Republished on Wednesday 28th February 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of March's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
With the release of Ratchet & Clank on the PlayStation 4, this long time Sony series has amazingly managed to go full circle all the way back to where it started in 2002. Re-visiting the first game – and the origin story for the famous space-adventuring duo – this re-imagining of their debut just so happens to be tied to the imminent release of their very own feature film. So yes, this is a game based on a movie... Er, based on a game.
It doesn't take long to see that this is less of a remaster and more of a complete overhaul, and while the game follows the storyline of the original pretty closely, it makes a number of noticeable changes that'll give even the most devoted of fans a few surprises. What's clear is that whether it's the level designs, weapons, or mechanics, developer Insomniac Games has treated this release like a greatest hits compilation, pulling elements and ideas from the previous titles in the series, while adding a few new ones to the melting pot as well.
The story's narrated by long-time Ratchet & Clank ally Captain Quark, who promises to tell the true tale of the how the partners in destruction became the best of buddies. As you play through the early levels, the Cap'n dynamically references things that you'll be doing on the screen, and at first it feels like there's a lot of potential to throw in some twists and turns using an unreliable narrator – especially since he can't help but spin his narrative in a self-aggrandizing and narcissistic way.
Unfortunately, this is never really used to its full potential, and, as the instances where Captain Quark's voiceover appears rapidly decline, you'll completely forget the narrative framing from the opening of the story. Fortunately, Ratchet's quest to join the Galactic Rangers and save the galaxy provides plenty of opportunity for some signature planet hopping, and you'll move at such a pace that you won't have time to get bored of the excellent cocktail of platforming, puzzles, and third-person blasting.
The shooting, thankfully, is as good as ever, and represents a pinnacle for the series – unsurprising considering that there's been close to fourteen years of iteration and refinement. There are the odd improvements through some minor additions – such as customisable weapon shortcuts on the d-pad – but if you've spent time with any of the more recent Ratchet & Clank titles, then you'll know exactly what you're getting yourself into.
This carries through to the weapon selection, which has mostly been pulled from earlier games, while mixing in a few new additions. The most eye-popping of these is the Pixelizer, a shotgun like weapon that turns any enemy it hits into an 8-bit pixelated version of themselves, and is an absolute blast to use. While it would have been nice to get a completely new arsenal, the game doesn't feel deficient or stale on the weapons front, and it's nice to revisit some crazy guns and grenades from the past, whether it's the Groovitron or the Sheepinator.
If you take all of the additions made to the franchise's gameplay over the years and throw most of them into the mix – as is the case here – it makes for a very varied experience to say the least. It's really great fun to be grinding rails at breakneck speed in one level and donning a jetpack in another, and it's this variety to the gameplay – over what amounts to a ten to twelve hour story – that prevents the shooting sequences from wearing out their welcome. It's not all frantic action, though, as there are also some slower paced moments where you'll take control of Clank to solve some puzzles, and while these aren't the most challenging, they act as a bit of welcome downtime after running your gun hot in the action set pieces.
Since its 2016 and it's the law that you need to have collectible cards in your game, Ratchet & Clank also has you on the hunt for Holocards in order to fill up your in-game virtual album. These act as one of the game's collectibles – big Gold Bolts being the other of course – and packs of cards are dropped occasionally by enemies, or found while exploring the games levels. Relating to people, places, and weapons from the Ratchet & Clank universe, each card can be flipped over to reveal some flavour text about the subject of the card, as well as which title they first appeared in.
While it initially seems like the cards don't do much, completing specific sets of three will award you a boost in a particular area – such as increasing the drop rate for bolts or Raritanium. So, while the information on the cards is really only of marginal interest, the fact that they can help you to buy new weapons and gun upgrades at an even quicker rate makes them well worth hunting down.
With the usual high standard of animation and art design that you expect from Insomniac Games on display, unsurprisingly, this is the most impressive aspect of the game. Bringing a visual vibrancy that you don't see all that often, each area's been rendered to a gorgeous level of detail, with backgrounds packed so full of life that they really give a sense of scale to the planets or ships that you're visiting. On top of that, the cartoon-like character designs and animations look equally great, and any time you happen across a new enemy, it's all too tempting to let them pop off a few attacks, just so you can see their tailored animations.
Games based on movies have a pretty poor reputation on the quality front, however Ratchet & Clank emanates class in so many aspects that even referring to it as a movie tie-in sells it short. If you've never had the pleasure of enjoying this series' brand of third-person blasting before, then this is the perfect chance to see just why the property has remained popular for over a decade. Meanwhile, if you're already a fan, then this remake is a truly worthy entry in the franchise, and while it doesn't do anything particularly new of note, it's a greatest hits compilation so compelling that you won't want to skip it.