Game Review: Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

When it came to Sony’s exclusive platformers on the PlayStation 2, the most popular among them were Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. I was far more fond of Jak and Daxter, owning and playing them all to completion and then some, even the racing spin off Jak X: Combat Racing was a blast to play, mainly due to its well told story between races. Ratchet and Clank was a franchise I barely dipped my toe in, I had played through most of the first one and I can’t recall if I ever revisited the series again.

Released in time for its theatrical counterpart, the simply titled: Ratchet and Clank, retells the original games’ story with a few new twists and gameplay mechanics that Insomniac has polished throughout the various sequels over the course of 14 years. This isn’t just a simple remake; it is a re-imagining, meant to work within the story of the new movie. Ratchet and Clank is wonderfully crafted, visually beautiful, and closer to being the pixar-of-games, which the series has constantly been referred as.

Visually, the game is a mixture of insanely gorgeous and borderline average. The levels are beautiful, but hollow, detailed, but empty. This is even more apparent when revisiting them once you have some gadget to proceed in a previously otherwise blocked area, and even then, it’s mainly to gather a gold bolt or another one of the games’ collectibles. Some of the later levels are far better designed, like Gaspar, which is the highlight of the game for me. I felt as though I was saving empty desolate areas that are populated by one or two npc’s that you’ll drop in, save, and then get another mission to save another empty planet. The more open levels where you are in a large city are jaw dropping and vast, this is even more impressive when you are flying around them during levels behind the controls of your ship.

Characters and enemies look fantastic, especially Ratchet and the more larger foes. There are a few side characters that don’t look near as good and it’s somewhat surprising with all the care and attention the rest of the game received. While the series has never looked better, I still expected a far bigger jump in quality for its characters than what is on display here.

Ratchet and Clank has always been remembered as having wacky and humor inspired weaponry, and this new version doesn’t disappoint. You have everything from simple blasters, grenades, rocket launchers and sniper rifles, to more crazy items like summoning a cliche spouting death robot, sheep-conversing ray-guns, projectile buzz saw blades and the groovitron, which makes enemies (and bosses…) bust a groove. There is a quick swap setting to the guns, but with so many fantastic options, only having 4 to affix to the d-pad felt wasteful. Swapping to a weapon in the menu stops gameplay, so I optioned to just select my weapons from that. It’s simple and works well, until you get too many weapons and then it makes you tab over. It can get a bit awkward, but never so much that it really got in my way of enjoying the game.

Each of the weapons can upgrade upon just using them, but each level it earns will stop gameplay to let you know this, making you push a button to close the prompt. This gets frustrating as it will happen in the middle of an intense boss fight. Why they just didn’t flash on the screen that your weapon leveled up I don’t know, but the more it happened the more annoying it became. The weapon upgrade system is displayed like a honey comb grid. There are nodes spread out in different areas that need all the upgrades around it purchased to unlock that skill. These upgrades vary from how many bullets the weapon has, the range it can reach, how often collectibles drop, and other stat boosts to make that weapons’ effect more potent.

Other passive bonuses you can gain in the game are through the collectible cards you will find by defeating enemies or by exploring every nook and cranny the game offers. These cards have tiers and each tier requires 3 cards. If you find duplicates, you can trade 5 of these for a card you are missing. By completing a tier you increase the rate to which upgrade currency drops, or the rate of which the cards are found as well. You can also earn a rare gun called the Ryno by collecting a dozen or so Ryno cards and then turning them in to a special vendor.

There are 6 hover board races to compete in as well, even though they are confined to only 2 different tracks that just add more obstacles to the course if you select the silver or gold race options. They offered no real challenge, in which I maybe had to do the silver or gold races over a few times to get 1st place, sometimes only missing 1st by a second or two. You earn rewards from completing them, and the racing is semi-mandatory to proceed in the game.

The game offers a few different play styles that depend on whom you are controlling. Clank has chase sequences similar to the Crash Bandicoot games, where you will run towards the screen avoiding gun fire and other dangers. Clank also has the ability to control other robots, making them become tools needed to solve puzzles. These were actually pretty fun and a few of these sections were actually pretty complicated to figure out. There is a stealth mission near the completion of the game that just tends to go on for a bit too long. The flying sequences are pretty fun and offer a nice change of pace. The rail grinding from the prior games’ is back and I felt it was a bit underutilized here, and the implementation of it in the final area was a bit too ‘instant death’ for my tastes. There are also sections where you will play a mini game to open doors that felt out of place and became quite tedious the more you were required to do it, if not for the trophy I would have auto-hacked each and every door.

Hidden around the planets you visit are gold bolts. You’ll find these in various locations, some easy, some hard, and they unlock a variety of extras. While you don’t exactly purchase anything with them, the amount you have on you will unlock masks to wear, screen filters, what the small bolts you pick up look like, and a variety of artwork and cheats like infinite ammo. I ended my run with around 18 bolts and felt I had enough of them to enjoy most of these extras. You unlock a new game+ after you complete the game that allows you to keep the items you have and look to upgrade them further with a harder difficulty this time around.

Ratchet and Clank is a solid title for the PS4 and a much needed breath of fresh air among the titles currently in the system’s library. The PlayStation 2 and 3 were a haven for adventure platformers and so far this console cycle, they are disappointingly rare. The campaign will run you around 15 hours, and I never once saw a dip in the frame rate, no matter how crazy the action got. I still believe that Ratchet and Clank deserved a better debut on the PlayStation 4 than what is here, but despite any of the visual flaws and cut corners this title seems to have; it is still a gorgeous looking game with high production values where it needs it. It is action packed, wonderfully written, and insanely fun to play. So if you want to play a game based upon a movie which is based upon a game, then Ratchet and Clank is for you.

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