Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Hands-Off Preview
While Ratchet & Clank have only been absent from the gaming space for 5 years, with the 2016 remake of the original title, it has actually been a lot longer since we’d seen a fresh entry in the beloved PlayStation franchise. In actual fact it was 2013 when the PS3 entry, Into The Nexus launched. Rift Apart, while standalone in many respects, is ultimately a follow-up to the events of Into The Nexus, and other PS3 series entries like Tools of Destruction, Quest For Booty, and A Crack in Time, but brings with it, the many quality of life improvements of the 2016 entry, and other recent works like Sunset Overdrive, and both Spider-Man titles.
I was fortunate enough to watch on as 30 plus minutes of gameplay were shown, some from the game’s opening where Ratchet is being recognised by Clank and Metropolis for his many years of heroics, and a cut to an undefined future point in the game where Clank has now found himself with the once unnamed female Lombax, Rivet, where their focus is purely on survival as hordes of minions come for them. Through a combination of extended gameplay footage, and a number of presentations from the team at Insomniac, including Creative Director Marcus Smith, I can say, quite comfortably, and in no uncertain terms, that Rift Apart is shaping up to be the finest entry in the franchise to date.
One of the major focuses of Insomniac in the narrative sense is upon broadening the narrative beyond the main hook for each game. Smith stated, “While focussing on the personal relationships in the game, we’re also putting more emphasis on every planet you visit, not only be adding more life to the environment, but by having the planets have their own unique story”, and this focus was evident in the gameplay, with the inhabitants of the world around you, whether they’re peaceful or a threat, all living their own lives, going about their own actions, only to deviate with those actions, if you intervene. Whether it was moving through Nefarious City, or the other, more natural environments, it’s clear that Insomniac has worked hard on implementing this focus, and from the small slice of the game that I’ve seen, it appears to be paying dividends.
With Ratchet and Clank having both been pulled into an alternate dimension by the evil Doctor Nefarious, one where he always wins, longtime fans of the franchise are going to see some interesting takes on established faces. Rivet for example, is alternate dimension Ratchet, Skid McMarx isn’t the cool guy, hoverboard champion that we all know, but is now known as Phantom, a resistance fighter. There are bound to be many more interesting and entertaining changes inbound, with the interdimensional takes on Captain Qwark for example yet to be revealed. Rivet is of course the main focus here, and despite being the alt-world Ratchet, she does have her own unique feel. Lead Writer Lauren Mee, and Senior Animator Lindsay Thompson discussed how Rivet is a lone-wolf, and that has a significant impact on the way she interacts with the world around her. WIth Clank joining her, for at least part of the game, it will be interesting to see how her character grows as the game progresses.
Of course, for as improved as the narrative and storytelling may be, players have long been coming to the franchise for the gameplay, and the gunplay, so Insomniac staff Game Director Mike Daly, Core Tech Director Mike Fitzgerald, Lead Gameplay Programmer Adam Noonchester provided insights into the many inclusions present in the new game. The trio highlighted changes and inclusions that have come to many weapons in the game, auto-strafing, ammo counts embedded in the aim reticle, and more, but the point about the gunplay that will stand out the most is the alt-fire systems that stem from the Dualsense’s adaptive triggers. Much like recent exclusive title Returnal, players can pull the trigger back part of the way for one type of shot, while pushing through the trigger’s resistance to fire in a different fashion. In the case of the Burst Pistol, the key difference is in fire-rate and accuracy, the Enforcer has two built in points of resistance to pull through, resulting in different shots, a single blast, or two. Noonchester spoke of how this type of thinking was applied to all the weapons in the game, and given the ridiculous nature of many guns in the Ratchet franchise, exploring the possibilities of these systems will be a massive part of the fun. Moving away from the arsenal, and Rift Apart introduces a new evasive maneuver, the Phantom Dash. It allows both Ratchet, and Rivet to phase through reality, allowing you to dodge enemy shots, to gain a speed boost, or to even defy gravity, Daly spoke of how much flexibility it adds to combat as well as traversal.
Pocket Dimensions, which are smaller and more focussed in scope, give players opportunities to experiment and further develop their skills with a tool or moveset, but reward you with armour upon completion, offering you a new look, but also stat perks to improve your play. There are also a number of mounts included, of the ground based and aerial variety to change up the speed og the game. You’ve seen the speed-snail like creature from the recent State of Play, and Insomniac has promised more cool inclusions in the final game. Finally, there’s the arachnodroid named Glitch, a spider-tank who helps Ratchet pass some computer-based obstacles.
One of the most impressive parts of the presentation was how Insomniac is addressing accessibility. The Ratchet franchise has been hard to approach to some simply due to the demanding platforming requirements that hindered those without the dexterity to grind and shoot, or combine inputs to progress. As well as bringing forward all the accessibility features from their latest work, Spider-Man Miles Morales, Insomniac have added a “global time-slow” feature, which can be mapped to the D-Pad, and when activated slows the game down for the player to execute the necessary maneuver before continuing. There are a number of new features to support players with sensory impairments as well, some fantastic additions layered on top of what was already present in Miles Morales.
For as stunning as Rift Apart had looked in trailers to this point, seeing it in action is something else altogether. Insomniacs, Grant Hollis, Daniel Bircyznski, and returning speakers Lindsay Thompson, Mike Fitzgerald all discussed the various improvements that are visible in Rift Apart. Much of this relates to the materials used. Clank’s stainless steel form allowed the team to further develop their work on reflections, and of course ray-tracing technology has made an enormous difference to how light reflects and refracts off of him. The worlds of Ratchet & Clank have always looked quite pristine, but with the raw power of the PS5 behind it, the locations you visit in Rift Apart look better than ever. The world is busy, full of life, and yet, despite all of that activity, everything looks quite believable thanks to wonderful animations, combined with lighting and smartly implemented cinematic to gameplay transitions. In terms of both audio, and visuals, the team referenced their goals for film quality, specifically citing Pixar on a couple of occasions. It’s fair to say though, that based on the small sample I’ve seen, that they’ve well and truly reached that goal.
In every corner you look, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart oozes quality. What Insomniac has done to make a world that isn’t at all familiar, feel natural, and strangely familiar is outstanding, while the moment-to-moment gameplay looks the best it has ever been. The game takes full advantage of the PS5 hardware, both through the console hardware and the Dualsense to create a title that is overwhelming on the senses. Now only a month away, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is looking right on track to meet the lofty expectations fans have had since its debut last year.
Born and bred on the Super Nintendo era, Paul relishes any opportunity to sink his teeth into an RPG, action or platformer. Despite being an owner of all major platforms, Paul does have a particular love of the Playstation family of consoles – take only a few minutes to skim through his Twitter and you’ll see him ranting about the next big thing on PS4. We swear he’s sane.