You don’t need a preview for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, to be honest. That’s probably not what Sony expected us to write after inviting us to a glitzy COVID-free online event, but it’s our takeaway after watching over 30 minutes of unedited gameplay footage and listening to key creative staff talk about the PlayStation 5 title for over two hours. The Japanese giant may be charging a small fortune for its first-party software these days, but Insomniac Games’ latest is the safest $70 you’ll ever spend.
There’s no two ways about it: this game is going to be a winner. We watched the opening mission, and an extended gameplay sequence featuring Rivet, and we can’t think of a single thing we’re concerned about. The combat is even faster than its forebears, but it retains that quick-switching weapon wheel strategy that fans are familiar with; the audio design – a consistently strong but underrated aspect of PlayStation Studios titles – is out-of-this-world, and; there’s more spectacle than ever before.
Take the first few minutes of the campaign, where sprawling city Megalopolis has risen to its feet to celebrate heroes Ratchet and Clank. The scenery stretches on for miles, with large inflatables of our heroes peppering the skyline, as the pair – introduced by Captain Qwark, of course – wave at their adoring fans from flotillas inspired by past games. Things, unsurprisingly, go awry – and you find yourself bouncing on balloons, grinding rails while you’re pulled through the city at breakneck speed.
Clearly the cartoonish adventures of Nathan Drake have inspired Insomniac Games here, as there are multiple moments throughout the demo where we couldn’t help but appreciate the obvious Uncharted influences. The grind rail set-pieces, once fairly static, are now filled with moving objects, as buildings collapse and support structures see-saw. Mechanically, you’re still hopping between lanes like in PixelJunk Racers, but it’s the spectacle that drags them into a new generation.
Combat, too, subscribes to the same over-the-shoulder shooting as its predecessors – but depth of field and a sheer array of visual effects give this the kind of next-gen polish we all dreamed of when PS5 was announced. Old favourites like the Buzz Blades are accompanied by newcomers like the Ricochet: a pinball-inspired offensive weapon that lets you bounce balls on the heads of enemies, complete with retro arcade sound effects.
Ratchet & Clank has always been a busy, borderline garish series, but Rift Apart takes things to unprecedented new levels. In the Rivet portion of our demo, the new female Lombax is transported to a junk planet named Torren IV in search of the Fixer – a larger-than-life colossus capable of repairing even the most broken of objects. There’s a short narrative arc which we won’t spoil here, but at the core of this sequence is a massive combat set-piece involving a French space pirate named Pierre.
Rivet shares an arsenal with Ratchet – including upgrades and unlocks – and is just as nimble as her furry alter-ego. The Hover Boots from past instalments return with a roller-skates function, giving real mobility to traversal, while smart ammunition placement means you’ll need to work through your entire arsenal of weaponry in order to escape skirmishes with your whiskers unscathed. Gauntlets seemingly unfold in larger environments now, too, adding tactical wrinkles to the action.
But make no mistake: it’s still a Ratchet & Clank game through-and-through. Rifts allow you to quickly pull yourself towards different platforms, while dimension hopping effectively augments you with a Returnal-esque dash – but if you’re familiar with this series’ staple gameplay, then you’ll feel right at home here. Insomniac Games was eager to stress how much of a difference the DualSense makes, but we’ll need to wait until we get our grubby paws on the title to experience that for ourselves.
Of interest, during rare moments of downtime you can explore Pocket Dimensions, which the developer described as dimensional anomalies that exist within space. They’re effectively side-quests, and it pointed out that because of the very nature of these it was able to get more imaginative with the title’s mechanics, as they can exist in isolation without needing to be integrated into more traditional level design.
Completing these will unlock armour pieces, which can be mixed and matched for the first time in franchise history – in fact, you can even alter the colours if you like. The thing is, the developer’s just scratching the surface: it talked about different types of mounts that you’ll be able to fly in Panzer Dragoon-esque flying missions; it discussed, briefly, the hacking minigames which involve a Watch Dogs-style arachnoid named Glitch; don’t be surprised if there aren’t some other major secrets, too.
So in that sense, this is a Ratchet & Clank game on a different scale to the popular PS4 remake – it’s the A Crack in Time successor that fans have waited an entire console generation for. But the production values are on a different stratosphere: not just the visuals, which are absurd, but the sound of the weapons and even the musical score – composed by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh – is just so glossy and assured.
How’s it achieving this? Talent, money, and magic, we assume. The team did touch a little upon how the title isn’t open world in a traditional sense, but is using techniques typically employed by sandbox games to render as much on screen as possible. The SSD helps with that, of course – and has even allowed it to render two scenes simultaneously in real-time so that it can include some classical sci-fi transition swipes.
Like we said at the top of this page: you don’t need a preview for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, because you already know this game is going to be a hit. We had our eyeballs melted by over 30 minutes of jaw-dropping gameplay, and we could wax lyrical about it for another 1,000 words. In reality, though, just do the right thing: pay for your pre-order and wait patiently until 11th June. This is yet another PlayStation Studios project you’re going to want to play.