, lasers and have tons of little minions at your command. As you move on and get more powerful, the combat shines more and more, with wackier weapons and higher stakes. Additionally, certain battle and puzzle areas have rifts that you can "tether" to in order to pull yourself around the stage, instantly loading the new area around you. It's disorienting and a bit gimmicky, but ultimately provides some novelty in each part of the game.
Beyond their species, Ratchet and Rivet are incredibly similar in that no matter which of them you're playing as, the game feels exactly the same. The two share gadgets, controls and even weapons. Buy something as Rivet, and Ratchet will have it next time. On the one hand, this makes the game seamless. You never lose something you just saved up for because you switched to another character. But it also creates a bit of sameness when you're playing as a new, interesting character.
Most of the missions contribute directly to moving the story forward, but there are some that branch out to encourage you to explore, and those tend to reward you with collectibles. Throughout the game, there are two other types of puzzles. The first, which largely features Clank, requires you to explore a level and use a number of powers (speed, antigravity, etc.) to move alternate-dimension "possibilities" throughout the level. It doesn't make huge amounts of sense to the story, but they're a fun way to put the spotlight on Clank. The others are worse. Early in the game, Ratchet meets a spider-like robot named Glitch, who can enter computers and fight viruses. Glitch has a small side-story, but it ultimately doesn't affect the main narrative, and I found that it pulled too much attention from the plot that I actually cared about.
My other personal favorites, which I completed as soon as I could, were a series of combat challenges that provided tons of in-game unlockables and money for further upgrades. These fights have unique gimmicks, like randomizing weapons or changing gravity.
In combat, switching between weapons requires opening a menu and picking new arms. This has the effect of pausing fights often, and varieties of enemies, like some with shields that require attacks that don't hit from the front, encourage you to switch. I personally liked the little pauses, as they gave me time to plan, but the game also lets you assign four weapons to the D-pad for quick switching. However, those four didn't seem to serve enough, as I ultimately ended up using the larger menu.
All-in-all, my initial playthrough lasted about 16 hours per the PlayStation 5's clock. (I don't believe you should necessarily judge a game's worthiness by it's length.) That was with some, but not all, of the optional quests, nor did I find every single collectible or piece of armor, so there's still plenty to go back for. For those looking to squeeze every bit out of their $70, there's also a Challenge Mode that makes the game more difficult, provides new weapon upgrades and lets you earn far more bolts, the in-game currency.
I suspect some diehard fans will wish that the game were longer, though the story doesn't necessarily require it.
The PS5's SSD Makes the Difference
Rift Apart is the first major exclusive in the back-half of the PlayStation 5's first year, and, in some ways, takes the most advantage of the system's new features, both to its advantage and to its detriment.
We reviewed the game using pre-release code from Sony. For this review, we played primarily in Fidelity mode, which promises a stable 30 frames per second with ray tracing and other enhanced effects using a high quality image derived from a 4K base. We had less time with the day one patch, which adds Performance RT mode, which aims for 60 frames per second with fewer effects and a lower resolution; and performance mode, which eliminates more effects for a higher resolution 60 fps. It also fixed a few bugs from our first playthrough.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game, with its mix of colorful, lush environments and the darker, grimmer environments was beautiful. There's some nice fur effects, primarily in cutscenes. And no matter how much was happening on screen during the most intense battles (and they got pretty crazy towards the end), the game was stable.
Ultimately, though, I preferred playing at the higher frame rates. The 60 fps made combat and platforming puzzles, like pocket dimensions, look and feel smoother to play. It simply felt right to be playing it that way. Unless you're gaming on a 4K TV, you shouldn't even consider Fidelity. Even then, I think the sacrifice for frames is worth it.
But the star of the show here is the SSD. For most of the game, it feels as if there's no loading at all, which is surprising when you're pulled through multiple, complicated environments in just a few seconds as Ratchet, Rivet and Clank travel through rifts. This happens for the first time fairly early in the game, and it was clear then that the SSD, not the graphics, is the most important reason for a console owner to upgrade. Sure, PC gamers have had SSDs for years. But now we're starting to see what happens when a game is designed around it.
This wasn't complete, though. There were a few sections where it felt like the game was slowing down to enable the game to load, which put those parts at odds with the rest of the game's tempo. On one mid-game planet, I got into an elevator several times, and waited the entire ride while the characters had small-talk. After so much speed, everything, for a little bit, screeched to a halt until those rides were done.
Sure, when we saw Spider-Man: Miles Morales (and Spider-Man Remastered), it was surprising how quickly one could fast-travel around New York City. But here, it's not just a feature - it's integral to the story. That's really cool.
The DualSense controller was a real mixed bag. While I was initially wowed — and sometimes continue to be — by the controller's enhanced rumble and trigger features, it sometimes felt like Insomniac lacked restraint when using them. Every single effect in the game does something with the rumble, as does each gun. During combat, it's a cacophony in your hands, as the controller vibrates and the triggers lock and unlock almost constantly. I did, however, get some joy out of the built-in speaker as I used the ricochet, a button which lets you fire and then bounce ammo off enemies. It made an arcade pinball sound that burst from the controller, which gave me a laugh.
You can turn down the rumble by switching to a "functional" mode that provides gameplay cues and nothing else, or shut it off altogether. This sometimes felt like it went too far in the other direction, as not every action you would expect provides feedback.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a chaotic thrill ride through space and, well, space in other dimensions. While the storytelling is not especially deep, it's enough to make for a game that enables some creative platforming setpieces and intense combat.
Even when the game dips into the dark world of a facist leader, has heroes hide from tortured monsters or simply asks them to be introspective about their flaws, its soul is ultimately zany and upbeat. With the exception of a handful of side-puzzles, it's a tight, fast-moving game with room for the cast to shine.
While the game doesn't always feel like it's taking full advantage of the PS5's power, the near-instant changes in scenery powered by a game designed by an SSD is exciting. The developers would be well-served by being more conservative with the DualSense controller, though. The game has a lot of rumble, and sometimes it's too much to be immersive.
Those looking for a moderately-sized family-friendly romp that takes advantage of the latest PlayStation's features will likely enjoy Rift Apart and all of the bonkers experiences it provides.