Ratchet & Clank (PS4) – Finishing Thoughts

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Disclaimer: I get spoilery with locations and gameplay elements, but not the story.

7 years has passed since the last major Ratchet & Clank title, and as a huge fan of the series, I was ecstatic to see it finally blast its way into the current console generation. This entry is particularly interesting for me, because it’s a reimagining of the original game. It exists to complement the Ratchet & Clank movie that was being produced alongside it.

It is accurate to look at this as a movie tie-in of sorts, but it’s not bad like most movie tie-in games.  Regardless of the circumstances, this is still Insomniac we’re talking about, and they definitely know how to deliver a solid, traditional R&C gameplay experience when they rise to the occasion.

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I’m extremely familiar with the original title, and was very thrilled at the prospect of Insomniac giving their modern take on old, iconic locations. As you might be able to tell, this isn’t a simple remastering that just takes the first entry and enhances the resolution, while touching up on some textures. (We got that on PS3!) In fact, it’s essentially a brand new game, built from the ground up to take full advantage of the PS4’s power, and that definitely shows. It is easily one of the best looking games in the console space at the moment. The bright and colorful art style certainly lends itself well to the technical prowess of this current generation of hardware.

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There’s value in revisiting the first game that goes beyond just the novelty of seeing old, beloved locations remade with top quality visuals. The original, while being a good game in it’s own right, doesn’t have many of the important features that were added into the future games. So it feels a bit rudimentary compared to its sequels, as it lacks weapon upgrading, an efficient quick select, and other mechanics that fine tuned the experience as the series progressed.

Strafing is a huge one. The combat in the original is much more awkward to deal with than it is in the others because of its absence. Naturally, Insomniac took this as an opportunity to add those features into this reimagining, and the game generally plays much more comfortably because of it.

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Most of the game will send you to the same areas that existed in the original, but even so, playing through these old locations with updated gameplay mechanics provides an experience that you don’t quite get when playing its 2002 incarnation. The original R&C can get fairly difficult, but if Ratchet could strafe effectively like he does in later games, it would likely trivialize many of its encounters. Because of this, many of the enemy setups in this game have been altered from the original. You’ll see goons where they weren’t before, and often, a lot more of them than you might remember. This definitely helps freshen up the experience. It was fun for me to go through these levels with my knowledge of the first game and take note of all the differences.

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While this game is familiar in a lot of ways, there’s also a fair amount of totally new content. The Clank sections, for example, have been revamped, and are completely different from how they were in the original game. There exist a few levels that are practically brand new, along with some layouts of returning segments that have been altered. (Though, for the most part, old planets are nearly identical in their core structure.) There also are new boss battles, story elements, and ship combat sections.

On the other hand, a lot of content from the first game didn’t make the cut. This is a noticeably smaller game than the original, but considering it launched at $40 and is a ton of fun regardless, it’s still absolutely worth the value.

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There’s plenty to like about this game, but it’s not quite a perfect version of the 2002 title. Especially as a person who valued what the original game brought to the table, it’s hard to not compare the two in some aspects.

One element I found souring about this reimagining was the music. David Bergeaud’s work on the soundtrack in the original game was exceptional, and in my opinion, somewhat underappreciated. I thought this would have been a great opportunity to spotlight some of his music by at least incorporating recompositions of his old arrangements. Instead, we have a whole new soundtrack, that’s largely fine, but at the same time quite bland and unmemorable, lacking the personality that Bergeaud’s music emanated.  A pretty big missed opportunity there if you ask me.

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The 6 cut planets hurt a bit too, and it doesn’t help that many of them included some of my favorite locations in the first game. (Gemlik Base, Hoven, Oltanis) Not only does this serve to make its length shorter than the original, but it also hurts the pacing. The latter parts of the story feel like it progresses somewhat too hastily.

A cool thing that the original did when it started ramping up was that it would bounce you back in forth from dark, more imposing planets, to lighter, and a bit less imposing planets. So certain locations felt very satisfying to reach. For example, visiting Pokitaru – a nice, tropical resort style location, was much more impactful after having to trudge through Orxon – a toxic, polluted, brutal “not safe for life” type of location. In the reimagining, Pokitaru is still a great place to be, it just doesn’t have the same impact because of how it fits into the planet progression this time around.

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I started on the hardest difficulty when first jumping in, and just for some extra challenge, refrained from using the Groovitron or Bouncer throughout my whole initial playthrough. It actually began a bit more challenging than I’d expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. One of the very first levels put me up against a pretty fierce dropship, along with some other smaller enemies that actually managed to kill me a couple times. Though, things tend to ease up rather quickly as your arsenal gets more chaotic. The larger mid portion of the game was pretty easily manageable, barring a few sections, and didn’t really start to get noticeably more difficult again until it was close to the end.

I have an OCD-like habit with these games where I try to use my weapons equally, so that they’re leveling up equally. I imagine that the increased challenge towards the end could have mostly been overcome if I had chosen to play as efficiently as possible.

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The arsenal in this game is quite different from the one in the original, but not much of it is brand new. Most of the weapons are taken straight from the PS3 games, which is somewhat unfortunate. I’m surprised that they didn’t reimagine more weapon designs from the first game, but as it is, there are 2 weapons from the original, 2 completely new ones, 9 from the PS3 games, and 1 pre-order bonus weapon (The Bouncer) that may or may not be released to the general public at a later date. The 2 new additions are very nice. One of them is called the Proton Drum, which is a support weapon you throw on the ground that sends out pulses of energy to damage enemies within its area of effect. It was one of the more enjoyable tools to use, for me. I’d often toss it out to let it stagger/kill enemies in my immediate area, while focusing more on picking off enemies who are further away.

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Swapping through your weapons in mid combat is a simple task. Holding down triangle will bring up a quick select menu, and from there you can equip whatever you want to use. It also halts the action, which gives you time to think about your strategy in the midst of a hectic fight. There’s also a feature new to the series that lets you assign weapons to the d-pad buttons so that you can swap between 4 guns quickly without pausing the game. I didn’t use this option nearly as much as I thought I would. At the beginning, when I didn’t have many weapons, I used that weapon switching method quite a bit. Once my arsenal got larger, trying to utilize it went at odds with my tendency to try to upgrade my weapons equally. It takes a bit effort to remember what weapon you set where, especially if you’re switching it around a lot. I eventually ended up leaving that feature alone, unless I just felt like playing extra stylishly.

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Another new weapon addition is the Pixelizer, which is basically this game’s “shotgun”, except with a twist! This gun turns enemies into “8-bit” versions of themselves. The sound and visual effects have a cool retro spin to them too. It fits in very nicely with an assortment of weapons that include a hypnotic disco ball that forces enemies to dance, and a ray gun that turns your enemies into sheep.

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The core gunplay and upgrade loop is the main thing that makes these games so addicting. Your weapons gain experience with use, and can level 5 times before it transforms into its “definitive” version. The weapon upgrade trees from Into the Nexus and Tools of Destruction have also been brought back here. So you can collect raritanium crystals throughout the game that let you upgrade more specific aspects of each gun. There are a bunch of little enhancements you can unlock that include things like increasing the amount of ammo a weapon has, or increasing the area of effect to a detonation. Depending on what order you attain these in, they work to unlock more significant enhancements, such as an upgrade letting little bomblets fall from the explosion that your Fusion Grenade makes, or one for the Plasma Striker that slows down time whenever you zoom in. I always thought this was a good way to add a bit more depth to the weapon progression system, and was glad to see it return in this entry.

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Ratchet’s actions feel very responsive, as you’d expect from a modern R&C game. Insomniac’s decision to aim for 30FPS this time around instead of 60FPS doesn’t feel detrimental to me as far as his controls go. Everything runs smooth, and I only noticed a few frame drops in my 18 or so hours of playing. That’s extraordinary when you consider how good this game looks on PS4, and just the sheer amount of things that can be happening on screen at once. Enemy encounters can get pretty chaotic, so it’s somewhat of a necessity that a game like this would need a smooth, consistent framerate. They definitely delivered on the technical front. The environments feel nice and lively too.

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Another tweak this entry makes to the gameplay is that it lets you actually aim up and down efficiently without having to go into zoom mode. It sounds a bit crazy that the previous Ratchet & Clank games didn’t allow for that, but it’s true. Usually, while in standard camera mode, you can only aim left and right. It’s just not something that often became much of an issue in previous games because of the aim assist, and also because they tend to avoid throwing many enemies at you that are too high for the aim assist to reach. This was actually something added with Into the Nexus, but many fans seemed to skip out on that game, so it’s worth noting.

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Something else that has returned from Into the Nexus are jetpack combat segments. What is by far the biggest expansion to a returning location involves a new section that lets you use a jetpack to fly around the environment and hunt down enemies for collectables. While the jetpack combat in many cases tend to feel like a simplified version of ground combat, it’s nonetheless a very welcome change of pace. Using it to fly around Gaspar is a lot of fun, and it’s a nice way to shake up the “crystal hunting” level trope that exist in many R&C games.

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Ratchet & Clank games usually aren’t all about shooting. A good amount of side activities exist that break up the core TPS gameplay. Some being better than others.

There are hoverboard races, that are very fun mechanically, but were a bit tainted for me by what is easily one of the worst racing AI I’ve ever come across. No matter how flawlessly you were shredding the track, you could never leave behind the other racers. You had to nail the ending no matter what, or else you wouldn’t win the race. Funnily enough, you could also easily exploit this by just not trying until the last 10 seconds, and then using the boost you have saved up to zoom passed everyone. Fortunately, the AI was improved in a downloadable patch that came out a couple weeks after the game launched.

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There are door hacking mini-games which have you solve puzzles that involve matching up lasers to panels without blocking off any necessary paths. I personally find these to be cool little challenges. They’re fun to do if you know the method to solving them and aren’t just randomly rotating the beams. If you don’t like doing them, there’s a auto-hack option that lets you skip them, but you lose out on a reward of bolts, as well as a trophy tied to completing all of the puzzles – if you care about that.

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You’ll also occasionally find yourself in the midst of ship combat. There are 2 new dogfight sections, along with one returning segment. I found both of the new ones to be disappointingly weak, and somewhat of a slog to play through. Thankfully, Pokitaru’s ship combat section is still as fun as ever, and a lot more forgiving than it was in the original game.

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Clank also has his own playable levels that are generally more slow paced and puzzle oriented. Though, there are couple segments where he’s on the run from a robot antagonist, and you charge towards the camera while dodging his attacks. These are fine for the most part, but nothing special. While the chase sections do feel a bit trite, the puzzles are a nice diversion. They start off pretty straightforward at the beginning, and get a bit more complex towards the end. I enjoyed the challenge of the later puzzles, but it was a bit annoying that Clank would spoil them for you were trying to take your time to think things through.

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Clank spoiling the puzzles actually ties into one of my biggest gripes with this game, which is that there is just too much superfluous dialogue going on during gameplay that I’m not a fan of. Many past Ratchet & Clank games have had talking over gameplay to an extent, but it was treated much more tastefully. I welcome unique character dialogue, meaningful interactions, funny, sadistic monologues from the intercom, and things of the like. What I find annoying is all of the fluff and hand holdy dialogue that you can’t turn off unless you want to mute the dialogue altogether. (Which is what I ended up doing in my subsequent playthrough.) What I consider to be unnecessary and somewhat annoying are the following: Ratchet & Clank having a canned discussion about where to go next when you enter the ship. – The weapons vendor guy frequently letting you know that you have enough money to buy a weapon, or when you have enough raritanium to upgrade something. – Ratchet and/or Clank shouting something like “Oh no, more of them”, “Uh oh, more bad guys!” for the umpteenth time during a gunfight. (Which just comes off as cheesy to me) – Clank telling me that there’s a Trespasser terminal in the room right after I’m done with an enemy encounter, and other things like that.

Again, I do like unique character dialogue and interactions, but they have to be enjoyable as well. Most of what the Blarg scientist had to say when I was hunting Telepathopi on Gaspar was a bit obnoxious if anything.

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The narrative is framed by Captain Qwark telling the story of Ratchet & Clank’s origin, so you sometimes get his interjections as well. Some of his commentary was amusing early on, but that ends up getting dialed down, and most of what’s left is him just over and over again reminding Ratchet that he can’t breathe underwater, or telling you that you need to jump from one grind rail to another.

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That takes me to another gripe. The grind rails were one of the aspects of the reimagining that I was most excited to experience again with PS4 level gorgeousness. I always loved grind rail sections because they’re fun, but also because they just look cool. I always considered them to be a neat visual set piece. In this game, they added a speed filter around the edges of the screen whenever you’re on a rail, which just cheapens the presentation of the whole thing. It’s implemented as a somewhat of a tawdry vignette rather than something that looks more natural. Also, Ratchet’s rail switch switch animation is much less smooth than it was in previous games, so it just looks a bit janky whenever you flip from rail to rail. Because of these factors, the grind rails were much less enjoyable for me this time around.

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There’s a jerkiness to Ratchet’s animations in this game in general, which is strange to me, because this has been something that Insomniac usually nails, even in the first game. While Ratchet generally feels more responsive and less clunky to control in this game than the first, the original still has much more fluid/less jerky animations when it comes to things like the wrench swings, rail switching, and certainly wall jumping. Wall jumping in this reimagining feels completely off, but it’s not really much of an issue since you barely need to do that anyway.

Ratchet’s side flip and backflip also feels less slick to execute. Here, it’s weightless, and lacks forced momentum. You can basically just jump around randomly while switching direction like mad. There’s no commitment to it. Some people might like the extra freedom, but to me, it just feels a bit cheap, and simply not as fun to do when compared to how it works in many of the previous games.

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With all of that said, I do want to reiterate that the controls still feel very good regardless of those things. The light amount of platforming sections that exist are fun to play through, and jumping around while shooting and maneuvering across firefights still feels good.

Ratchet & Clank games are primarily 3rd person shooters, but unlike many  games in that genre, there’s less of a focus on precision aiming, and more of a focus on dodging enemy fire. This is what I always thought was pretty genius about Ratchet & Clank’s design as action platformers. Enemy encounters can almost feel like platforming challenges in and of itself at times.

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The boss fights in this game are enjoyable. There’s a specific one that I think is a dud, but conversely, the fight against the Snagglebeast easily became one of my favorites in the series. Playing on hard without using the Bouncer or Groovitron made that battle in particular pretty intense. Same with the last boss, which I thought made for a good final encounter. It took me about 10 tries, maybe more. For once in the game, it forced me to deliberately coordinate which weapons I’d need to use when, and where. By the time I had completed it, the ammo for most of my weapons were completely exhausted. I love this kind of challenge in R&C, though I did have to handicap myself to get it.

I feel like it was maybe a too big of a jump in difficulty, because there were no other situations where I had to plan out my weapon usage in such a way, even a little bit. Ammo and checkpoints are so common that it was pretty much a nonexistent aspect of the game. The original game had a somewhat more prominent element of planning out what weapons you’d save for certain parts of a level, because – 1.) the general difficulty of that game just called for more deliberate thought to be put into your strategy, and – 2.) checkpoints weren’t as forgiving and ammo wasn’t quite as common, so you really had to think ahead about what weapon ammo you’d save for certain sections.

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Beating the game unlocks challenge mode, where they ratchet up the health and damage output of enemies. Like in many Ratchet & Clank games, it doesn’t feel much more challenging since the increased strength of enemy attacks mainly only work to compromise with your upgraded health, and not to mention the fact that your arsenal should be way more chaotic by that point. At least in many of the previous games, you could make challenge mode a lot harder by not purchasing armor upgrades, but since there is no armor vendor in this game, enemy damage isn’t scaled to account for that factor.

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In challenge mode, there’s a bolt multiplier that increases as you kill enemies, which means that you can get much more bolts from wreaking havoc than you ever could in the first playthrough. You can stack it all the way up to X20, but it resets whenever you get hit, which gives you an incentive to play much more carefully and deliberately. You’ll need to have your bolt multiplier up consistently in order to buy the Omega versions of your weapons in a timely manner. Buying Omega weapons allows you to upgrade them even further, and maxes out entirely when they get to level 10.

It was around this time when I stopped handicapping myself. I brought out the Groovitron and Bouncer, both of which are ridiculously overpowered, and showed no mercy.

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During this run, I took a bit of time to go around the planets and look for all of the collectibles. It wasn’t really much of a search for me, as I knew where many of the hiding spots were, since they’re mostly the same in the original. Also, getting the map-o-matic near the tail end of my first playthrough sort of trivializes the hunt a bit. Still, it was enjoyable to go back through the vibrant environments to gather the remaining Gold Bolts.

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I enjoyed Pokitaru a lot more on my second visit because of the collectible hunt. It’s such a soothing environment to linger in and explore, and I was less familiar with the hidden locations on that planet. One of the secret areas in particular gave me a pretty heavy dose of nostalgia. It sounds weird to say, but I didn’t get much nostalgia from playing this game. Probably because I’ve played the original on numerous occasions, so it’s not like my last experience with it was in 2002. (More like, 2014.) Though, I usually don’t collect everything when I play these games, so that area on Pokitaru was one that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I had a similar experience with a few other hidden places as well.

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There were times where I went through the main paths of planets I had already completed just because I wanted to use my weapons or raise my bolt multiplier, but it turned out to be a bit of a dull experience. Going back through levels you already beat within the same playthrough removes most of the big enemies, and just leaves the small fry behind. This really highlights the fact that there’s no arena in this game, and because of those things, there’s no real way to just go all out with your weapons on a healthy horde of worthy enemies without progressing through the main story. Also, being forced to play the Clank sections again is bit of an annoyance, as completing them again feels like a chore.

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There’s a card collection system in this game, which is a first for the series. You can collect Holocards, and many of them feature cool nods to past R&C games. Getting them also unlocks the option to purchase Omega weapons, and special cards will allow you to attain the R.Y.N.O, which is an endgame weapon known for being the most ridiculously powerful gun in pretty much any R&C game. (It can beat the final boss in about 15 seconds!) Holocards can be dropped randomly by enemies, but are also hidden in secret areas as well. There’s a weapon upgrade option that increases the likelihood of these drops to occur, so getting all of them wasn’t much of an issue for me. It’s not even totally necessary to find all of the cards that are hidden within the levels, because you can get them via random drops from enemies. The only unique Holocards that you will need to find are those for the R.Y.N.O.

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The Movie’s Influence

Earlier, I said that while this was made to be movie tie-in, it’s a great game nonetheless. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it got away with being a movie tie-in scot-free.

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The narrative in this game is very lackluster as far as Ratchet & Clank stories go. This reimagining follows the same plot of the movie, while veering off a bit as an excuse to visit more locations that weren’t included there. The pre-rendered cutscenes in the game were taken directly from the movie, and they were likely able to use only a limited amount of footage. So the movie is basically the source material as far as the plot goes, and this is where a lot of the problem comes in.

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Over 2 years ago, the first draft of the movie script was written by TJ Fixman, which is the person who was hired by Insomniac to write the for Ratchet &  Clank games since Tools of Destruction back in 2007. When the first draft of the script was finished, he left the project. Afterwards, a director named Kevin Munroe took over and made his own changes. What we got from this was a movie that, in a lot of ways, fell short of what the narrative from the 2002 game accomplished. The original was very focused on the development of Ratchet & Clank’s relationship. The two characters interacted with each other a lot more, they were often at odds with each other, but by the end of the story, the whole ride they went through made their friendship feel much more genuine and impactful.

The movie seemed to be sanitized for younger audiences, so most of the attitude in Ratchet’s original personality is gone, as is most of the conflict and development between Ratchet & Clank’s relationship. Even the style of humor that the original game had has been watered down. This new story also adds in the Galactic Rangers, which introduces us to new characters that aren’t developed themselves, and ultimately feels like an unnecessary addition that just gets in the way of the time that could be spent developing Ratchet & Clank as characters, which is an aspect I think the movie would have been better off focusing more on.

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The reimagining in a sense feels like a very abridged version of the movie, story wise.  So the narrative is even worse off in the game. The new characters feel more paper thin there since they have less spotlight. The narrative in the game feels a bit disjointed as a whole, and is certainly less fleshed out than what exists in the original. (Or any other mainline R&C game for that matter.) Even the movie clips feel a bit odd as they’re placed. Coming across CG cutscenes in a game is something I consider to be a treat. It’s like a payoff/reward for all of the other context that has been built up to that point. When a CG (movie) scene plays in this game, it can feel somewhat unnatural at times.

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Final Thoughts

Going through challenge mode made me realize how small a lot of the planets are here compared to other Ratchet & Clank games. Some of them even seem bigger in the original, but that’s just the nature of playing through these planets with a Ratchet that can strafe as opposed to one that can’t. Otherwise, the level design generally still holds up great.

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While this reimagining feels a bit small compared to the other mainline titles, I assume that the game has to have had a relatively low budget. With it being the fastest selling Ratchet & Clank game of all time, and stealing the top spot of the charts in the UK for 3 weeks in a row, hopefully this success will encourage Sony/Insomniac to pour more resources into a sequel so that we can get a meatier title next time around.

Considering it went out of stock on Amazon at one point, along with many anecdotal reports of it being hard to find in stores, it must have surpassed their expectations quite a bit.

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Is this a good reimagining of the original Ratchet & Clank game? Yes. Is it a perfect incarnation of its 2002 counterpart? Not necessarily. They both have particular things that they do better than each other, but the reimaging is certainly much more comfortable to play through than the original because of the updated combat mechanics. This is a great entry point for newcomers to the series since the story – as lackluster as it may be – is a retelling of the first game’s plot. It’s not up there with my personal favorite Ratchet & Clank games; however, it is an entry that I consider to an absolute must play for fans of the series.

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Spoilery screenshot galleries below:

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