Ratchet and Clank Review
Video games have evolved. One could even argue that of all entertainment industries, gaming has evolved at a faster clip than any other, as 40 years isn’t exactly a long time in the bigger scheme things. Even broken down into decades, comparing one decade to the next is night and day, which is why going backward can often be a shock. But there are times when looking back on certain classics is a good thing and not purely for nostalgia purposes. The Ratchet and Clank remake proves that we have to take the bad with the good, that while we’ve progressed technically we’ve also lost – or have started to lose – elements like charm, innocence, and perhaps the very essence of “fun.” Yes, prepare to smile…a lot.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this remake could very well be the best-looking PlayStation 4 game to date. Granted, Uncharted 4 will drop in just a few weeks and I’m fairly certain that will assume the top spot, and one can make a really solid argument for The Order: 1886, Driveclub and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I say the remade Ratchet ranks right up there with the best, delivering stunning beauty and clarity throughout. The cut-scenes are very close to Pixar-quality and the animations are wonderfully smooth. This is a beautifully designed world, too, with unbelievable level design, raucous and eye-popping special effects, and immaculate character and enemy creation. A frame rate that can, very occasionally, fall a little too far keeps me from giving out a 10 in this category but otherwise, this is amazing.
The sound is only a slightly trickier category because I find the balancing to be a little off in regards to music, effects and voices. You really have to dive into the audio sliders to fine-tune things and even then, it’s not quite right. But I probably shouldn’t quibble because the effects and soundtrack play off each other in a lighthearted cacophony of old-school goodness, and the voice performances are stellar. Let’s not forget that the original title excelled in all technical categories at the time, so now that Insomniac has remade the production from the ground up, lovingly touching up even the smallest details, we’re once again blown away. This classic adventure has been properly updated so it can stand beside the best of the best two generations later, and that is no easy feat.
As a bit of history, Ratchet & Clank was very much ahead of its time, if I remember correctly. Not only was it a technical tour de force for the PlayStation 2 but it also successfully blended multiple genres, which, at the time, was relatively new. There were clearer lines between game genres in those days; one could easily slap a label on just about any new title that hit store shelves. R&C was one of the first games that really made critics and gamers alike start to question: “What do we call this?” It has elements of third-person shooting, platforming, puzzle-solving, and even exploration, as the game offered far more exploration and freedom than most adventures in the early 2000s. Nowadays, many games get the “action/adventure” label because most titles have a variety of gameplay features.
Even so, it’s tough to compare Ratchet to any new IP. I really can’t think of a favorable comparison for several reasons. Firstly, this blend of openness and linearity doesn’t really exist anymore; most new games are either completely open or very linear, as I haven’t seen much that occupy the in-between space, as classic R&C adventures always did. Secondly, what other game combines third-person shooting, platforming, and a few puzzles into one cohesive package that works extremely well on all fronts? I mean, no one aspect of this game feels under-developed or underwhelming. Everything is fantastically designed and implemented, so you’re never saying to the TV screen, “Gee, I wish the developers had spent a bit more time on this part.” Nothing escaped those keen perfectionist eyes at Insomniac.
This is one of those games that’s easy to pick up and play, but not quite so easy to master. As a bonus for returning fans and newcomers alike, the team tossed in three control options; there’s a basic “simplified” option, normal, and a more strafing-centric choice for those who tend to use their firearms a lot (and really, who doesn’t?). No matter what you select, though, you won’t have any issues with the control. Ratchet’s movement is spot-on and while I still say they needed to pull the camera back – I can’t imagine why I’d ever trade a little extra intensity for better visibility – this remains one of the most refined mechanics out there. Jump, double jump, using the grappling hook, taking advantage of Clank’s mini-hover, using the gravity boots, whatever; it all works like a charm and in fact, probably better than it did in the original.
You will travel between planets, taking on various quests for Captain Qwark and meeting lots of colorful characters along the way. One of the biggest changes in this remake is the fact that Qwark is narrating; we see this story through his eyes, which is a huge switch. Even if I could remember the first game with any real accuracy, the remake would still feel very fresh simply because it’s told differently. Furthermore, with different areas to explore and the aforementioned mechanical refinement and tweaking, there’s nothing about this effort that feels rushed, rehashed, or “old.” No, this is every ounce a new production and that much is evident with just about every step you take. At no point will you be disappointed or even indifferent. Happy? Yup. Ecstatic? Probably.
As always, Insomniac stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the planet when it comes to weapon design. The Resistance games still have the single most creative and rewarding arsenal of any shooter franchise I’ve played (and I think I’ve played ‘em all), and this imagination was on display years ago with the first Ratchet games. From The Bouncer to the Groovitron to the Proton Drum, there are oodles of awesome weapons here, some of which are actually brand new. The team made the right move by bringing back fan favorites and delivering several fresh guns, which further enhances the newness and overall appeal of the game. I recommend switching between them on a frequent basis because they’re all useful in their own way, and they’re all just tons ‘o fun to use. The weaponry is just such a gigantic highlight.
The combination of all those different gameplay aspects is another big win. It’s all just so perfectly balanced, as you never get tired or bored and nothing ever feels repetitive. Not only is each planet very distinct and compelling in a unique way, but exploring each area is a singular experience. Some places have more enemies and involves more firepower and maneuverability on Ratchet’s part, while others have you playing as Clank and solving puzzles. The platforming is always there, too, and serves to break everything up, giving you a nice change of pace. And don’t think you’ll approach each battle the same way, either: Your weapons are drastically different and so are your enemies, so you’ll always be thinking about the best ways to eliminate foes. Strategy is indeed part of your quest.
Then there are the optional side quests, and fun asides like the hoverboard races. Again, so smooth, so wonderfully designed, so rewarding. Everything you do in the game gives you this remarkable sense of firm control and ceaseless enjoyment, and this is due to this mammoth developmental achievement on the part of Insomniac. Now, I can say the camera, as noted above, can still be a problem. It does sit too close in my estimation but it can also go wonky in tight, cramped areas. Also, getting out of water can make the camera go totally screwy for a few seconds, too. The camera never really stops being a minor issue when playing, but it’s certainly a lot better than most action/adventure games from the PS2 era. Still, I don’t see why the team couldn’t have improved this facet; had they done so, this sucker would’ve flirted with a perfect score.
They say the game will take you 10-12 hours but if you’d like to do all the extra stuff, collect all those nifty cards, explore everywhere, etc, I doubt you’ll finish in less than 15 hours. I should also add that once you start playing, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to stop: It’s one of the hallmarks of a game that wants you to have fun, nothing but untainted fun. It wants you to sit there and go through the next area and not for any one particular reason, but because the entire package is just so good. And it’s so accessible and inviting that no matter where you leave off, you’ll want to get back to your quest ASAP. Toss in the inherent comedy and good-natured feel of this safe-for-everyone journey, and you’ve got a game that can please just about anyone. I really don’t think personal preference plays a huge role; this is about as universally engaging as you can get.
The Ratchet and Clank remake hearkens back to a very different time. It wasn’t even that long ago and yet, it was indeed very different. But I’m not going to focus on past vs. present; I’m merely going to focus on this game as a standalone product. I say forget the “remake” part. I say give it no quarter for being an older game that needed a massive facelift in order to compete with modern games. Pretend it’s a brand new IP. If I do that, would I score it lower? No, I don’t think so. Okay, maybe the .2 here consists of .1 for nostalgic purposes and .1 for purely subjective made-me-smile reasons, but otherwise, this is an excellent game. It’s great no matter what the year or the era. The camera is the only snafu and yeah, it can be significant. Aside from that flaw, I dare anyone to play this game and come away disappointed. If you do, you’re either far too demanding or you have no soul.
The Good: Gorgeous visual production from top to bottom; one of the best ever. Great voice performances and awesome audio effects. Fantastic balancing between distinct gameplay elements. One of the best weapon arsenals in history. Rock solid, responsive control. Genuinely funny, with a good story and memorable characters. 100 percent accessible and engaging from start to finish.
The Bad: Audio balancing isn’t perfect. The camera can be a glaring drawback at times.
The Ugly: “If you say any part of R&C is ‘ugly,’ I swear, I will find you.”
4/16/2016 Ben Dutka