Blast from the past: Insomniac delivers one step forward, two steps back

Game: Ratchet and Clank
Publisher: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS4/PS4 Pro
Rating: ★★½

REVIEW
By ADHEESHA DE SILVA,
games editor 

The original Ratchet and Clank released for the PS2 in 2002 holds a nostalgic place in my heart.

First, because it’s one of the first games I played after my dad bought a PlayStation 2 for my birthday, and second, it was a game that wasn’t only fun to play, but also had an intriguing story, funny and likable characters and excellent writing.

So when studio Insomniac released a reimagining of the original using the same name for PS4, I was excited but cautious about how the game was going to play out. 

First, the positives. 2016’s Ratchet and Clank is the best-looking game in the franchise’s history. Previous entries had this Pixar/Dreamworks quality, but they never fully lived up to that standard because of the hardware limitations of the PS2 and PS3.

PS4 provides substantially more power, which Insomniac has used to make this game stunning. Vistas, characters and locations all have a level of polish that makes it stand toe to toe with current-release animated films. Light reflects off all sorts of surfaces making every environment look well realised and screenshot worthy.

 To top it all off, this game has effects galore. As Ratchet runs away while breaking boxes with his Omniwrench to get bolts (the game’s currency), it gets magnetised to him, creating a stunning and satisfying display of effects and sounds on screen.

All weapons have their own unique effects as they hit and break enemies – from the Buzz Blades sending streams of sharp weaponised disks that ricochet off to other nearby enemies, to the Predator Launcher releasing a barrage of multiple missiles simultaneously upon enemies creating a many explosions on screen.

And the game does all this with a rock solid 30 frames per second that stayed consistent for my duration of play. Even though the screen did get cluttered just by the sheer amount of stuff going on the screen, making it difficult to see what going on, this didn’t detract from my playing experience.

Speaking of weapons, this game has a lot. The series has been known to come up with some creative and even outright stupid weapons. For instance, a weapon called the Sheepinator that turns enemies into sheep. Brilliant.

A brand new addition to series, the Pixelizer, turns enemies into 8-bit pixels that break away once defeated with a classic chiptune sound. The Pyrocitor from the original game is also back.

Although, it’s weird how this game has less from the original it’s trying to reimagine, and more from later entries in the franchise, like the Groovitron from Tools of Destruction. Fan favourites from the original such as the Suck Cannon and the Visibomb Gun are not here, but it’s a small issue.

 

Weapons also have a leveling up system that was introduced in Ratchet and Clank Locked and Loaded. All weapons level up as you use them, giving an incentive for players to use all the weapons and experiment. As you level them up, weapons acquire more powerful features so you can shoot your way through robots in more creative ways.

Weapons can also be further upgraded through an upgrade tree that provides more features such as higher ammo, a larger impact radius and other special features.

Attributes in the upgrade tree are bought by collecting raretanium, which is scattered for you to find. You also get them by defeating enemies. As I was playing, I was constantly switching up weapons to upgrade them and see what new features it had.

The game also manages to keep you engaged. While you’re always either finding something or saving a planet from danger, the way you complete the tasks is different. One time you’re shooting and hitting enemies with your trusty wrench, the next time you’re on a spaceship dogfighting your way through alien shuttles, after that you’re grinding your way on rails with Ratchet’s Grind Boots and next you’re solving puzzles to find gold bolts and other collectables. 

Giant Clank from original isn’t here, which feels like a missed opportunity, but the pace and constant change in activities ensured I was never bored in my 12 hours across the galaxy.    

But now for the negatives. Even though Ratchet and Clank are the title characters, they barely talk to each other during the game. And when they do, there’s no eye contact and they feel stilted and lifeless. Conversations between them and other characters don’t fare any better. Awkward pauses are littered throughout.

Combine that with bland and cliched writing, and the story becomes very forgettable very fast. The stilted performance is made worse by the lack of expression. This is disappointing considering the original game had such witty and snarky banter that brought so much life and interest to the characters.

It’s also missing the tension you get in any great adventure story where two characters  come together unexpectedly. Ratchet and Clank meet in unusual circumstances and then they’re best friends for the rest of the game. Where’s that drama and grit the original game had? Where are the moments where the friendship is tested? It’s like the studio made this game completely forgetting the already great game it’s based on. 

The game also suffers from continuity issues. At the start, it abruptly cuts to a scene featuring the two villains, Chairman Drek and Dr Nefarious. But the scene never tells us who these characters are or what their motives are. A little while later, the game introduces Chairman Drek as if we’ve never seen him before. Similar continuity issues are littered through the game.

On one hand, PS4’s Ratchet and Clank does what a reimagining should, bringing something new, taking the parts where the source material struggled with and making them better. Insomniac did an amazing job re-creating the original games world with beautiful, colourful graphics that fit today’s console generation.

On the other hand, it diminishes the great story, writing and characters established in the original game by not bringing them over to this version. It’s not that it’s a bad story; it’s all right. But compared to the original, there’s a lot to be desired.