There’s nothing quite like Ratchet & Clank. The diverse, engaging combat, puzzles, and exploration alone separate the duo from the pack, and that’s just the tip of the Omniwrench. Wonderfully wacky weaponry, beautiful alien worlds, charmingly quirky characters, and satisfyingly rewarding RPG elements – there’s just so much to love. And it’s all intact 14 years later on the PS4.
As a re-imagining of the 2002 original, Ratchet & Clank acts as the perfect spot for newcomers to jump in, and as an excellent opportunity to set-up the universe and characters built through the series’ long history. We meet Ratchet; a mechanic who dreams of becoming a Galactic Ranger alongside the famous Captain Qwark, and Clank; a Warbot defect, built with knowledge of an evil agenda unfolding beneath the leadership of Chairman Drek. Together, Ratchet & Clank set off to aid the Galactic Rangers and bring an end to Drek’s maniacal scheme.
If you’ve played the PS2 classic, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where things go, but don’t expect a note-for-note retelling. While there’s a lot of improvement here, it also feels a little thin at points. Captain Qwark is explored as a character significantly more this time around, but Ratchet and Clank’s friendship is intended to be immediately accepted, rather than tested and developed as it was in the original.
I found that some of the characters introduced early in the game felt irrelevant until much deeper into the story too, presumably in an attempt to stay in line with the companion film without stepping on its toes. Conversely, series lore from later in the franchise is established and developed lovingly here. Mentions of the Protopet and Neftin Prog, exciting Easter eggs, and the infamous Dr. Nefarious playing a pivotal role in the narrative all make this feel like part of the wider universe of R&C, even if we haven’t seen it yet.
If Ratchet & Clank is famous for one thing, it’s the creatively destructive arsenal Ratchet has at his disposal. Shooting is the core mechanic here, and thanks to modernised controls and updated enemy behaviour, it’s more fun than ever. Firefights are intense, explosive encounters, encouraging movement and acrobatics while an extensive catalogue of weapons keeps combat strategically satisfying and continually evolving.
The Groovitron is a throwable disco ball, forcing enemies to cease attacking and dance, the Pixelizer turns foes into sheets of voxels, and Mr. Zurkon is a smack-talking assistant assassin, for example. Weapons have distinctive strengths and weaknesses, meaning you’ll figure out which tool of destruction you prefer for each type of enemy. Beyond this, I found myself using four or five weapons in conjunction with one another, throwing down a Groovitron and a Proton Drum, pulling out Mr. Zurkon and blasting some Blarg with the Pixelizer.
There’s so much here beyond the shooting, though. What makes Ratchet & Clank great is that you’re always doing something different. Competing in a hoverboard race, manning a planetary defense turret, grinding a precarious rail, hacking a terminal via clever puzzle, and shooting down enemies in your ship split up the shooting and keep things exciting. Beyond that still, are sections starring Clank. You’ll play as the endearing robot and solve environmental puzzles using Powerbots, Springbots, and Bridgebots. For all the action R&C has to offer, there’s no shortage of puzzles.
The hooks tying all of this together are the games levelling and collecting systems. Smashing crates and blasting baddies nets Ratchet bolts used to purchase weapons and ammunition. As Ratchet defeats any who stand in his way, he gains experience, increasing his maximum health. Weapons also level up as they’re used, encouraging the player to use them all and fully up your arsenal. Weapons can be modified even further using an upgrade grid at the expense of raritanium. On top of that, collectible Holocards provide bonuses to how much bolts or raritanium you earn once you complete a set of three. I love that Holocards detail settings, characters and weapons from previous R&C titles, but that won’t mean something to everyone. It’s a nebulous but simple series of systems, satiating all needs for progression while providing plenty of goals to accomplish beyond beating the game.
As has always been R&C tradition, completing the story unlocks Challenge Mode; a playthrough wherein you keep all your weapons and experience. The brilliance of Challenge Mode is that the rewards keep coming. Level a weapon up to V5 and complete the corresponding Holocard set, and you’ll be able to buy the Omega version of said weapon, which can then be levelled further to V10. Those will set you back a bunch of bolts, but fear not, for Challenge Mode also employs a bolt multiplier. Take out the opposition without being hit and your multiplier rises. Stay undamaged for long enough to reach a 20X multiplier and you’ll be raking in some serious booty. It’s more than sufficient in keeping the game fresh and fun for a second playthrough, though it can be a nuisance finding enemies to level up those last couple of weapons at the end of the game.
Ratchet & Clank is a stunningly beautiful game. The series has always boasted incredible art direction, but it wasn’t until the PS3 era that the hardware could fully convey the beautiful designs. On the PS4, Insomniac have taken another considerable leap forward, providing unparalleled worlds and intricate characters. Dozens of times I found myself stopping to enjoy a view. The first time I had a good look at Ratchet’s in-game model in the shop menu I was awestruck. Battles fill the screen with dozens of extreme effects, gorgeously lighting up the world in so many different ways. Where it shines, Ratchet & Clank is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen.
There is a flip-side to this, though. While scenes ripped straight from the film are a perfect aesthetic fit, some of the in-game cutscenes are disappointing. It’s not that they look bad, but they’re a noticeable downgrade side-by-side with the movie scenes and lack the expressive animation I expect from the series. Some look great, with Ratchet reacting believably while plenty feel robotic and lifeless. More like a conversation in The Elder Scrolls than an R&C game. It’s a shame that while this game is an absolute masterpiece at its best, its worst is less impressive than even the original 2002 release. It may not undermine modern standards, but it fails to meet the standards it has set for itself.
When it comes to sound, Ratchet & Clank is emotive, fun and exciting. Voice acting is great all around, fully expressing each character’s bombastic personality. Weapons sound explosive, powerful and silly. The score is sweeping and encouraging, enhancing each planet’s distinct vibe. It doesn’t quite have the personality of David Bergeaud’s original soundtrack, but it does the job and does it well.
Ratchet & Clank is so much fun, so beautiful, and so rewarding to play. There are always loads of goals to work towards, and you’re never doing the same thing for too long. This is just how this kind of game should be. It isn’t without its flaws and certainly isn’t the perfect Ratchet game I’ll continue to dream of, but it is a wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable experience twice through. While it doesn’t top the heights of the series in all regards, this is the definitive, exemplary Ratchet & Clank experience.