Ratchet and Clank (2016)

I have great memories of Ratchet and Clank. One of the titans of the PS2 era of platformers, the trilogy was definitely a set of games I returned to with some regularity over the years, particularly after it saw a remaster on the PS3. I fell off a little after the series continued, though not for them being bad games but I suppose more due to lack of access or changing taste. I was vaguely aware that in 2016 a movie was released, and in turn a game based on it came out; given that it showed up as a free game on PS4 I figured I’d give it a whirl!

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Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

Released Apr 2016 | Developed: Insomniac | Published: Sony

Genre: Platformer, Third-Person Shooter

I wasn’t really expecting Ratchet and Clank to be a remake of the first game. Granted that’s because I didn’t know the film was loosely based on it either, but there we go. As such, just as in the original 2002 game, we’re introduced to Ratchet, a young mechanic on the planet Veldin who dreams of a life exploring the stars and saving lives alongside the heroic Captain Qwark. When a ship crash lands he finds in the wreckage a small robot named Clank. Clank has escaped from the war factories of Chairman Drek, a megalomaniacal businessman whose soldiers are invading planets across the galaxy. Together the duo decide to try and enlist the help of Qwark and the Galactic Rangers to stop Drek.

Here’s where some of the differences start to crop up as this remake starts to add in new elements to the story adapted from the movie. For a start, the very opening is set in jail, where an imprisoned Captain Qwark recounts the events of the game to a fellow convict. I admit to not being a huge fan of this change since it dismantles the plot twist that Qwark is a coward who takes any opportunity to backstab Ratchet when he realises his popularity is being usurped. It functions well enough as a framing device, but it strikes me as an unnecessary addition since it primarily serves only to add in cutscenes that weren’t needed in the original. Speaking of pointless additions, Ratchet and Clank adds in Dr Nefarious to its roster as an extra villain. The doctor is a favourite recurring villain of the franchise and he’s always been good fun but I don’t understand why he’s in this game; he doesn’t add anything to the story that wasn’t already fulfilled by Chairman Drek himself. It smacks of a type of fanservice which is fine but superfluous.

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Early on Ratchet manages to impress the Galactic Rangers and is invited into their ranks which I gather is a conceit of the film – I think the Rangers were barely a part of the original if at all – and it serves as a vehicle to introduce a handful of other new faces to fill out their ranks. These are all one-dimensional stock characters lifted straight from the pages of TV Tropes. These non-characters and their inane, tame banter with Ratchet are peppered across the game and not one of them adds anything of note. It feels like things were added for the sake of doing so because it’s a flashy remake of the first game, rather than carefully curating the experience. The writing also seems to have gotten worse somehow. The original’s humour was corny and childish but that fitted the feel of the game; now we have cliche lines dribbling from the mouths of the generic crew of the Rangers and even Ratchet and Clank themselves seem to have had their personalities drained and distilled to simplistic drab shadows of their former selves.

There are also more cutscenes than ever and the game is interspersed with what I can only assume are clips from the film or new clips animated to match the film’s CGI as closely as possible. Whenever they show up it was my cue to sigh and sit back because you can guarantee nothing interesting is going to happen; it’s just cookie-cutter hijinks lifted from any dime-a-dozen kids action movie, and it hurts to see Ratchet and Clank reduced to it. They do look good though; in fact, the game looks incredible! The remastered planets look astounding, with tons of expressive animations and gorgeous landscapes, and fans of colourful explosions and effects will find a lot to love as Ratchet’s weapons fire off in crazy multicolour bursts. Personally I’m of the opinion that because Ratchet and Clank has always been bright and cartoony the franchise’s visuals have aged gracefully and thankfully Insomniac have made sure to recreate the charm and flair of the art style when remastering and redesigning the game for this version.

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Most of the planets from the original make a return, though not all. Some were cut due to a lack of time and resources, which is a shame, but what we do get is recreated – and in some cases expanded – beautifully. I get the same feeling from seeing these levels again as I did revisiting the Dragon Homeworlds or Avalar in Spyro Reignited, a mix of nostalgia and wide-eyed wonder which perfectly recaptures the joy of playing the original for the first time, and for that Insomniac should be commended. There are some new levels which I assume are added to tie in with the film and these are by far the weakest parts of the game, but thankfully they aren’t numerous. Some planets get expanded with new sections and these are also kind of a drag to be honest; the pacing really takes a dive when you have to spend time collecting brains for a mad scientist or deal with lengthy puzzle-platformer sequences controlling Clank, but on the whole the experience of playing the original is well-preserved.

The core gameplay is definitely a welcome survivor of the reimagining. Ratchet and Clank’s typical gameplay is a blend of 3rd-person shooting and old-fashioned 3D platforming, with an emphasis on fast-paced and often deeply goofy combat. Ratchet and Clank 2016 makes sure to add in some of the quality of life upgrades that were missing from the original, such as a decent way to strafe, and the end result is one of the smoothest Ratchet and Clank experiences I’ve had the joy of playing. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ratchet and Clank game without nutty weapons and in that the game certainly delivers. I think most of the guns are brought in from previous titles, but that’s fine because at least they chose well; I’ll always have a soft spot for tools like the Sheepinator, a ray gun which transforms enemies into sheep (obviously) and Mr. Zurkon, a robot who flies next to you taking potshots at enemies and who supplies a steady stream of hilariously bloodthirsty one-liners. Perhaps the best new gun was the Pixelizer, a shotgun which turns enemies into low-res pixel versions of themselves before they shatter in a deeply satisfying hail of voxels. 

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Guns level up as you use them, improving their damage before eventually evolving into a new, upgraded form, so you’re encouraged to switch your weapons constantly as relying on only one or two will leave you struggling if they run out of ammo against tougher enemies. By collecting Raritanium players can upgrade weapons individually at shops, improving stats incrementally as well as unlocking big boosts which can alter the properties of each gun. On top of it, Ratchet and Clank is a platformer, so the odd gameplay changes are to be expected; there’s a couple of starship dogfights thrown in, as well as the aforementioned Clank puzzles to work through along the way. Thankfully these aren’t huge parts of the game, and most of it is the fantastic core loop of combat, platforming, and smashing everything you can with your wrench and hoovering up the bolts which are this game’s currency. It might be more or less unchanged since 2002 but frankly it doesn’t need to do any different; Ratchet and Clank is as good to play in 2021 as it was 19 years ago. 

Any platformer worth its salt must naturally have a bunch of collectibles to gather; for Ratchet and Clank that takes the form of Gold Bolts. These are hidden in each level, and all require you to either solve some ambitious platforming or deal with some light puzzle solving. I quite like the reward for collecting them; not content on dealing out nostalgia by way of being a good remake, Ratchet and Clank also includes in-game cheats and extras which are unlocked as you gather Gold Bolts and it’s amazing how much of a draw that is! It’s so refreshing to have a game with these in-built options rather than have extra costumes or cheats locked away behind a DLC paywall. These are all in classic Ratchet and Clank fashion, ranging from new costumes for Ratchet and paint jobs for his ship to fun amusements like a sepia film mode or silly head models; I’m reminded of Uncharted, which has a similar variety of unlockables, and I liked them there too. For an added bonus, Ratchet and Clank 2016 adds in collectible cards which can be found hidden in levels or dropped at random by enemies. These are basically only for show, although getting full sets of connected cards unlocks small passive bonuses, like marginally more gems or Raritanium being dropped. It feels like a completionist trap however, and the randomness of the card drops is a bit of a pain, although that is mitigated somewhat by being able to trade in duplicates for cards not yet found. 

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So, although the reimagined story is a bit of a dud, the gameplay is better than ever; is that enough to recommend Ratchet and Clank? Absolutely! I’ll always have a soft spot for platformers, and I can suppose that anyone who shares my nostalgia will also enjoy this game, but it’s also reasonably simple and a solid recommendation for those who want a straightforward and fairly short game to cruise through in a few afternoons. It feels very important to me that the charm of the series has been preserved as much as the gameplay, so that it still feels like an authentic Ratchet and Clank experience, and for series purists I’d say that’s about as good a praise as it gets. 

5/7 – GREAT.

Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.

 

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