It always feels more difficult to get into a video game series after you miss the jumping-on point. There’s this fear that lives in the back of your mind that you missed the boat. What if it’s impossible to jump into a long-running series, 19 years in, especially with as much established mythology and story as the Ratchet & Clank games have unexpectedly amassed? For the last year, I have watched each Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart trailer with a vague mix of excitement and trepidation. I hoped this would finally be the game to really onboard me to the series. After playing and thoroughly enjoying the new PlayStation exclusive, I’m happy to discover it’s not just a great jumping-on point for new fans. It’s also the best reason to own a PS5.
That’s a lot of pressure! In the months since the PS5 launch, it wouldn’t be unfair to say developer Insomniac has shouldered a heavy burden. It’s helped the console’s release schedule flourish between both Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Rift Apart. While the former game was a cross-generation title, Rift Apart takes full advantage of the new hardware. It doesn’t feel as though the game couldn’t exist without the PS5, but it surely could not have been made as elegantly without it, and that matters a surprising amount.
Graphically, Rift Apart isn’t just the best the series has ever looked; it sets a high-water mark for cartoon-like games period. The 2016 Ratchet & Clank remake/movie tie-in looked incredible for its time. By comparison, Rift Apart looks more like the movie the remake was based on than any in-game graphics of said PS4 title (if not a bit better than the film itself). Fights are filled with neon green particle effects whooshing and swooshing in every direction. Yet, somehow, you can’t stop yourself from noticing something as subtle as the tip of Ratchet’s tail. It has individual hairs that react to things going on in the world. There are frantic set pieces, massive levels, and inventively deployed quick loading — all of which feel “next-gen” in a way most games simply haven’t so far on this latest batch of hardware.
The game lacks a single load screen. Nor is there anything I presume exists purely to mask loading (the sort of slow-walking and elevator sections you learn to recognize when you play enough games). Taking off to different planets is measured in singular seconds, which I appreciated when traveling between different levels for collectibles. One boss fight in particular brings you from one world through a portal immediately to another area with entirely different textures and lighting and enemy models. Upon replaying the game in Challenge Mode, the series’ vernacular for New Game+, I realized the incidental change in scenery was actually a locale I recognized. It was from another planet in the game, prompting me to just walk off in a direction to see how much the game had actually loaded. I can’t say with confidence the entire stage was simply available. Though I was able to run quite a ways before I ran out of time and the boss fight returned me to the original arena.
The dimension tricks of Rift Apart don’t totally recast my expectations for games. It’s actually much more about what it doesn’t do than anything else. It’s unsurprisingly more immersive to not sit around waiting out load times, my phone in hand, until the game puts me somewhere I can start moving again. That said, the SSD is also used for interesting gameplay quirks — like a planet that switches between a destroyed version and an alternate, intact one, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s Lanayru Desert.
There have been a few movement options added to the game that greatly increase the replayability and decrease the tedium. Rocket boots can be acquired for Ratchet & Rivet’s feet, letting them skate across the ground. A dash called the Phantom Dash lets the Lombaxes dodge on the ground or in-air. Those two things combined with the usual double-jumping and slow-falling let me access areas I really don’t think I should have been able to access and it was a lot of fun figuring that out.
The story takes players to different dimension, switching off protagonist time between Ratchet and the new heroine Rivet. While the yellow Lombax’s name is in the game title, Rivet is really the star of the show this time. She enjoys the bulk of the most interesting sections of the game. Even her story is, well… Listen, I refuse to say riveting. It’s definitely more interesting than I expected from a cartoon platformer, though. If you, like me, were a little afraid of getting lost in a game with such an established lore and storyline, spanning all the way back to the PlayStation 2, Rift Apart does a good job of catching you up on Ratchet & Clank without bogging you down with references you may not understand. At the same time, it has plenty of asides and winks that I assume are for longtime fans.
I might just become one of those myself now. I wound up really falling in love with Rift Apart in a way I did not entirely expect. The series contains no nostalgia for me, so I was able to simply take this game for what it is. Which is to say “genuinely fantastic.” It’s not the next evolution of platformers. Nor would it have been completely impossible to make before this generation of hardware. It’s nothing as back-of-the-box marketing blurb as that. But it’s a great game, and about as polished as games can get these days. If you own a PlayStation 5, Rift Apart should absolutely portal into your library.