Ratchet & Clank has been a PlayStation staple since its inception in 2002, gracing every major Sony platform — aside from the PS1 — in some form. With that legacy, it is fitting that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is one of the early showcases for the PS5 amidst a sea of current and soon-to-be cross-generational titles. Rift Apart does dip into the franchise’s well-worn territory more often than it should, but it’s also a brilliant display for the current generation in addition to being one of the better installments in the long-running series.
Rift Apart’s visuals are the most immediately obvious signal of its status as a PS5 game. Environments are as vast as they are dense, filled with many detailed, disparate parts that bring them to life. Robotic citizens bustle around both in the distance and around the playable areas (which are larger than ever before). Wildlife grazes on whatever alien flora is around it. Ships constantly fly around overhead like a future version of rush-hour traffic. Dimensional holes rip and tear through the sky, visually demonstrating the universe’s instability shown in the narrative while also just looking damn cool.
And while all of these moving parts work in unison to create a vibrant and well-realized world, the technical side brings all of these typical pieces of the series into a whole new light. The “new light” is literal, too, as the ray tracing is consistently stunning, given all the reflections such a technologically advanced universe has. Even Clank is all of his metal glory is fully ray traced.
Ray tracing does not benefit every game equally, but it seems made exactly for games like Ratchet & Clank where shiny surfaces and supernatural lighting are so prevalent. When combined with the awe-inspiring, otherworldly vistas, Photo Mode becomes an essential tool needed to document its unparalleled beauty.
Characters keep up with the environments they inhabit as Insomniac’s wonderfully fluid animation is consistently incredible. While the actual texture quality of the glistening scales, slimy toad-like skin, or fur blows away anything else seen in the series, the way in which it all moves is the most extraordinary part. It not only sells the stylistic nature of it all, but it also seems to be a crash course in Animation 101 with all of its exaggerated expressions, squashing and stretching, and subtle movements that are some of the best in the industry. It is so, so trite to compare video games to Pixar moves at this point, but Rift Apart warrants such a rote comparison.
Any other more powerful console would have made Ratchet look more Ratchety and Clank look more Clanky as that is exactly what the PS4 reboot of the first game did. But the PS5’s SSD is something that truly shows that this current console generation is about more than just a couple extra pixels and effects. Rift Apart constantly brags about its absurdly quick loading. The 19-year-old spaceship sequence that masked loading in a new planet is essentially a quick blip as if traveling at the speed of light. Loading into a save from the PS5’s dashboard takes under 13 seconds. Resetting after dying is nearly instant.
All of that is relatively routine for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S games, but Rift Apart goes further by incorporating that into its premise as the unstable universe is repeatedly ripping itself a new one. Pocket dimensions open up small (and far too easy) platforming challenges in some separate purgatory-like plane of existence with the ease of opening a door. Adrenaline-fueled set pieces often throw Ratchet or Rivet into completely different planets multiple times within a sequence, which changes up the scenery in a way that seems like witchcraft. There are even a few planets that shift time periods at certain points a bit like the “Effect and Cause” level in Titanfall 2. Rift Apart excels because of the sheer wizardry of these smart, technically impressive techniques and because of how the game is centered around them. Marrying new concepts with new tech like this is something other teams should take note of.
This innovation also applies to the gameplay. On the surface, it is still a Ratchet & Clank game, meaning there’s a lot of hectic, fast-paced shooting with a whole swath of wacky, upgradeable weapons. The core of killing enemies to get bolts and experience to get stronger guns to kill more enemies is a loop that isn’t new — it’s the same loop the series has had since the beginning — but is still addictive in enough of the right ways.
And while still familiar (sometimes overly so), Insomniac’s weapon design is not only inventive but also takes advantage of the hardware. Almost every gun makes use of the adaptive triggers in a way that creatively expands its functionality. For example, one gun lays out a shield with a half-press but blasts out like a shotgun if pulled down all the way. The sniper rifle aims down the scope with a half-push and slows downtime with a full push. It’s incredibly creative and regardless if the controller influenced the weapons or vice versa, it has resulted in one of the series’ best and most varied arsenals.
Rift Apart even flirts with being a more kinetic shooter with wall-running, dashing, and whipping around specific points like some sort of man with spider powers. The new movement options are a welcome addition, but they’re not fully utilized in the platforming or shooting sections as neither requires much dexterity. Moving it more into twitch shooter or platformer territory would be an incredible development that would modernize and change the gameplay. However, this half-step isn’t quite that and only teases what could have been.
While the dimension-hopping and new controller give a look into the future, Rift Apart is often too concerned with looking to the series’ past. Rift Apart, once again, dangles the thread of Ratchet looking for his fellow lombaxes with the Dimensionator as it did in Tools of Destruction, Quest for Booty, A Crack in Time, and Into the Nexus. It’s a ridiculously tired beat to drag out, especially as the series seems to have no interest in moving forward with it and would rather sidestep around the topic like a crab for 14 years.
Dr. Nefarious is also another oft-recycled crutch the game overly depends on in Rift Apart. His debut in Up Your Arsenal was unforgettable and that noteworthy appearance led to him being a big part of the series since. His surprise cameo in Quest for Booty led to him being forced into A Crack In Time which then paved the path for him to be included in All 4 One. Insomniac even found a way to jam him into the remake of the first game. He was an iconic villain, but his schtick has run its course and it’s time for some new oil.
Ratchet and Clank have also stagnated as characters since the game tend to reset back to the status quo after every entry like a Saturday morning cartoon, but they’re at least charming enough protagonists. The same applies to Rivet and even though she’s a new character, she’s almost exactly like Ratchet in a lot of ways. Almost all of the edge has been sanded off the franchise over the last decade so while it is digestible for younger audiences, the characters are too saccharine and predictable to stand out anymore. Even the humor is hardly ever worth more than a sharp nose exhalation (although Zurkon Jr. is insufferably unfunny). The decline of the writing after the series went for “Everyone” ratings is more evident with every release.
This appeal to younger audiences is evident in its dialogue and robs the narrative of any potential heft. Characters don’t just show how they feel, they explicitly say it. Subtlety is thrown out of the airlock in favor of easily digestible dialogue that is force-fed to the player. Insomniac tries to give some of the characters arcs, but they’re often rushed through or not fairly earned, which is surprising given how the Spider-Man games have excelled in those areas. The aforementioned animation and visuals carry the story and it’s all easy to follow yet it’s often uninteresting background noise when it could be so much more.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is an astonishingly advanced title in some respects. The blazing-fast load times, lively worlds, adaptive controller support, and stunning visuals are the mark of a new console ready to show off its power. But Rift Apart is also made up of a lot of dated parts, too, like stagnant characters and stale story beats. The gunplay straddles the line as its shooting is worn territory, but has enough hooks and clever weapons to where that isn’t a problem. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has one foot in a past dimension and one foot in a future dimension and, thankfully, it spends more time in the latter dimension over the former.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: Review code provided by the publisher. The game was reviewed on PS5.