Ratchet & Clank (2016) Review

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Before Grand Theft Auto, before Twisted Metal, even before Doom, I primarily played platformers. My parents got me a Super Nintendo around my second birthday so I started playing video games while I was still shitting my pants. Super Mario World was one of the first games I had ever owned and it’s also the greatest game of all time and I will fight anybody to the death on that argument. When I got older I eventually got a Sony PlayStation but sadly, I never had a Nintendo 64 so I missed out on the greatest 3D platformer ever made – Super Mario 64. I eventually played it much later in life but since I owned a PlayStation in the 90s, the original three Spyro games, developed by Insomniac Games, were my 3D platformers of choice. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage was always my favorite in the series and I can remember beating it at least twenty times over the course of one summer. When I eventually obtained a PlayStation 2, I started to focus on different genres of games and didn’t play another Insomniac game until a few years ago when I bought a copy of the Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy for PlayStation 3. I got pretty far in the first game but after hitting a difficulty spike I just kind of gave up and never got back into it. I enjoyed what I played so when I heard Ratchet & Clank was coming to the PlayStation 4, I knew I would eventually get a copy.

This 2016 iteration of Ratchet & Clank is a reboot of the series and a re-imagining of the first game. It was released in April, 2016 and coincides with the Ratchet & Clank movie, which I never saw, released that same month. The game and movie go hand in hand which means the game is based on the movie which is based on the game, both of which are based on the series. It’s very rare that I play games based on movies and it’s also very rare that I watch movies based on games but because Ratchet & Clank 2016 is basically based on itself and because it’s from the same developers that brought us the original three Spyro games, I was confident it would be a decent platformer. I know the movie didn’t do so hot but I heard the game was exceptional. Ratchet & Clank 2016 is more than just an HD version of the first game. From what I understand it includes various gameplay elements from multiple entries in the series but because I’ve only played the HD version of the original on PlayStation 3, I really couldn’t tell you which elements came from which game. What I can tell you is that this is one of the best 3D platformers I’ve ever played and I found it really hard to put down. Other than the Mario series, I can rarely get invested in modern 3D platformers but this game was just so much fun that I’m actually disappointed I had to stop playing to do this review.

As one would expect from a typical platformer, Ratchet & Clank is what I’ll call a “family-friendly” game with humorous and zany characters and a story that actually isn’t too bad for what it is. When the story begins we find out that Captain Qwark of the Galactic Rangers is imprisoned and is getting a new cell mate, Shiv Helix. Shiv is a huge fan of Qwark and reveals that a game is being made based on his last adventure. Qwark begins to tell Shiv his version of the story and that’s how the story plays out. As you’re playing you’ll occasionally hear Qwark’s voice narrating the events of the game. On the planet Veldin, we are introduced to Ratchet, a young Lombax and mechanic, and his dreams of becoming a Galactic Ranger. Meanwhile, on the planet Quartu, Chairman Alonzo Drek oversees the construction of a robotic army built by Dr. Nefarious. These robots are known as warbots and make up some of the enemies in the game. A defective warbot manages to escape in a stolen ship and after it’s shot down, it crash lands on the planet Veldin. Ratchet rescues the warbot from the wreckage of the destroyed ship and names him “Clank”. Under Drek’s command, the Blargians and warbots invade several planets so Ratchet and Clank team up, become Galactic Rangers, and join the fight against Drek and his army. Because the game was in parallel development with the movie, the cut scenes are of high production values. Most of the voice actors do an excellent job, although some of the dialogue is cringeworthy but I blame that on the writing. The cut scenes do make it feel like you’re watching a movie and overall it was a fun storyline that made me laugh a few times.

Ratchet & Clank is a 3D platformer, an action 3D platformer to be exact. You explore various open-world planets killing enemies with a wide array of weaponry. You collect Bolts by killing enemies and destroying objects, which are the game’s form of currency to be spent on new weapons that can be purchased from Gadgetron Vendors. Raritanium can be collected from fallen enemies and throughout the environments and is used for upgrading weapons. You can run, jump, double-jump, wall jump, and swim to navigate through different environments and as you progress through the game you’ll acquire all kinds of new gadgets that make navigation easier. There are a few puzzle elements here and there, which I’m not a fan of, but there’s nothing that really left me scratching my head. If you do get stuck, the characters will often say things to guide you. There’s three difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, and Hard, and you can switch between them at any point during the game. I played through the entire game on Normal and found the pacing to be perfect. The game becomes gradually more difficult as you progress and I never hit a spike as hard as the one I hit in the HD version of the original game. Gold Bolts are hidden in each planet and collecting them will unlock various extras like different appearance options, cheats, and behind the scenes artwork. After beating the game you’ll unlock the Challenge Mode which is basically “New Game Plus”. You get to keep your existing weapons and upgrades but enemies and bosses are bit tougher. Holocards can also be acquired from fallen enemies and hidden throughout the environments and completing different sets of cards will unlock Omega Variants of weapons in the Challenge Mode along with other bonuses. In addition to being an action game, I guess you could say Ratchet and Clank is a collectathon as well. Although, not as excessive as Donkey Kong 64.

Throughout most of the game you’ll be playing as Ratchet and Clank together. Clank is a tiny warbot so he can fit on Ratchet’s back, like a backpack. Every now and then they split up and you’ll have to play as the characters individually and I’m honestly not a fan of the Clank sequences. Clank can’t take as much damage as Ratchet before dying and every scenario is a puzzle. He can transform little robots known as Gadgebots into different things like bridges, a source of power, and a jumping platform. The goal of almost every scenario is to figure out how to get from point A to B using the Gadgebots and it just becomes tedious. Luckily, there’s only a few Clank sequences and they don’t last too long unless you get stuck on a puzzle. The gadgets you acquire are specific to each character for example the Omniwrench is only available to Ratchet and enables him smack things, turn bolt cranks, and he can even throw it. The Hydropack is specific to Clank but is only useful when the duo is together and enables them to swim underwater at high speeds. After obtaining the O2 Mask, Ratchet can then breathe underwater. The gadgets are obtained by reaching specific points in the story or completing specific missions on a planet. My least favorite is the Trespasser. It lets you hack doors and you’re rewarded with bolts if successful but the hacking mini-game gets tedious after a while. You do have the option to AutoHack but you won’t receive any bolts or trophies as a result. I could go on and on about gadgets but their sole purpose is to make navigation easier and its really the weapons and upgrades that make this game shine.

Even though the Omniwrench is a gadget, you can use it as a weapon to smack enemies and it’s your only weapon when you first start playing. As you progress to new planets, new weapons become available at Gadgetron Vendors which are always located somewhere near your ship’s landing site. Whenever a weapon is used to kill enemies, it gains experience and eventually levels up, making it more powerful. After a weapon reaches the max level of five, it will receive an extra bonus. Any Raritanium you collect can be used to purchase upgrades like more ammo, bigger area of affect, increased damage, and others that are specific to certain weapons. As weapons level up more upgrades become available and the upgrades are in the form of hexes. If you manage to unlock a series of hexes surrounding a mystery upgrade, identified with a question mark, you will unlock it which grants a special bonus for that weapon. If you manage to complete a weapon’s set of Holocards, the Omega Variant of that weapon becomes available for purchase in the Challenge Mode, and in addition to it being more powerful, it can level up five more times. Buying weapons and upgrading them becomes extremely addicting and they help prevent the combat from becoming monotonous. Different situations may call for different weapons so no one weapon ever felt useless.

There’s a pretty big variety of weapons and they’re all extremely fun to use. All weapons use up ammo but ammo can be found by destroying crates in the environments. Some of my favorite weapons include the Combuster which is like a gun that fires plasma balls. The Groovitron causes nearby enemies to dance making them vulnerable to attacks. The Plasma Striker is like a sniper rifle that will highlight enemy weak points if you zoom in. The Warmonger is a rocket launcher and the Pixelizer will turn enemies into pixels, complete with retro sound effects. You can switch weapons using the in-game weapon wheel or assign four weapons to the d-pad buttons for quick access. I really wish you could just cycle through them because by the end of the game I was constantly using the weapon wheel and because the wheel will pause the gameplay, it becomes a bit annoying. Some weapons are clearly better for certain situations. For instance if you’re being attacked by an enemy gunship, you would want to a use a long range weapon like the Warmonger or Predator Launcher. When being swarmed by smaller enemies, I found the Pyrocitor, which is basically a flamethrower, to be the most effective. I found it really fun experimenting with different weapons and if you’re like me then you’ll stick with a few weapons as your primaries early on but by the end of the game you may find yourself using the rest more often.

I am not a fan of a ton of mini-games in my platformers. Banjo-Tooie is a big offender of mini-games and that’s one of the reasons I never beat it. I prefer to explore, collect shit, defeat enemies, and find secrets. Thankfully, Ratchet & Clank doesn’t come anywhere near Banjo-Tooie in terms of mini-games but there a few that I’m really not a fan of. As I said earlier, I’m not a huge fan of the Clank sequences or Trespasser hacking which I guess you can say are just puzzle mini-games. After acquiring the Hoverboard you can participate in Hoverboard races which are just boring. You can boost, jump, and do tricks in the air but it gets old quickly. They’re not really that hard and you can compete for cups like Bronze, Silver, and Gold but you’re only reward is Bolts. One planet requires you to win a race to obtain a gadget but that’s the only time you’re really forced to do this unless you’re a completionist and need to do everything. Other than these mini-games, everything else about the gameplay is really solid. The game controls well and navigation feels like a breeze. Each planet is like an open world so you can pretty much go anywhere you want minus areas that require specific gadgets to access. The actual paths to your objectives are pretty linear so it’s not hard to figure out where to go but finding secret areas will require some exploring. To complete a planet one hundred percent, there’s a good chance you’ll need to come back to it later but I wouldn’t think of this as backtracking a la Metroid. It’s a very similar concept to the elements found in the later two Spyro games for the original PlayStation. You explore a world, see areas you can’t access, acquire an ability later on, and then revisit that world and use your new ability to access those areas.

As Ratchet kills enemies he gains experience and whenever he levels up his max health is increased by ten hit points. Even on the Normally difficulty mode the game does put up a decent challenge and I died quite a few times. Luckily, you’ll always respawn close to where you died and never lose anything you’ve acquired. You can replenish health by finding Nanotech throughout the environments. If you fail to upgrade weapons and just try to plow through the game I can see how things may become a bit difficult. However, if you take your time, upgrade weapons and collect as many bolts as you can, you’ll find the gameplay to be just challenging enough to keep you engaged. If you can’t afford a new weapon you can always grind previous planets for bolts but I never felt the need to do that. Because I took my time I was always able to push forward and it was rare that there was ever more than one weapon I couldn’t afford. By the time I got through a planet, I was able to buy it and if you unlock certain weapon upgrades early on, like receiving bonus bolts, acquiring new weapons shouldn’t really be a problem. There are a few boss battles in the game but given the length of the game, I kind of wish there were more. None of them are that difficult to defeat since their attack patterns are easy to memorize. I think it took me about ten hours to beat the game and that’s without collecting everything. I’m still working my way through the Challenge Mode and it’s just as fun as the first time I played through it.

Ratchet & Clank includes some excellent sequences that are truly memorable as are the environments themselves. Each planet has a different theme going on which helps keep the game interesting all the way through. After acquiring the grind boots, Ratchet can ride on grind rails and jump between them to avoid hazards. Some planets let you fly your ship and shoot down enemies. One sequence has you running atop a moving train and another sequence has you manning a defense turret to shoot down enemy war ships and incoming missiles. Ratchet & Clank is just full of action sequences like this and what makes it even cooler is the fact that this game is just gorgeous. I frequently found myself just staring at the backgrounds and vistas. Flying creatures and ships will populate the skies, lasers will be flying overhead, and everything is just extremely well detailed. From the fur on Ratchet to the reflective surfaces, this game is visually stunning. Accompanying the gorgeous visuals is a fantastic soundtrack. It’s full of upbeat orchestral scores that fit in perfectly with this style of game. The sound effects are also of exceptional quality. Each weapon sounds unique and powerful, the explosions sound amazing, and even little things like swimming underwater sound incredible. The only technical issue I noticed is that the frame rate will dip when things get extremely hectic but it’s not often and ninety percent of the time the game runs at a solid thirty frames. Needless to say, Ratchet & Clank is a feast for the eyes and the ears and it even supports 4K but I didn’t get a chance to try it.

My favorite game released in 2016 was the new Doom but I would definitely add Ratchet & Clank to second place. Playing through it took me back to my childhood when platformers were evolving from 2D to 3D and exploring 3D worlds was just mind blowing. Back when platformers were a dominant force in the video game industry. Other than the very few minor issues I have with the gameplay, I would say this is one of the best games on the PS4 and I would recommend that everybody check it out. Not only is it amazing but you can get it for half the price of a new retail game and probably get more replay value out of it as well. With all of the weapons, unlockables, difficulties, and the Challenge Mode, Ratchet & Clank should keep you playing for a very long time. I can’t think of any reason to not play this unless you don’t like platformers, action games, or fun in general. I still think Mario 64 is the greatest 3D platformer of all time but I would definitely put Ratchet & Clank 2016 in the top five. I only wish Spyro would make a glorious return like this and receive the same amount of love.

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