It all seemed so familiar, but yet, everything feels new and improved. As Insomniac Games gave us a closed-doors gameplay presentation of the upcoming Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, it is impossible not to think that this is a new dawn for the franchise, as the PlayStation 5 is the perfect console to add another dimension to the much-beloved franchise.
Following the events of 2013’s Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, we once again find ourselves catching up to our heroes, Ratchet the Lombax and Clank the ever-dependable robot sidekick. Only this time, they are getting celebrated for their exploits over the years.
Even as Ratchet worries over the fact that the duo has not done anything heroic for years, the way his fur sways in motion, the pristine animation of his every movement, and how the light reflects off Clank just reflects the fact that this is Insomniac Games at its best. The level of craft and expertise easily rivals some of Pixar’s best work, and there is no better compliment than that.
The hardware that provides the foundation for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is undoubtedly put to good use, with the worlds looking fantastic and alive, and every quiet moment an opportunity to marvel at the minute details the developers have put in. The heroic pair has never looked, moved, or seemingly played better.
And what a time to do so. With Clank having repaired the Dimensionator, the lovable metal buddy is looking to reunite Ratchet with the rest of his species. However, plans inevitably get messed up, and Dr Nefarious gets his hands on the device. Ratchet and Clank are tossed into a strange and dark dimension, one where Nefarious rules with an iron claw. To makes matters worse, Ratchet is separated from his pal, and so begins our adventures.
A New Beginning… of sorts
This journey to save the world as the dynamic duo is not exactly new. As Creative Director Marcus Smith puts it, “they are duality incarnate, stronger than the sum of their parts, they’re always facing challenges that are bigger than them, and they’re always made better not because they are alike, but specifically due to their differences.”
“This core idea has been what the franchise has been from the beginning. Two unlikely heroes, friends until the end, against the odds, taking on adventures to stop evildoers.”
Yet, with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, the story is now “even more personal” as we dive deeper into the heroes we have known since 2002. “Internal struggles take a more central role” this time around, and players will get “to focus on how characters relate to one another.”
“Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart continues to centre around the core action-adventure but incorporates modern storytelling elements that will allow players to relate and empathise with our characters even more.”
One of those ways is the introduction of Rivet, an alternate version of Ratchet. A resistance fighter going up against overwhelming odds, it draws a strong parallel to the main Lombax. More pertinently, she has been doing it alone. That is, until Clank comes into her life.
Usually, it can be challenging for players to accept another protagonist coming into the picture with an established universe and characters. However, Insomniac Games puts Rivet in the best position possible, weaving her into the story organically and making sense of the events that unfold after Into the Nexus.
“Rivet is an entirely new character with her distinct personality and a lot of history in this unusual dimension,’ added Lead Writer Lauren Mee. While there are similarities to Ratchet, Rivet has her motivations and drive to save her friends and her world.
Lindsay Thompson, Senior Animator, explained that “Rivet was a labour of love for so many of us. She was an opportunity to create a new hero from one we’ve already known for so many years.”
“We started with ‘who is she, what has her life as a lone wolf in a dangerous world made her into? Who is she at her heart, has her time spent alone made her a bit awkward when she gets the chance to finally socialise?
“At her heart, she’s kind; she’s determined and resourceful but always levelheaded. She’ll take an enemy down with a smirk on her face knowing that they’re no match for her strength and wit.”
On the flip side, the team also dived into what Rivet was not, shaping the character into the heroine that we will see in the game. Just like Ratchet and Clank, we can find the same nuance in Rivet’s character, which is why there is plenty of hope that Insomniac will have “ created a new hero that all players can look up to.”
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
The headlining feature in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the idea of dimensional rifts. It is not just seeing Ratchet, Clank, and Rivet getting thrown into different worlds but also what the game does in terms of playing with the players’ expectations.
Rifts offer you a strategic option, instantly teleporting players to another location in the heat of battle or during exploration. There are pocket dimensions as well, allowing Insomniac to incentivise players to dig deeper into the various planets in the game.
“We have set up the planets to constantly stream content in and out as you move through them, just as an open-world title like Spider-Man would,” Mike Fitzgerald, Core Tech Director, chimed in. “Because streaming is so fast, we only need to load the content that you need right at this moment, and that’s true for even textures or objects. We can do this stuff in a matter of frames.
“We have two versions of the same place, and you’re constantly jumping back and forth between them as you play the world. Each is a full-fidelity world, taking advantage of all the memory available to us, with no trace of the other in memory when you’re not physically there, so no tricks here. When it’s time to switch between them, it happens in the span of a single Hammer Swing.”
Your mind will get blown at the moment you see an entire world gets transformed in an instant before your eyes, all by just hitting a dimensional crystal. It is that amazing.
Building off the run-and-gun platforming goodness of the series, Game Director Mike Daly emphasised the addition of the Phantom Dash. A dodge move, players can avoid danger by “phasing out of reality for just a moment and get a burst of speed” in the direction they dictate.
“The move is super responsive, and you can flow right into it, and right out of it for most of Ratchet’s other moves, and this versatility makes it a foundational change to both the flow of combat and the flow of traversal, where at any given moment you have a lot more flexibility and how you handle threats, and how you navigate the space.”
The Hover Boots are back as well, with added features. You will be able to control your speed with the adaptive triggers, almost akin to rollerblades, and will be critical to “ tightly controlled traversal challenges and conveniently covering vast distances for our biggest planets.”
Add to that armour that allows for more customisation alongside passive bonuses and new challenges for Clank in the form of a spider-tank and dimensional anomalies, and you will have plenty to do in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
Perhaps the best news of all is that Insomniac Games is doubling down on their accessibility features following Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. You will be able to adjust how the game looks, sounds, and feels. If you have problems with dexterity, the game can adjust things to let you have an equally fun time.
A global time slow mechanic that can be mapped to the D-pad as a shortcut will allow players the time to figure out what is going on, complete the challenge ahead, and get things moving again with just a button press. No audience will be left out when it comes to this new adventure, and Insomniac has outdone themselves.
A Modern Arsenal
We cannot be talking about a Ratchet & Clank game without delving deeper into the weapons, and Insomniac Games is taking things up a notch with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart while staying true to the franchise’s legacy.
“When we work on weapons for Ratchet and Clank, we try to evaluate them along three axes – how spectacular is this weapon to use, does this weapon fulfil a unique strategic niche in combat, and how humorous or unique is this weapon,” Adam Noonchester, Lead Gameplay Programmer explained.
“We try and push every weapon to be a 10 in one of these categories, and many of our best weapons excel in more than one category.”
As examples, the Negatron Collider allows players to charge up a devastating beam that can penetrate multiple enemies. You can even sweep it across the battlefield for some destructive crowd control. The Enforcer, the game’s version of a double-barrel shotgun, can fire off either one barrel, or both barrels if you hold down the trigger fully. Lastly, we have the Ricochet, which fires off a metal ball that can be bounced off an enemy multiple times. If you time it right as the ball opens, you get bonus damage as well.
All of the weapons have their strategic value in the gameplay of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, allowing the team to experiment even more creatively in the pursuit of giving players more satisfaction at wiping out the enemy. You can bet we will see more implementation of the adaptive triggers in changing how each weapon feel in the final product.
The development team had more to work with this time around, with the innovations of the PlayStation 5 like the speedy SSD and graphical power being put to good use. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is no exception, and as a first-party game, the bar is set even higher.
For the familiar characters returning in the game, Art Director Grant Hollis and his team had to balance doing too much and doing too little. Take Clank, for example; the team made sure to keep his iconic form. However, it was also a perfect opportunity to show off the real-time and stretched reflections made possible by his stainless steel body.
Ratchet, on the other hand, was getting a broader range of facial expressions. The team “started re-sculpting his head” and “kind of see that range” that Ratchet had. The result is a charming hero that retained his go-getter attitude, all covered in “filmic fur.” Working on Rivet also gave the team the chance to go even more creative. Different fur colours were explored; she was given a “large bushy fox tail and a robotic arm with special abilities.” Ultimately, she becomes a proper heroine with a bit of an edge, someone with more substance than just a different look.
It all comes alive thanks to the “highest quality character performance animation ever.” This was only possible “with the help of blend shape-based facial rigs,” which allowed Thompson and other animators to elevate everything we see in the game to a “film quality experience.”
Seamless transitions bring players on a journey between gameplay and cinematics instantly, all housed within living, breathing worlds that are always alive and full of NPCs interactions that can provide surprising gameplay moments in all the dimensions players will step foot on.
Echoing the same sentiments, Audio Lead Daniel Birzynski and his team needed to raise their game when it came to audio.
“When we looked at other disciplines like writing, design, art animation VFX and lighting, we got busy figuring out what it all meant for audio,” Birzynski shared. “what we ended up with was a set of guidelines of what the sound of Ratchet & Clank should be.”
The devil’s in the details, and slight differences significantly impacted the way audio was perceived. The sound needed to reflect what was happening on the screen, including the size and weight of objects, and of course, it had to be whimsical and exaggerated to align with the style of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
From the world, characters, weapons, and everything in between, players will get immersed thanks to the enhanced audio fidelity and the use of 3D audio on the PS5. Locate enemies with ease simply by keeping your ears sharp or even seek out places of interest thanks to the greater degree of accuracy.
As the next big title coming out exclusively on the PS5 following Housemarque’s Returnal, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has to satisfy not just those looking for another great reason to bank on Sony’s new console but also to live up to its legacy. Based on what we have seen of Ratchet, Clank, Rivet, and the dimensions that await, players can rest easy.
Whether you are a longtime fan of the dynamic duo or someone new to this side of the universe, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will most certainly make a huge and favourable impression on anyone come this 11 June.