Ratchet & Clank is a game based on a film that’s based on a game, but it’s also a re-imagining of the game that the film is based on. Got it? Delayed to coincide with said film’s release (and also so a little more polish could be applied), Ratchet & Clank 2016 game not film won’t revolutionise the shooter-platformer genre, but it also seems unlikely to disappoint the series’ many fans. Not bad for a game from a franchise that’s almost old enough to drive.
If that sounds like faint praise, it isn’t intended as such. With eight core titles and five spin-offs released in just over a decade, the R&C franchise is one of the most successful in video game history. It’s so consistently good, you can pick up and play almost any of its entries to immediately understand its draw. Spyro creator Insomniac Games hit upon a winning formula at the series’ outset, mixing up responsive gap-jumping and satisfying foe bashing with oodles of character, charming graphics, and the most creative weapons in all of video gaming (sorry, Saints Row). Like Pixar’s movies, the R&C franchise is aimed at kids and young teens, but there’s plenty in there for adults, too.
However, despite steady iteration and even the odd bout of experimentation (the tower defence-heavy Full Frontal Assault, for example), the formula cannot help but be overly-familiar. It’s not stale, exactly, more extremely comfortable, like your favourite old pair of trackpants. Apparently I have missed those trackies though: the press preview build of Ratchet & Clank Sony sent us was six planets/three hours long, and I played the whole thing through and then some. It’s still incredibly satisfying to smash a pile of crates with your OmniWrench and watch the nuts, bolts, and gears within fly towards Ratchet as if he were at least half-magnet, and the shooting, gap jumping, and gadgets remain similarly great.
And to be fair, this isn’t just a graphically gussied-up version of the game of the same name that hit PS2 in 2002 (although it certainly does look nice, with plenty of background detail and a solid frame rate). It also collects the more successful features from other games in the series, greatest-hits style, and so there are weapon and health upgrades (including Raritanium upgrades), weapons from titles beyond the first, and even some brand-new weapons. And you can strafe, which apparently wasn’t possible in the original. Imagine that.
The best new weapon is the Proton Drum, an area of effect weapon that deploys a pulsing electrical orb that continuously damages nearby enemies in a similar fashion to the Nightmare Box from Into the Nexus. However, the coolest new weapon is the Pixelizer, which turns enemies into 8-bit versions of themselves.
There’s also a new section of play wherein you help Clank escape his homeworld of Quartu before his fateful meeting with Ratchet. It’s short and not particularly memorable, except that it actually uses the infamous “run out of the screen” camera angle to good effect as you flee a rampaging Warbot.
The preview build also showcased a new flying sequence wherein Ratchet shoots down slow-moving and defenseless enemy ships before scooping up robotic troops and dropping them to detonate a large warship. It’s a smooth passage of play taking place over a pretty and bustling city, but it’s not challenging in the least, and it’s weird that your ship is unable to do a loop. It feels like a good idea in need of some expansion, but perhaps there is more later on in the game.
There are other concessions to modern gaming: a new collectible card system unlocks bonuses and doles out facts about about prior games in the series, and the d-pad functions as a weapon quick select for those reluctant to use the radial menu mapped to the Y button. There’s also more than an hour of new cinematics in the finished game, so it’ll be interesting to see how much crossover there is with the movie.
According to Sony, the ground levels of Veldin and Kerwan have been almost completely reworked, but looking at footage from the original game on YouTube, it doesn’t seem drastically different. However, given that many people playing this title won’t be familiar with the first, that’s hardly a problem. And honestly, while I recognised most environments and a few passages of play, the original is so old now that I still enjoyed revisiting them.
All-up, Ratchet & Clank looks like it’s going to emerge from this rebirth a very competent, very polished update that has lost the element of wonder and surprise. However, the series is so good gameplay and character-wise that veterans will be tempted to revisit it (although, NZ$70 is pretty steep). Newcomers, of course, will be strongly advised to check it out. Whichever camp you fall into, don't feel bad: everyone puts their comfy sweatpants on one leg at a time.