If there's one thing developer Insomniac Games can do, it's match—or exceed—expectations.
The developer that handled a global Marvel property with 2018's Spider-Man and 2020's Spider-Man: Miles Morales next turns back to its roots with this summer's Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
As accomplished as Insomniac might be, going back to a beloved, classic Sony franchise while assigned the task of doling out a next-generation summer blockbuster for the PlayStation 5 is not an easy task.
Yet veterans and new players alike should be happy to learn that Insomniac has done it again, this time taking Ratchet and Clank, joined by new hero Rivet, on a jaw-dropping journey that is bound to contend for best-of-2021 lists.
Graphics and Gameplay
Rift Apart is one of those magical presented experiences that serves as a good measuring stick for where video gaming as a whole stands at this juncture.
The organic characters in the game boast mannerisms and expressions worthy of a Pixar movie on the big screen and fur that is distinct in its brushing patterns. The ray-tracing reflections off the metallic surface of Clank's body are eye catching, in and out of cutscenes. Cosmetics show up faithfully in those cutscenes, too.
One of the things Rift Apart does best is the jaw-dropping backgrounds to each area. The wealth of movement, detail and grandness of the areas beyond the actual playable parts are engrossing, and probably the best we've seen from a video game to date.
Not that this should be too much of a surprise coming from the developers who offered up some of the most immersive cityscapes to ever grace video games in the Spider-Man realm. Rift Apart isn't an open-world game like that by any means, but the presentation of depth to areas is so robust it could easily fool onlookers.
Contrast is another thing Rift Apart does amazingly. The world players have come to know and love is bright and vibrant, while the altered dimension Nefarious City is much darker and moodier. The latter is still incredibly impressive, a lot of times almost hitting on cyberpunk vibes (especially in those backgrounds), but the tone shift is clear.
Accompanying that stellar shift in mood to fit the narrative is superb sound design that should leave the rest of the industry reaching for a new bar. The weapons are impactful and creative, the ambient noise gives a sense of a lived-in world and the voice acting doesn't have much of a rival out there.
It's slowing down and really taking everything in that allows the details to shine through. Ratchet, for example, will flip his hammer around and do tricks with it if the player doesn't touch the controller for a little while. At one point, he was doing this and the hammer hit a ball and sent it flying—it didn't merely go through it like one might expect.
While some non-player characters in the world aren't all that varied, it's a minor detail that's more than acceptable given everything else happening on screen at once. And it's easier to notice that peaceful NPCs scatter for cover once the fighting starts, which is an immersive detail.
Combat is a showcase of next-gen details. There's not a big need for enemy health bars because the damage caused to robotic enemies tells the player the state of their foes. There's also no need to look at ammo counters or recharge states of weapons when lights and indicators are so easily seen on the weapons themselves.
Reminiscent of something like the new Crash Bandicoot, Rift Apart transitions between tense platforming segments into fun on-rail scenes with quips and funny stuff peppered throughout. Add in the unique combat, and it's a stellar gameplay experience with little in the way of downtime.
Flexing the Spider-Man roots once again, Insomniac shifts the action from a playable state to cutscenes and back again—or vice versa—plenty of times during small and big setpieces alike. It's stunning to experience because everything is so stable that it's almost hard to tell when a cutscene ends and the gameplay starts. It's also worth pointing out this next-gen-feeling feature is much better than the quick-time-events (QTEs) of old that used to plague games.
Leave it to Insomniac to make the most of new hardware from a gameplay perspective. Like Returnal, Rift Apart is the latest PS5 release to lean all the way into the new vibration technology built into the controller. Half-trigger pulls and full presses perform different functions across certain weapons, making for a rewarding experience filled with feedback. It also would seem to remove extra button or menu prompts just to change firing modes.
The core mechanics of the series have been refined further here and won't blow anyone away. Aiming, platforming and chaining wall-runs and grappling together is simple enough. So is flicking through some oldish-feeling weapon wheels on the fly in the middle of combat.
Those wheels don't always feel the most responsive, and it's going to take players a long time to memorize what is where on them once the weapon unlocks start flowing. It can also be hard to keep track of what's happening in big battles because of the camera, but it doesn't disrupt the fun often.
In true Ratchet & Clank form, the combat is a silly romp that doesn't let up and boss battles, even early on, just escalate it to giant proportions. It's a blast, as is discovering new weapons and experimenting with them throughout the game's expansive story.
Story and More
Said story is right in line with what fans of the series might expect. Right out of the gates, one of the heroes gets transported to a different timeline where the series-long big bad Dr. Nefarious is an emperor and said hero finds an alternate version of his sidekick.
It's a thrilling ride from there, with gigantic set pieces and relaxing downtime. Rift Apart represents the apex of the series, if not gaming, in the way it can slip in some genuine laugh-out-loud humor amid the chaos and even dramatic story beats (early in the game, a password scene comes to mind).
While the visuals and humor are aimed at younger audiences, there are some grander, more mature themes at play that adults will feast on. Namely, the examination of well-known characters in alternate dimensions when they are radically changed by their surroundings.
Also impressive is that each of the big three characters gets to shine in their own way.
This makes the game accessible to veterans of the series or newcomers alike.
There is a wealth of difficulty options to keep the playing field even for all types of players. There's even the ability to skip a puzzle if players don't want to rack their brains and just get back to the good stuff. It's all aimed at a good time for as many players as possible—we even got stuck in the world once thanks to a foolish bit of jumping; the game recognized it and reset us.
Rift Apart has a massive list of accessibility options in the menus and enough in the way of presentation and gameplay that would make even PC games blush.
Each gun has levels to grind that enable more purchasable slots on its individual skill tree. Things like increased range, finding more ammo and other slots dot each gun's skill tree. If players explore enough, there are always resources available. Even better, going all-in on one or two guns creates a special sort of attachment to the weapons.
Completionists should have a huge time sink here. Each area in the game has its own map with a wealth of things to do on it, including alternate dimension challenges that are mostly great fun and varied while offering cosmetic rewards for besting them. There are little nonessential sidequests that offer the same thing.
The game goes out of its way to reward players who explore every nook and cranny. Finding Gold Bolts unlocks rare rewards, if not cheats. And uncovering Spybots, Bears and other items does much the same.
In short, Rift Apart can be as deep or simple as a player wants it to be, which is another strong mark in the positive column.
To say Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a good speedrunning game would be a gross understatement.
To this day, the last main installment in the series—Ratchet & Clank on PlayStation 4, released in 2016—has speedrunners duking it out for the No. 1 spot on the global leaderboards daily. As of this writing? The world record is under the 25-minute mark.
Much goes into a special run on a game in this series, though the most important thing in the most recent installment is proper map knowledge and timing. That enables clutch jumps, even out of bounds while taking damage, to make player-created shortcuts that shave off times and reach usually-inaccessible areas.
For Rift Apart on release, speedrunning is quite a bit simpler. Smashing through any dialogue and cutscenes is a must. So is avoiding combat when possible. Yes, collecting drops from enemies and crates would be nice, but the idea isn't to upgrade a ton of different things that require a lot of parts, anyway.
The goal is to pump everything into the shotgun weapon found early in the game. It's a monster of a weapon and upgrading it increases its range. Pumping all upgrades into that and only swapping off when ammo runs out seems to be the way to go.
Otherwise, the simple time investment that is memorizing maps, searching for shortcuts and figuring out what's essential will make for the best early runs. This will still get refined for years to come, but for now, the competitive scene and the different styles of play are such to make this is a speedrunning hit.
As expected, Insomniac has thrown out another instant classic for the PlayStation 5.
While Rift Apart doesn't do much in the way of the unexpected, it's so refined, immersive and a display of what gaming at its peak looks like right now that it's hard not to come away impressed. That it can appeal to players of any age and skill range just adds to the applaud-worthiness of the feat.
It's not often that a game comes along capable of appealing to so many with a huge fun factor with virtually no issues or exploitative features.
Yet Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is just that; it's a must-play showcase of both the PlayStation 5 and this new generation of consoles.