There hasn’t really been a game so far that has sold the idea that this generation will be a huge leap forward. We’ve seen quicker load times, better graphics, and some fancy controller integration, but for the most part, everything just feels like a souped-up PS4 game. After witnessing almost an hour of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and speaking to several people at Insomniac across the writing, art, animation, tech, and sound departments, it feels like this generation might finally arrive for real on June 11 with this PS5 exclusive.
The obvious thing that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has that would have been impossible on the PS4 are the superquick load times – while they’re literally blink-and-you’ll-miss it, a much more exciting element that the PS5 introduces to Ratchet & Clank is hyper-kinetic play. The series has always been busy and chaotic, but Rift Apart kicks it up a notch. Ratchet and Rivet can phase shift, allowing them to zip in all different directions while leaving a ghostly trace of themselves and becoming temporarily invincible. As well as the big rifts, which we’ve already seen a lot of, the preview focussed on the smaller rifts too – in battle, you’ll be able to yank yourself through different mini portals and pop-up on the other side of the combat arena in an instant. It’s not the fast load times in and of themselves that are impressive, so much as it is the way they’ve been folded into the overall game design.
It’s tempting to just talk about Rift Apart in these terms; as a triple-A tech demo, as proof of the power of the PS5, but it’s easy to forget it’s a game first, and it looks like it could be one of the most narratively compelling Ratchet & Clank titles ever. You might not think that’s an incredibly high bar, and it seems like Insomniac is inclined to agree, which is why there’s a greater focus on the story this time around. While the early narratives were more action-driven, Rift Apart is propped up by the plot. That’s where Rivet, an alternate dimension version of Ratchet, comes into things. She is “what Ratchet would be like without Clank,” creative director Mike Daly told me in our one-to-one interview, and that makes for a more introspective story. They were once designed to be polar opposites, with a much more bitter and angry Rivet, before she was tweaked to be far more charismatic, though still isolated and lonely. This ties into the game’s score, filled with levity and unusual instruments in the style of Thor: Ragnarok, which keeps the tone light even as the story hits emotional beats.
The game’s primary aesthetic is too hard to pin down, given that you rift from dimension to dimension, and hop from planet to planet. But the most interesting design I’ve seen so far is the world Ratchet originally lands in, where he first discovers Rivet’s poster in the trailer. This is designed to be a 1950s cyberpunk dystopia with propaganda nightclubs full of drones – each planet is a mini open world with various different interactions like spaceship crashes going on in the world while you stroll around – think Miles Morales’ Manhattan squeezed down into a smaller space, packed with even more life. Now think of several of them scattered across the galaxy – that’s essentially what Rift Apart’s map is like.
There’s a helluva lot of other Spidey influence here too. Rivet can swing from beams, run along walls, and zoom along the ground on hoverboots. Ratchet will likely be able to do a lot of this stuff too, but the vast majority of the preview focussed on Rivet, so it feels as if I know a lot more about how she operates. In battle and in traversal, she can chain in and out of moves with ease, and the phase shift can be used to defy gravity for some coyote time in mid-air too. Rivet doesn’t just get thwipy though, she also gets quippy. The fight scenes are full of constant chatter and banter, and it’s clear that humour is at the heart of Rift Apart’s identity.
In fact, humour is one of three prongs that go into the weapon design, according to my chat with the team in charge of Ratchet & Rivet’s arsenal. Spectacle – how exciting a weapon is to watch, and strategy – how much it turns the tide in battle, are the other two, and while the preview only scratched the surface of the full complement of guns, this philosophy is clear to see. I don’t think I saw anything that hasn’t already featured in either the trailers or the State of Play, but there was a much more in-depth look at how they work. The Topiary Sprinkler is already my favourite – it turns your enemies into topiary hedges, and is inspired by a developer’s trip to Disney World. Originally, this was going to be a freeze ray, but that was a bit too played out for the ‘spectacle’ and ‘humour’ categories, so the Topiary Sprinkler was born. The game also features bombs, power gloves, quadruple barrelled shotguns, and a gun based on a pinball machine, while the Pixelizer is detailed enough that each cube is raytraced – though they’re so small you’ll need to use photo mode to see them.
These weapons also use the DualSense in a variety of ways – a half squeeze on certain guns will lock the trigger, giving you a slow and accurate shot pattern, while a full squeeze is a faster spray and pray. With the shotgun, different squeeze strengths will fire differing amounts of the barrels. It seems like the general public aren’t all the way sold on the Adaptive Triggers yet – I’m a fan, so I’m excited to see what Ratchet & Clank does with them, but the jury’s out on whether it will win over any non-believers.
Finally, the load times. You all know what I’m going to say about them. They’re phenomenal, and more so than just being fast, it’s obvious the game has been designed with these fast transitions in mind. That means those events in the mini open world, the traversal across the map in an instant, and of course, no waiting around while Ratchet or Rivet steps into a new dimension. From what I’ve seen, that’s true whether it’s a big dimension, a pocket dimension, or the space in between dimensions where Clank journeys alone. You know that bit in Spider-Man: Miles Morales where Miles zips through the hole in the wall and immediately starts swinging across New York? It’s basically a whole game of that. You’ll be able to check it out for yourself when Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart launches exclusively for PS5 on June 11.
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