Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus Review
It’s always good to try new things. The familiar and the tried-and-true are bound to get results but every now and then, a talented developer like Insomniac wants to spread its wings. This resulted in what I like to call experimental Ratchet & Clank installments, such as All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault. One wanted to focus on the multiplayer draw while the other tried to embrace a more strategic gameplay style. Both were good games. But you know, fans have been pining for a return to form for the dynamic duo, and now they’ve got it with Into the Nexus. Hysterical, addictive and just a blast to play.
From a technical standpoint, one could argue that the latest entry doesn’t do anything special. However, it would be insulting to the developers to ignore the wonderfully creative and colorful presentation, which has been a highlight of this franchise for years. The imaginative weapons, comical foes and excellent level design are all here, which is great news for long-time fans of the series. The animations are smooth and fluid, the special effects fit the appealing palette beautifully, and in short, there’s really nothing to complain about. No, it’s not pushing any boundaries but considering the goal of this game, it doesn’t need to. It succeeds where it counts.
The dueling, hilarious personas of Ratchet and Clank lead the sound category, as they so often do in this franchise. In addition to the genuinely funny banter and some witty dialogue, the apt, nicely orchestrated soundtrack continues to bolster the experience with every step. For a budget-priced game, the audio is surprisingly well balanced and very effective throughout the adventure; the voices, original score and effects all combine to give the player a traditional R&C quest. It feels like Ratchet, it plays like Ratchet, it looks like Ratchet, and it sounds like Ratchet. Yep, this is indeed the action/platformer we always loved.
Contrary to the aforementioned experiments, Into the Nexus is easily recognizable. If you were a big fan of the original style and structure, you’re bound to enjoy the latest entry, which is in fact a climax. It follows the events of A Crack in Time and although it only clocks in at about five or six hours, this spirited, well-designed game is bound to make you smile. At the start, the heroic duo is transporting the dangerous criminal Vendra Prog to jail. But Vendra’s twin brother, Neftin, rescues him during the transport, and Ratchet and Clank must set out to reclaim their former captive. This is all about tying up loose ends, if you haven’t already guessed.
There’s a lot to like about this invigorating, entertaining quest. The humor is off the scale, always appreciated, and never feels overdone, and the action is quick and accessible. The fantastic voice performances feature guests Talwyn Apogee, as well as The Plumber, The Smuggler, and the beloved Captain Qwark. These characters cement a setting and presentation that is both cheerful and immersive, and you just can’t stop playing. The latter trait is one I experienced over and over again when playing some of the earlier games in the series, and now it’s back. You know what I’m talking about, right? When we say to ourselves, “okay, just 15 more minutes…”
The wacky Thugs-4-Less enemies meet their demise at the hands of some ingenious weapons. There’s the Winterizer, for instance, which plays some happy holiday music and consequently turns foes into snowmen. Despite the obvious imagination infused into each weapons, I wasn’t thrilled with all of them; typically, they’re all cool in one way or another. This time, though, there were a few that I just never really used. As for the basic control, it’s exactly what you’d expect, only with a few minor camera issues that tend to pop up in cramped areas. Even if you’ve never played a Ratchet title before, the game has a clear and appreciated pick-up-and-play nature.
It’s true that there really isn’t anything revolutionary, but we do get a new tool called the Grav-Tether. It fires at anti-grav targets which in turn generates a steam of energy that guides you to new areas. It can be used to reach otherwise unreachable sections of the level, and that includes hidden locales that contain a few enviable secrets. Are you a rabid Gold Bolt collector? If so, you’ll want to explore everywhere, so make sure to use that Grav-Tether whenever you can! The tool can also be used to trap enemies and send them off into nothingness, which is worth doing if only for the comedy relief. This all being said, the Grav-Tether isn’t a game-maker.
It doesn’t have to be, though. There are new features and additions that we haven’t seen before, including an annoying new enemy called the Nether. These nasty foes originated in the Netherverse and can phase in and out of dimensions in mid-battle. The fun part is that Ratchet can actually enter the cracks in reality leading to the Netherverse, which you traverse in classic 2D side-scrolling style. Again, much like the Grav-Tether, it isn’t something that significantly alters the gameplay, but it’s an appreciated little feature that makes the adventure that much more enjoyable. The mechanics are always rock solid, too; you're never cursing the game for messing up.
Simply put, this title is streamlined and more straightforward; there’s less platforming and puzzles and more combat. There’s a bigger emphasis on taking down hordes of baddies with impossible weapons, and I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever. This is because Insomniac has retained the irresistible core of the franchise, the core that took a temporary vacation when the team opted to diversify. And it’s not like we’re always fighting a bunch of enemies, because we’ve still got the jetpack, hoverboots and other nifty gadgets that are always tons o’ fun to use. Plus, the weapon upgrade system has been enhanced, with more weapons and skills than ever before. So, it’d be grossly inaccurate to call this game a rehash.
Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus gives veteran followers of the award-winning franchise exactly what they desire: A true sequel and conclusion to A Crack in Time and above all else, a return to what made Ratchet so gosh-darn charming and addictive in the first place. It’s easy to condemn it for “doing nothing new,” but we can’t turn around a second later and bemoan the loss of trusted, beloved gameplay types we’ve seen in franchises like Final Fantasy and Resident Evil. Can’t have it both ways, ya know. For R&C fanatics, Into the Nexus is a return to its traditional, glorious form.
The Good: Fantastic world design and inspired enemy creation. Genuinely comical. Rock solid control throughout. Always entertaining and accessible. Upgraded weapon system is a big plus. The Ratchet you knew and loved is back!
The Bad: Camera isn’t always perfect. A few surprisingly unimpressive weapons.
The Ugly: “Some franchises have no idea how to be ‘ugly.’ This is one of them.”
1/7/2014 Ben Dutka