GammaSquad Review: ‘Ratchet & Clank’ Aims High, But Needs To Tighten Up Its Foundation

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Sony’s Ratchet & Clank series never really went anywhere, but it’s set to get a big shot in the arm this month with both a theatrical movie, and a new game. The game, simply title Ratchet & Clank, is an odd mishmash. It’s partly based on the upcoming Ratchet & Clank movie, but it’s also a remake of the original 2002 PS2 game, and contains new elements not found in either the movie or the original game. It’s all a bit perplexing, but hey, none of that matters if the game is fun, right?

Ratchet & Clank are about to become movie stars, but that doesn’t mean their games are now above criticism, so let’s put this one through its paces…

Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Artistic Achievement

Ratchet & Clank lifts most of its cutscenes directly from the upcoming movie, but also tries to tie in most of the stages and characters from the original game. To smooth all this over, the game is framed as a story being told by unreliable narrator, Captain Qwark. It doesn’t work that well. The beginning and ending of the game, which mostly stick to the movie for inspiration, are coherent enough, but the middle is a big jumble.

Like most games in the series, Ratchet & Clank is a nice looking game. Bright, colorful, well-animated and packed with detail. That said, I’m not sure if this Ratchet & Clank is really that much better looking than the PS3 entries in the series. It really depends on the stage. The futuristic Aleero City and frantic war-torn planet Batalia are impressive, but the game’s many space station type stages are pretty run-of-the-mill. I wouldn’t say the game is stretching the PS4’s capabilities in any serious way.

There’s no denying there’s a lot going on in Aleero City.

“Busy” would be the best word to describe the game’s audio. Between Captain Qwark’s narration, Ratchet and Clank’s one-liners and various allies an enemies constantly butting in, the talking never stops. I think the game’s music may have been solid, but I couldn’t really hear it under all the chatter.

Innovation

If you’ve played a Ratchet & Clank game in the past 15 years, you pretty much know what you’re getting into here. Our Lombax and robot tag team do some light platforming, shoot things with wacky weapons, and solve some simple puzzles. Everything’s more elaborate now (wait until you see how radically updated the train sequence in Aleero City is), but don’t expect a lot of fundamental change.

Execution

Ratchet & Clank packs a solid array of weapons and upgrades, most of which have been cherry picked from past games in the series, with a couple new additions like 8-bit-inspired Pixelizer. There’s a certain satisfaction in collecting all the gadgets and powering up your character, although the upgrades come so fast and furious most of them barely register. Really, the only time I used anything other than the basic blaster and homing Predator Launcher was when I ran out of ammo for my guns of choice.

Ratchet & Clank: The Search for Ammo

Speaking of which, I know limited ammo is a Ratchet & Clank tradition, but some traditions should be reconsidered. There’s a reason Mario doesn’t have an ammo limit on his fireballs. Ammo is out of place in a simple action game like this and feels like a contrivance designed to make you use more of the game’s weapons. Ultimately, it would be more satisfying if the game’s stages were actually designed around specific weapons, rather than the “anything will do the job” approach.

Honestly, there are a lot of issues with Ratchet & Clank’s level design. Stages are linear to a fault, and will often blindside you with enemies that shoot you from off-screen, or deadly pits and traps you won’t see coming due to bad camera angles. The developers of this game seem particularly impressed with how many enemies they can put on-screen now, and all too often level design consists of nothing but “stand here for 10 minutes killing enemies, run forward for 30 seconds, then spend another 10 minutes killing enemies.” Bosses, while cool-looking, consist of nothing but mindless running around and blasting. It’s tiring and enemies are much faster and deadlier than in past games in the series. You will die surprisingly often in this game.

This guy looks cool, but he’s not that fun to fight. 

Ratchet & Clank does try to keep things varied, with flying missions, races, rail grinding and the aforementioned train scene, but too often the game drops these new types of gameplay in your lap without much warning or explanation. What should be a novel change of pace ends up being a frustrating bout of trial and error. It doesn’t help that Ratchet & Clank‘s controls are just a bit laggy and clunky no matter what stage you’re playing on.

The only part of Ratchet & Clank I didn’t find myself shouting profanities at were the bits where you play as Clank. These sections feature some simple, yet thoughtfully designed puzzles and generally dial down the frantic nature of the rest of the game. Unfortunately, getting to play as Clank is also fairly rare.

The Ratchet & Clank formula was certainly unique and impressive 15 years ago, but it’s in need of a rethink and upgrade. The only solution the game’s designers have is more – more enemies, more explosions, more breakable boxes and bolts to collect. Unfortunately, all that PS4-powered extra stuff is sitting on top of a foundation that’s starting to feel pretty creaky.

Staying Power

This new Ratchet & Clank definitely isn’t as long as some past entries in the series. There are approximately the same number of locations to visits as in the past, but less revisiting of areas is required, and most experienced Ratchet & Clankers will zip through the game in under 10 hours. Of course there’s plenty of extra stuff to collect after you’ve finished the game – cards, golden screws, hidden weapons and more. Personally, though, I didn’t feel like Ratchet & Clank‘s stages were really designed in a way that made me want to explore. For most people, this game will provide a week of entertainment and then be forgotten.

Bullsh*t Factor

Ratchet & Clank is completely free of any sort of DLC or microtransactions, and it sells for only $40, which is nice given a fair amount of recycling went into its creation. On the flip side, the game is a bit glitchy – I ran into at least four game-ending issues and numerous other oddities during my relatively brief playthrough. It’s clear this game wasn’t afforded the same level of polish as some other Sony-published titles.

Final Thoughts

Maybe it’s for the best that Ratchet and Clank are heading off for Hollywood, because their video game glory days seem to be behind them. It’s clear Insomniac Games put a good amount of effort into some aspects of Ratchet & Clank, but bland, frustrating level design, uneven challenge and frequent glitches drag down what could have been a fun blast from the past. My opinion will probably be an outlier, but I can’t deny I spent most of my time with Ratchet & Clank feeling either bored or angry. Often both.

If Ratchet and Clank running around pretty PS4-powered worlds is all you want, you’ll find things to like about this game. If, on the other hand, you were hoping for a game that would bring something new to the table, or compete with the best action-platformers of today, Ratchet & Clank lands with a clunk.

Verdict: Don’t Waste Your Time

This review was based on a digital copy of Ratchet & Clank provided by Sony.

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