Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is exactly what it needs to be: a direct continuation of the beloved series doubling as a showpiece of new-generation technology. I recently saw roughly an hour of Rift Apart in action, and almost every second of play screams of nostalgia while also dazzling with a scale and speed that hasn’t been attainable for the series until PlayStation 5.
In the decades we’ve spent journeying with Ratchet and Clank, we’ve watched them battle against alien armadas and save the universe time and time again. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. One thankful civilization on a distant world is finally honoring our brave heroes with an extravagant parade. In the opening shot, we see Ratchet and Clank emerge to a sea of roaring fans seated in airborne bleachers that overlook massive balloon representations of the heroes. This single moment has so much to see, including a detailed alien cityscape on the ground far beneath the festive parade. For the opening shot, developer Insomniac Games leans into the power of PlayStation 5 to drop jaws and establish the scale players can expect as this adventure unfolds.
Ratchet and Clank are introduced as the parade’s grand marshals by none other than Captain Qwark, the megalomaniac who always seems to find a camera and microphone to sing of his own praises. In this particular moment, Qwark is narrating one of Ratchet and Clank’s adventures, which the player gets to play through on a movie-like set of an alien world set on a float. This begins the tutorial, bringing the classic Ratchet and Clank gameplay roaring back into view. We also hear the soundtrack intensify; heroic melodies from composer Mark Mothersbaugh that draw loose inspiration from his work on the motion picture Thor: Ragnarok. Insomniac Games targeted this film as the type of soundtrack it wanted, and as luck would have it, they were able to hire the man behind it.
When Ratchet’s wrench slams into a stack of boxes, the thundering score gives way to the familiar clanging of bolts, as well as age-old movements from the character, and the assistance of his friend strapped to his back. Although Ratchet is just demonstrating the moves he used in battle for the crowd, something is amiss. He’s not just taking on cardboard standees. The Blarg are here, and more are arriving in dropships. This isn’t part of the parade.
A huge battle unfolds, sending the duo hurtling across different floats and even within the skyscrapers of the city itself. Ratchet rail grinds, flips through the air, and unloads hell from a firearm called the Burst Pistol. Creative weapon designs have always been one of the key pillars of this game series, and that appears to be the case in Rift Apart. The one big difference now is that they will all feel significantly better, thanks to the DualSense controller’s unique functionality.
Most weapons take advantage of the controller’s adaptive triggers. With the Burst Pistol, the player can easily tap into two different firing modes. Pulling in the right trigger slightly unloads slow but accurate fire. Pulling the trigger full-bore creates a faster chamber rotation, but reduces accuracy. The next gun we see is the Enforcer, which appears to be Rift Apart’s equivalent of the shotgun. The lighter pull fires one barrel and the click-through fires both of them. A nice touch on this gun is two lights on its stock, which turn green when it’s ready to fire and red when it’s not (one chamber can be red, one can be green).
While these two guns are similar in usage, the Negaton Collider shows off the DualSense’s unique features when used for a charged weapon. To generate a shot, the player pulls the trigger until they feel resistance, then, when ready, pulling through will fire the beam. This method delivers the tactical choice to instantly fire with a little more effort or outright cancel the beam by releasing the trigger.
I saw six weapons in play. Along with the three aforementioned, Ratchet can equip a Shatterbomb Glove to, well, throw bombs; the Ricochet Gun that works as you would expect, and last and certainly not least, is an armament with the strange name of the Topiary Sprinkler. When this weapon connects with an enemy, a plant instantly sprouts and climbs up their body, rendering them immobile for a few seconds, and making them look like a topiary in front of a mansion.
I even see how this weapon works on a lumbering robot boss named “Wee” Roger. He too can be caught up in the vines, giving Ratchet the chance to unload hell into him. Once he’s defeated, a more powerful version of this robot appears with the upgraded name “Not-So-Wee” Roger. The bosses have health meters that are easy to read. Fans of the series will also see an ammo bar has been added above every weapon Ratchet wields, allowing you to keep better tabs on your arsenal. New depth of field has also been implemented to better frame the target you have in your sights.
The attack on the parade comes from long-time series villain Dr. Nefarious, who is here to steal the Dimensionator that Clank was planning to gift to Ratchet. Clank fixed this dangerous device so Ratchet could finally visit the dimension where all of his Lombax species reside; Ratchet is the only one in this reality. Dr. Nefarious, who is continually suffering defeat, wants to use the Dimensionator to reach a dimension where he always wins. The raytracing effects on the Doctor’s helmet look fantastic, a small but noticeable touch.
The chase to secure this universe-changing tool brings an epic war to this peaceful planet. The parade’s floats and balloons are torn asunder, sometimes with Ratchet and Clank on them, creating unstable footing with platforms rocking back and forth, making firing straight tricky.
I didn’t get to see what happens at the end of this stage, and was instead whisked away to a level much later in the game. This stage is seen through the eyes of Rivet, a new playable character, who is also a Lombax. Her dimension is at war, and she is part of the resistance. She has a purplish/pinkish fur and one of her arms is mechanical. Instead of wielding a wrench, she proudly swings a hammer.
We meet Rivet on a dusty, industrial planet that looks like it has poor air quality. Here, she bounds up cliffs, battling robotic pirate forces, and eventually squares off against a Godzilla-sized robot, which actually becomes intertwined with the platforming. She dashes across falling structures, onto the robot’s shoulders, and then onto a dangerous rail sequence that has cranes hastily laying tracks in front of her. The action looks every bit as fervent and cinematic as an Uncharted game, with everything crumbling around our hero. Insomniac also takes a cue from the Spider-Man games by intertwining story sequences right into the action.
Rivet’s move set is exactly like Ratchet’s. She can strafe (which can now be set to auto, so you don’t have to hold down the trigger), acrobatically flip through the air, and also use the series’ classic Hover Boots to gain incredible speed. Ratchet and Rivet can both perform a new move called the Phantom Dash, which phases them in and out of reality, granting them partial invincibility. This supposedly adds dimensions to combat and traversal, as it can be executed from any move. Although Rivet has been alone her entire life, she’ll eventually have Clank at her side as well through an unknown story twist.
The story and worlds determine who you play as at any given time. Clank once again gets in on this action through a new platforming minigame that has the player trying to draw power from one dimension to the next. These puzzles push the player to bounce across platforms and avoid obstacles to create a through-line for the power.
Another minigame puts the player in command of a digital spider-tank called the Glitch. It can scurry up walls and ceilings and is used to take down viruses within a program. On top of these diversions, Insomniac says two mountable beasts are in the game, one of which is a giant dragon that soars through the sky on an alien world.
Insomniac confirms that this Ratchet adventure is still level-based, but the technology behind it is more akin to an open world that constantly streams content in front of the player. It streams so fast, allowing Insomniac to load in textures in the blink of an eye. Load times are lightning quick as well. Within a second’s time, Ratchet could hop from one side of the galaxy to the next. The rifts load seamlessly too, allowing gameplay to move from one location to the next without skipping a beat. Ratchet and Rivet will eventually travel to places Insomniac calls Sync planets, which show off two versions of the same place for their respective realities. To switch to them, the player just has to hit a lever. In that time, the screen flashes white and the other version of the planet appears, looking dramatically different, yet with some clear similarities. I can't wait to see what kind of puzzle solving awaits in these alternate worlds.
The two realities also mean you’ll see two versions of the same characters. The lovely named character Skid McMarx is the lowlife stoner in the reality we know, but in the alternate dimension, he goes by the name Phantom, and is an expert hack and inventor for the resistance.
Rift Apart’s feature suite sounds extensive, giving players a photo mode, a wealth of accessibility options building upon Insomniac’s work from Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (including the ability to map a slow-motion function to the d-pad), and also the ability to customize armor, right down to its color. Armors are often the rewards delivered for completing side content.
Insomniac has been on a roll with the Spider-Man games, and Rift Apart looks every bit as epic and fun. It’s one of the few early PlayStation 5 exclusives we've seen, and it looks like the team at Insomniac is taking this new hardware for a serious ride.