For a game that leaps from one universe to another, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart itself sure feels like a game from another dimension.
It’s immediately familiar, but is also something that doesn’t quite fit into a modern gaming landscape where the biggest and most popular releases last anywhere from 50 hours to, well, basically forever. Rift Apart steps up, tells its story, and never overstays its welcome while also delivering a dazzling and beautiful cross-dimensional adventure of its own. All in just 15 hours.
Blockbuster games don’t do that anymore. But then you remember: This is how Ratchet games go, and it’s a particular talent for developer Insomniac Games. The studio has spent the five years since Ratchet & Clank hit PlayStation 4 in 2016 sharpening its skills on a pair of excellent Spider-Man games that, when you think about it, also kept things tight and focused. You can feel the lessons learned from those breaking through in Rift Apart.
This latest grand adventure for Ratchet, the last Lombax in the universe, and his friend-slash-plucky robot sidekick Clank, starts off innocently enough. The pair are the stars of a parade celebrating their recent defeat of the villainous Dr. Nefarious, but the revelry is interrupted when Nefarious shows up and makes off with a special gun that can tear open holes between dimensions.
It’s not long before Ratchet, Clank, and Nefarious land on the wrong side of a dimensional portal. In this new universe, the formerly free peoples have been subjugated by Emperor Nefarious and his robot armies. The only thing standing in his way is a small rebel force led by another last living Lombax, and her name is Rivet.
The planet-hopping adventure that follows is vintage Ratchet, with you taking control of both Lombaxes as you run and gun your way through intricately detailed planetscapes brimming with life and activity. Standing between you and your goal of saving the universe — really, multiple universes when you think about it — is an army of baddies ready to stand in your way…and explode into a shower of Bolts, the primary form of currency, when defeated.
Image: INSOMNIAC GAMES
Ratchet & Clank games are all about the dopamine rush that’s set off by a satisfying Bolt deluge or a fearsome squad of Nefarious cronies getting blasted to pieces in unison by one of your over-the-top weapons. Feel is everything, and Rift Apart nails it thanks in large part to the power and capability of Sony’s new PlayStation 5.
It’s more than just the broad category of “graphics.” Yes, it’s mesmerizing to watch Rivet or Ratchet’s fur ripple as they move, or to watch the world fold in on itself when you use the new Rift Tether glove to grab hold of a shimmering yellow tear in the fabric of space-time and teleport yourself across a map. The cyberpunk noir look of the first location you visit is all smoky filtered light and neon splashes reflecting off of polished surfaces.
Progress is one of the most appealing rewards in Rift Apart, with each new unlocked location promising a new bounty of delights that dazzle the eye. Every place you visit has a distinct character and feel, from the sludgy marshes of a swamp world where speedy, hard-shelled bugs are a preferred form of travel to the blasted-out remains of a planet that’s been blasted to pieces, its craggy remains connected by little more than the lingering pull of gravity and odd bits of debris.
But I also mentioned feel, this ineffable quality that’s the product of many different design disciplines coming together and capturing lightning in a bottle. Insomniac nailed it here. In “Performance” mode, which you select from the visual settings menu, Rift Apart cruises at a pleasingly smooth 60 frames per second. “Performance RT” adds ray tracing, a newfangled graphics feature that essentially equates to higher fidelity light and shadow effects, at the cost of some resolution while maintaining that 60 FPS.
Ratchet & Clank games are all about the dopamine rush and ‘Rift Apart’ nails it thanks to the PS5.
There’s also a “Fidelity” mode specifically for people who just crave gorgeous visual effects at the highest resolution possible, but that option also locks the game at a much more chunky-feeling 30 FPS. The choice here is totally subjective, but still relatively new for people who game on consoles. If you’re not used to playing games at 60 FPS, embrace the resolution hit and give Performance a shot. You likely won’t notice any difference in the graphics but you’ll definitely feel the smoother gameplay.
In that regard, Rift Apart doesn’t do a lot to reinvent Ratchet & Clank games. The Rift Tether is the biggest addition. Its main use at first is tapping into those space-time rips for quick movement around the maps, but it factors mostly into puzzles and finding your way to a given objective. A few of the bigger battle moments feature some tactically positioned Rift Tether portals, but I didn’t find myself using them most of the time.
The new glove also eventually unlocks an ability that lets Rivet or Ratchet dodge, and that one is a legitimate game-changer. Being able to time a dodge so you zip through damaging area attacks and enemy death rays is a revelation for Ratchet games and it feels so good, like a missing piece for the series that was always meant to be here. I never got tired of narrowly escaping death as I zig-zagged around battle spaces.
That glove is really the biggest shake-up to the Ratchet formula in Rift Apart. The new game does introduce a handful of weapons to complement a familiar arsenal from the last game — a lineup that features standard forms of firepower, such as a rocket launcher or sniper rifle, as well as more far-out stuff, like the Glove of Doom that spawns aggressive little helper robots to fight for you. The most unusual new killing tool is the Topiary Sprinkler, a stationary turret that briefly stuns any enemy it hits while also turning them into artful shrubbery.
Even the standard weapons feel great, though, and it’s once again a product of the fancy PS5 tech. Just about every firearm in Rift Apart uses the DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers in some way. So The Enforcer, a new electricity-spewing shotgun, unloads with only one of its barrels when you half-press the trigger to fire. Pressing it all the way unleashes both barrels.
Image: INSOMNIAC GAMES
Again, feel is subjective. But the adaptive triggers, which allow developers to tweak the tension of a trigger pull, are used to great effect here. The artificially applied tightness that you feel at the edge of a half-press is easy to pick up on, and it’s rewarding to use once you get the hang of things and start thinking about mastering each weapon. A good thing, too, since Rift Apart doesn’t let you turn that feature off.
Like most other Ratchet games, the action is broken up by an assortment of puzzles. Sometimes it’s an exciting platforming exercise that has you leaping from surface to surface while peppering in occasional wall running, rail-grinding, and Rift Tethering. Other times you’re operating inside a virtual simulation, clearing out computer viruses or guiding an infinitely respawning parade of virtual Clanks through a physics puzzle maze.
Story and presentation are where Rift Apart really shines the brightest, in the end. The plot carries very little extra baggage, resulting in a breezy adventure that’s not heavily weighed down by distracting sidequests or scads of collectibles. Those things do make their appearances, but Insomniac, in a move that mirrors its success with Spider-Man, wisely employs a light touch and amps up the value of optional pursuits by attaching them to tangible rewards.
The happy feels and kid-friendly themes make it go down easy.
So yeah, there’s a chance for you to wander around picking up doodads. But in most cases, they’re all marked on your map. And every one of these scavenger hunts leads to something good, be it a Raritanium cache, a classic weapon or a new piece of stat-boosting armor. (Armor is a new addition in Rift Apart, and you don’t need to wear a particular piece to enjoy the stat boosts it offers.)
The presence of two playable heroes is also handled deftly, with Rift Apart swapping control back and forth between Ratchet and Rivet depending on the planet you visit. The two Lombaxes handle the same and share the same arsenal and upgrades, so there’s only one character sheet to keep track of, but their emotional journeys see them traveling separate (yet complementary) paths.
While both are the ostensible last of their kind, Ratchet is a newcomer to this universe. He’s dealt with being the last of his kind for his whole life, and Rift Apart isolates him even further when he and Clank get separated early on. The quest to find his friend and ultimately stop Nefarious leads Ratchet to some new yet vaguely familiar allies who help him rediscover his sense of purpose.
Clank is the vehicle that carries us into Rivet’s story. She meets up with the little robot early in Rift Apart’s adventure and learns there’s this other universe where she has a counterpart “last Lombax.” She shares much with Ratchet in terms of her personality and outlook, but Rivet has also been hardened by the circumstances that shaped her own universe.
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The overlapping journeys of the two Lombaxes cross paths more than once (and yes, you bet your ass there’s a Clank counterpart too), fueling a compelling arc that frequently tugs at your feels as it dwells on themes of companionship and inner purpose. It’s light on surprises and pretty much devoid of plot twists in general, but the happy feels and kid-friendly themes make it go down easy.
Ratchet & Clank was great in 2016 and now Insomniac is back with this superlative successor. It’s not built to be your next forever game, and that’s fine; there is a New Game+ that introduces a few twists, and plenty of other games are out there that scratch the forever itch. But if you’re lucky enough to own a PS5 and you enjoy Ratchet’s schtick generally — or are just drawn to the idea of playing through a game that looks and feels like a Pixar movie — then Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a killer package of thrills.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will be released June 11 on PlayStation 5.
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