As I played through the opening minutes of Insomniac’s PS5 exclusive, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, I was taken back to childhood. All I could think about was how I’d have reacted had someone shown me this game back when I was gaming on an green-screen Amstrad, playing games via a tape deck and grooving to the loading sounds. Video games have obviously come on leaps and bounds as generations have made way for new ones, but I’ve rarely been as utterly blown away by what my eyes are seeing as I am here. There’s hyperbole and then there’s just acknowledging the inspiring work done here. Just, wow.
This show stopping intro sets up the game’s story and introduces the rift mechanic alluded to in the title. Doctor Nefarious causes havoc with a rift gun, resulting in some dimensional shenanigans, such as portals from other dimensions opening up all over the place and newcomer Rivet (another Lombax) arriving with a fair few similarities to Ratchet. The newly formed Lombax duo (although they spend a lot of the game apart) must take on a more formidable foe in the shape of a parallel universe Nefarious who happens to be the ruler of his galaxy and wants to exert his power across the universes. Essentially, expect lots of planet hopping, rift jumping, and more than a few evil plans.
When you’re running around as either Ratchet or newcomer Rivet, Rift Apart is essentially a 3D platformer crossed with a third-person shooter. As ever with the series, the combat is great, the weapons are brilliant, and moving through the environments is always fun. Insomniac nailed the feel of the Ratchet games many years ago, so iterating on the winning formula is completely fine in my book.
The series is known for its vast array of unique weapons, and Insomniac doesn’t disappoint here. A truckload of cool weapons of destruction can be obtained as you work through the game, using bolts to buy whatever Ms Zurkon has in her store and raritanium to purchase upgrades. Each weapon will level up as you use it, on top of the upgrades you buy via the grid system seen in previous games. This grid lets you unlock bonus upgrades if you encircle locked grid tiles. It was neat in the previous games so there was absolutely no need to meddle with it here, and by the end of the game you should be packing quite the arsenal.
One point to note is that you share your entire inventory between Ratchet and Rivet. It doesn’t matter who the game puts you in control of (when you travel to a different planet the game lets you know who you’ll be playing as), you’ll have the same weapons for both, all upgraded to the same level. There is a line about how this makes sense in the context of dimension jumping, but the key thing is that it was the right design choice and simplifies everything.
The two lombax play identically, which is to say they handle more or less like Ratchet has in the past, although there is a new dodge mechanic that comes in very handy during battles and with some more advanced platforming. Hover boots also give you a swift way to move around the often very large semi-open areas the game lets you explore. R1 initiates the boosters, and tapping R2 gets you up to top speed, allowing you to make use of the thoughtfully placed ramps to catch some “big air” as the kids say.
Insomniac once again takes great delight in taking you to loads of diverse, gorgeous locations – this time with some stunning dimension-shifting mechanics in play. At a basic level you can use rifts to teleport yourself to a rift’s location in your immediate play area, kind of like using a grappling hook, but the real technologically impressive stuff happens during fast-paced race sequences as you seamlessly move from one world to another or when you hit a rift crystal to near-instantly change the dimension of the world you’re in, showing two distinct versions. It’s amazing to see and feels so tightly woven into the story that it’s far from a gimmick.
The Ratchet & Clank games have often thrown in sections played with characters other than Ratchet, and here you get to solve puzzles as Clank and shoot viruses as Glitch in computer terminals. The Clank levels see many, many iterations of Clank running through abstract-looking stages, with the goal being to help them reach the goal by using property altering orbs. These must be placed on pads to speed up the Clanks, weigh them down, or lift them up, or to provide power to objects in the level. Figuring out how to obtain the orbs in the first place is part of the puzzle, and while I never found myself completely at a loss over what to do, I did scratch my head in thought a number of times. Shooting viruses in a spider-tank of sorts is the weaker of the two additional gameplay offerings, but it’s still far better than any symbol matching hacking mini-game, and both side offerings play into the core story rather than simply acting as roadblocks to extend the experience.
As ever there are plenty of collectibles to track down throughout the numerous levels, side quests to take on (although don’t think you’re getting an RPG’s worth here), and combat challenges to complete in order to unlock rewards. I found myself wanting to do everything in order to spend as much time in this world as possible, such as it is packed with neat twists on familiar characters and a handful of superb new additions. Some planets offer more fun than others, with my preference being the more open outdoor areas to the confined indoor sequences, while some place an emphasis on combat and fast movement over puzzles and platforming. Variety is strong here, but the quality never disappoints.
We’ve had showpiece games for new consoles in the past (Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, The Bouncer on PS2, Ryse on Xbox One, Killzone Shadowfall on PS4… the list goes on) but rarely do they offer the gameplay experience to back up the spectacle. Insomniac has become one of the safest pairs of hands in gaming, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Rift Apart most definitely isn’t just a superbly lit show pony.
This is a full-fat, planet-hopping, mystery-filled adventure that PS5 owners will lap up and non-owners will resent not being able to play, perhaps through no lack of trying. Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls were superb launch titles for the PS5, but we’re now through the looking glass. The bar has been set. The PS5 has arrived.
Platform reviewed: PS5 – code provided by publisher.