Ratchet & Clank covers old ground, but it’s also something we rarely see in gaming — not a re-release or an HD up-rez but a full-on, Hollywood-style remake of the 14-year-old original game.
In the world of film, there would be justifiable debate and hand-wringing over a mere 14-year gap between an original release and a remake. Is a decade and a half enough time to warrant revisiting that old ground? In games, though? That amount of time makes a world of difference. Developer Insomniac isn’t just updating its most well-known mascot for a new audience; it’s bringing that character’s origin up to modern standards of polish and playability.
INSOMNIAC UPDATES A PS2 CLASSIC WITH MODERN POLISH AND GAMEPLAYRatchet & Clank makes a handful of concessions and choices to help tie the game in more strongly to the upcoming film. But even amid some flaws, it’s hard not to be excited about one of the PlayStation 2’s best gifts to gaming being brought back to glorious life.
Ratchet & Clank begins with an extended introduction whereby the eponymous duo is brought together. Ratchet is a Lombax — a weird catlike creature that walks upright — who works as a mechanic on a backwater planet, dreaming of exploring the galaxy. Clank is a defective robot accidentally created in a factory meant to pump out murderous warbots. When Clank crash-lands on Ratchet’s planet, the two team up to warn the galaxy about the impending warbot threat and the boisterous bad guys behind it.
That quest will lead the two on a journey to about a dozen different planets, where the majority of their time will be spent running, jumping and blasting enemies with a colorful arsenal of weapons.Ratchet & Clank features a mix of weapons seen in the series previously (including much of the selection from the 2002 game) as well as a couple of new guns.
The most notable new weapon is the pixelizer, which basically operates as an all-purpose shotgun with one special feature: Any enemies hit by its blast are temporarily pixelated, collapsing into a pile of pixels when killed — complete with ’80s arcade cabinet death cries. It’s a fun visual effect, and an impressive one when you turn a whole room full of weaker enemies into a giant stack of pixels at once.
As always, fun informs Ratchet & Clank‘s weapon lineup. Technically, the remake has a slightly smaller number of combat options than the original, but it does more with what’s there. As in later entries in the franchise, each gun can be leveled up multiple times from use, and can be further differentiated by unlocking upgrades using a limited resource called raritanium.
Through these systems, even the weakest weapon can eventually become an unstoppable behemoth if you spend enough time and resources on it. There may be fewer choices, but I felt encouraged to use everything available to see what I could get out of them.
Take the Pyrocitor, for example, which starts out as your average, limited-range flamethrower. As I pumped raritanium into it, I was able to not only upgrade its range and the amount of ammo it carried but also its destructive capabilities. By the end of Ratchet & Clank it morphed into the Lavacitor, an upgraded flamethrower that also caused enemies to explode, damaging surrounding foes. Every gun in Ratchet & Clank follows a similarly delightful upgrade path, and the enemies are numerous and varied enough that I never tired of trying out new ways to destroy them.
THE REMAKE ADDS EXCITING, REFRESHING NEW SETPIECESRatchet & Clank‘s lush worlds also feature some simple platforming, but the game is most differentiated from the one it’s remaking in the way it mixes up gameplay. Some of these scenarios are things fans of the original will remember: hoverboard races, laser puzzles and a few exciting segments that have Ratchet grind along on rails. But there’s also a number of new and much more fleshed out setpieces. Areas where Ratchet jumps into his ship for full 3D flight and combat are the most noteworthy. The ease and flashiness of these bits make for a refreshing break from a core gameplay loop that’s enjoyable but relatively simple.
Even better — albeit criminally underutilized — is the addition of free-roaming jetpack areas, as seen in 2013’s Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus. While many of Ratchet & Clank‘s planets feature the same general layout as they did in the original game, the areas where the jetpack is utilized are completely original in design and extremely fun. Every time I blasted into the air and shot down enemies, I felt a rush. I just wish the game had allowed me to do so more often.
Not every gameplay twist succeeds. Tiny robot Clank is able to get into locations that Ratchet and other characters can’t, but he can’t take much damage and can only fight using his metallic fists — no weird, interesting guns here. This means Clank areas are focused on puzzle solving but punctuated with a handful of mediocre combat encounters, as well as Crash Bandicoot-style run-toward-the-camera challenges. The puzzles are clever enough, but they focus a bit too heavily on backtracking to make up for the other tedious parts of playing as Clank.
RATCHET & CLANK IS SOMETHING WORTHWHILE FOR FANS NEW AND OLD ALIKE
I’d stop short of saying that the new Ratchet & Clank is exactly what every fan of the series wants. It’s a bit less sprawling in terms of hard numbers — fewer planets, fewer weapons and so on — but the sheer variety and polish prevents this excellent reboot from being dragged down too far. There’s enough here to make longtime fans happy, but perhaps more importantly for Insomniac and the franchise’s future, it should win over plenty of new fans as well.
Ratchet & Clank was reviewed using a final retail PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by Sony. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.