A powerhouse demonstration of what the PS5 can do.
After PlayStation released a number of games for free in March of this year – including 2016’s Ratchet & Clank remake – I had a great time revisiting the game to engage with what always made Insomniac’s series feel so good. Crisp and colourful visuals, weapon-based mayhem and a variety of worlds with different gimmicks all pull you through without ever giving you a chance to get bored. Gifting the game to all PlayStation users was a smart move too, because it left me primed and ready for the arrival of Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart.
Rift Apart carries on the overarching story of the Ratchet & Clank games; the duo step out of heroic retirement to attend a parade in their honour, but the event is soon besieged by cackling fan-favourite villain, Doctor Nefarious (voiced as gleefully as always by Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Armin Shimerman). Last seen in 2011’s Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, Nefarious has also emerged from obscurity to steal the victory he never won using the Dimensionator – a reality-warping plot device from way back in 2007’s Tools of Destruction. After some technical difficulties with his plan, both heroes and villain find themselves sucked through portals to an entirely different reality where Emperor Nefarious rules supreme. The heroic duo get separated, and our multiversal journey begins.
Moving through the game’s different planets you will switch back and forth between Ratchet and newcomer Rivet, our hero’s counterpart from this new bad-place universe. Rivet is another lone Lombax who has spent her whole life trying to fight the Emperor’s conquest, but never had a trusty robot sidekick to back her up along the way. Functionally, the two play exactly the same: their skill set is shared, and they access to the same gadgets and weaponry throughout. While this is kind of brushed under the rug narratively, it’s honestly a relief not having to balance two different loadouts and sets of controls in your mind as you play. Progress in upgrading your weapons is also shared, which makes sure it never feels like you’re locked away from the gear you like when playing as the other character.
While every game in the Ratchet & Clank series adds new mechanics for traversal, Rift Apart leads the pack in tying its new inclusions to the story. With the dimensional barriers weakened by Nefarious’ scheming in the prologue, holes to other universes are always opening up in both the foreground and background. Rifts might drop in enemies, change objects in the world around you, or even allow you to move back and forth to different versions of the same area. Smaller, inactive rifts are also dotted through exploration and combat areas, acting as a kind of grapple target to pull yourself to a distant location. In combat this is used to rapidly cross the area to rout enemies or get away from danger, and in traversal it’s often an obscured path to a hard-to-reach spot.
Now, I have to stop here and really just focus in on these grapple portals, because the effect when they’re used is really something that caught me off-guard at first. This isn’t the first game to have a grappling hook mechanic, but it doesn’t visualise them in the same way. Where most games animate this effect by having the player character move location within the map, Rift Apart instead shifts the world around YOU.
It’s difficult to describe exactly, but the rift when activated becomes a window through to the other location (this is where you should start thinking with Portal’s, well, portals). Your character stays in the same spot on the screen, but the rift moves forward and expands until it covers the screen with the new location, overtaking the screen without the environment really MOVING towards you. Players would do well to take a moment and repeat the same rift-grapple a few times to really enjoy just how trippy this change in perspective feels.
Rifts are also used as gateways to separate locations, including hidden pocket dimensions that house mini-challenges or puzzles with a reward for completion. These rifts, once activated, stand open as a doorway to another, entirely separate map – and again, this is worth admiring! Lighting and shadows shift entirely from one side of the rift to the other, with the PlayStation 5 rendering the environment’s interaction with Ratchet or Rivet at two locations simultaneously. Watching yourself cast two different half-shadows on either side of the gateway is impressive, when you stop to think about the amount of work behind it.
All of this rift-based innovation is thanks to the game utilising the high-speed loading of the PS5’s SSD hard drive, working overtime to create blink-and-you’ll-miss-it loading times. If you’ve seen any pre-release coverage of the game, you’ve likely seen shots of Ratchet tumbling through a portal into a space between worlds, only to re-emerge in an entirely new location. This is all performed in real-time with barely a second between locations; some boss fights even move between different planets during the fight, and let it be said this is not just loading arenas based on the style of each world. Each location is just a point on the existing map for that planet – you can literally see the entire area around you, meaning you could just wander off to go find more gold bolts or other collectibles mid-fight.
Combat-wise, Rift Apart has the bonkers arsenal we’ve come to expect from the series. Along with your usual pistol/shotgun/SMG analogues you’ve got fungal turrets, a railgun, a turret that transforms enemies into shrubbery, remote-controlled bullets, and the list goes on. While these weapons don’t feel quite as goofy and fanciful as games in the past – no Sheepinator or Groovitron to be found here – it doesn’t mean you’re going to be having any less fun swapping back and forth to upgrade each weapon.
There’s also the draw to replay the game – Challenge Mode returns, with higher-level versions of each gun to unlock and a bolt multiplier for destroying enemies without taking damage. I’ll admit I dived right back in to play some more in challenge mode, and enjoyed revisiting earlier missions with an armada of destruction at my fingertips from day one.
Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart is a powerhouse demonstration of what the PS5 can do. A rich, vibrantly-lit world stuffed with things to find as you enjoy an engaging story, all of which sets the stage for future games. Brought together by some truly brain-tripping visual effects, this probably stands as my favourite celebration of the console’s power to date.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was reviewed using a promotional code on PS5, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
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