Let’s hammer this verdict on the head early. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a phenomenal, PS5 system seller, and you should invest all your bolts in it. That being said, I’m going to start this review with a non-spoiler tip that I wish I’d known before 100% clocking this for the first time on Renegade Legend difficulty.
Early on, when the game gives you a choice of tourist destinations, visit the planet Savali to fast-track yourself (literally) into the most useful equipment in the game. We first laced these on in A Crack in Time and then Insomniac shoehorned them out after Into the Nexus.
You guessed it!
Rift Apart goes Lombax to the future by reintroducing Hoverboots… 2.0.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review
These sci-fi rollerblades are vastly improved and are “inline” with my own personal need for speed. You simply hold R1 at any time to get moving at double pace, but now you can also rhythmically tap L2 three times to kick up to a ludicrous speed. When you leverage hoverboots with Ratchet’s omniwrench swing attack, you effectively becoming some sort of beat-seeking mammalian missile.
They also seamlessly gel with a new L3 sprint function and the added 8-way air-dash on Circle. All of a sudden, ye old 3D platforming elevates to something fast approaching Jet Grind Radio cranked to 11. Trust me, hoverboot scootin’ will make your process of snooping and crate smashing way faster and more fun.
They’re almost too good. In comparative terms, I’m reminded of the time when I realised I couldn’t go back and play Doom 2016 anymore because I’d played Doom Eternal and fallen in love with its similarly improved movement system. The sheer joy of movement Hoverboots 2.0 provides basically ruins the PS4 Ratchet for replays.
And it’s not like you really need to go back to it to refresh your memory. What we have here is actually a tale that continues from 2013’s Into the Nexus. While trying to bring about a family reunion for his pal Ratchet – the so-called last of his species – Clank’s newly fixed dimensionator is seized by long-time nemesis Dr Nefarious. This clockwork brained buffoon then goes ham with the thing and tears space-time several new bright purple a-holes.
End result: our titular twosome are separated or “rift apart” from one another. Ratchet is whisked to a nightmare twinner dimension where their “Emperor” Nefarious is this suave, Jeremy’s Iron-sounding pro at mass subjugation. Clank then gets mistaken for one of his spybots and is kidnapped by Rivet, a local resistance fighter who’s Ratchet’s less heroically successful dimensional opposite.
The quest to introduce and unify these lombaxes to defeat the two Nefariouses (Neferai?) is told through clean perspective shifts which basically occur when you hop into your ship and switch planets. Certain planets are keyed to certain Lombaxes.
That being the case and rather surprisingly, the physical interactions between Ratchet and Rivet are kinda sparse. They’re of secondary concern here, The separate, evolving journeys each lombax has with their respective “helper partner” is where the main emotional paydirt is mined. That said, it’s all pretty top soil stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, Rivet is indeed a well-voiced and likeable character. She certainly never comes off as a half-arsed gender-bent carbon copy dreamt up by Insomniac to tap into a new audience or anything. She’s a fully realised “what-if” Ratchet alternative whose harsher life experiences shade her in many more interesting ways than just…well, purple.
Also, for me, the simple prospect of getting to know this dark mirror loner was the means by which she effortlessly earned a place in this established universe. Insomniac has also been careful to ensure she shares the spotlight more or less evenly with Ratchet, a 19-year fan-favourite.
All that being said – and this is kind of a holdover disappointment from the 2016 title – I still miss the edge and sass of OG Ratchet. Likewise, while this plot is gripping enough, it’s not the best in the franchise. The main theme being explored here — “hey! don’t be down on yourself, you can do anything!” – gets a little saccharine in spots. It’s all a bit one-note, too. All four main cast members and three secondary ones all suffer from the exact same hang up.
But you know what? While this tale wants for personal crisis variety, it’s still 14 hours of well-paced and stylishly directed storytelling. It’s also worth mentioning that the new frontier of haptics expressions served to keep me way more engaged than usual.
Insomniac has gone to considerable lengths to funnel the sensations of what’s occurring on-screen through your DualSense. Every time my agency was taken from me for some exposition, I had hands-on the controller and was fully engaged, never once looking for the side exit of a Skip Cinematic function.
Also, that function hadn’t been patched in yet. Along with some other things. Which is a topic for later.
Now, before I explain the basic form of Rift Apart’s gameplay, I’d like to quickly thank the Gods of Common Sense. Because, unlike the 2016 game, Insomniac has decided to allow us to have six-game files going at one time. The decision to only allow one in the last time was about as boneheaded as the skeletal undead goons in Rift Apart.
Beyond that crowd-pleasing change, a fair amount of the 2016 title’s DNA does creep across. Once again, the basic gist is to freely planet hop between fairly linear and tightly hemmed planets to more open-world planets where you can spearhead a handful of objectives in any order you please.
Kleptomania is still king. You’ll sniff out secret deposits of the raritanium that’s needed to bulk up your boomsticks or you’ll bloodhound for crates holding the bolts needed to purchase yet more attitude adjusters. There are also three or so pocket dimensions to find on every planet — tiny zones where you’ll need to either ride an animal or use a certain traversal skill to score armour parts that will buff you (even when not worn).
Rift Apart sprinkles in other interdimensional palate cleansers, too. The first new flavour is rail riding that mixes parkour wall-running and grapple hooking with a need to blindly Portal jump through impressive setpieces moments. The wow factor here is not to be understated. Whole, incredible worlds are instantly shuffled in and out via the power of SSD load times. Or possibly voodoo.
Other diversions include a dozen or so optional arena fight events, spiderbot moments where you de-virus Matrixes with gun violence, and puzzle moments that provide our favourite reflective robot even more time to shine. The latter moments detonated a nuke of sheer nostalgia in my cold, cold heart as they’re a 3D homage to the Amiga classic Lemmings.
Like every Ratchet game that came before, Rift Apart is less about the jumpy-jump and more about upping your arsenal and turning someone’s head into a canoe. The cache of 20 weapons here (some of which have to be earned in a secondary Challenge playthrough) comprise the most interesting and satisfying arms selection I think I’ve used in a shooter since, geez, Turok 2? And that’s the highest praise I can give because that game had a Cerebral Bore.
While Rift’s got far too many gats for me to detail here, the overall good news is that there are next to no duds in this bunch. Some return from the previous game – stuff like the doom blades, the peacemaker and the glove of doom. Also, the means to upgrade guns is largely the same. Repeated use levels gun efficiency up to a max of 5 (that expands to 10 in your next playthrough). The higher the gun level, the more potential perks nodes you can unlock with raritanium. Some mystery node blocks will need to be encircled with purchases to unlock especially useful bonuses.
The new weapons that arrive in a near-constant stream are fantastic and each requires drastically different strategies. When everything was going right for me, a burst pistol and a shotgun called the Enforcer could adequately handle mid to close range pests. When I was hurting and my screen was absolutely crawling with the second-worst case of crabs I’d ever seen, I was so glad that I’d invested in three other weapon subtypes that I’ll unofficially call stallers, distractors and cover sneaks.
The first group includes the Coldsnap (which “Walt Disneys” people on the spot for a time) and the Topiary Sprinkler. That sucker can turn even a boss enemy into inanimate, bolt-filled shrubbery that can be subsequently pruned and harvested for bonus currency. So yeah, if you want to become wealthy quick off a hedge fund, become a shrubber.
And bonus points if you can shrub a second enemy beside the first, only slightly higher so you get a two-layer effect with a little path running down the middle.
Meanwhile, the distractor weapon types are a series of mini-me drone dispensers. That might be a flock of mushroom people who pop off shots, bombardier drones who rain death from above or carnivorous ankle-biting robots. They’ll all draw aggro off of you. Which is breathing room for you to find more health or charge up a biblical response.
Lastly, coversneaks are pretty self-explanatory. You can use the arc-aimed Shatterbomb to lob explosive death from complete safety. Or you can use my favourite, the Ricochet. One tap acquires a victim, then you can literally (in terms of sound effects) pinball a metal sphere off their melons while you chuckle in cover. Thanks to the best haptics I’ve felt through the DualSense yet, that process “feels” like you’re forehand/backhand/forehand slapping someone in the face. If you demand satisfaction, sir, the Ricochet delivers it.
This is true with almost all of the weapons. Each one either has a unique haptics expression tied to it or uses the adaptive triggers in a cool and engaging way. Some quick examples: some guns have their fire modes “segmented” into two pull zones. A light squeeze may spit out a single barrel blast and a full yank unloads all four at once.
It’s the same deal with your aiming on L2. The barest squeeze might manifest a zoom or a personal shield to appear on the end of a gun. A firmer pull will trigger bullet-time to nail headshots or punch your energy field shield outwards as an offensive blast.
The only thing more impressive than the varied strategies and actual physical trigger discipline needed to wield these guns well is how fast Insomniac has made these firefights. I went back to play that PS4 game, and it feels like molasses compared, even at only 30 fps. When I was playing it, I immediately missed Rift Apart’s auto-strafe function that frees your left index finger up for Hoverboot evasiveness. I also felt like a geriatric, sitting duck lombax without my sprint and dash functions.
Make no mistake: in some of the arena fights on the hardest difficulty, Rift Apart delivers Returnal levels of frenetic third-person shooting.
When it comes to pros and cons, the most obvious award I can give Rift Apart is for its luscious visuals. I can vividly recall playing the 2002 original on PS2 and having a conversation with a mate of mine about how I couldn’t wait to play a game with Pixar level graphics. His response: “pfffft, never gonna happen.”
Well, you know what Steve, you negative, incredulous bastard? We got there today. Never was only about 20 years.
While I can’t attest to the performance mode that favours 60fps (because it’s in the day one patch and out of my grasp,) I can say the Fidelity mode runs rock solid and is about as mindblowing as a cranial tap from The Migraine.
Rift Apart at times made me feel like I’d fallen into my own alternate dimension – one where Disney Pixar had set Zootopia in space and armed all its furries with guns. That’s the level of painstaking artistry you’re getting here – little physics simulation details and facial animation nuances that you’ll probably only spot when you use the half-speed accessibility mode that slows everything down. Without fail, every time I landed on a new planet, I would take a gobsmacked moment to drink in the vista like a goon. Also to creep closer to my TV and watch my lombax’s fur and ears shift in the wind.
Returnal had its visual moments, but this is something else. This is the next-gen you’ve been waiting to see. Rift Apart is the new graphical benchmark for prettiest game on PS5 and it’s what you’d expect from a true AAA exclusive for the system that isn’t constrained by the need to not blow the absolute doors off its own PS4 version. I think it’s nuts that a game released in the first year of the console looks this good already. I can scarcely imagine what will be possible once the hardware is more fully understood by Sony’s current alpha, Naughty Dog.
Special mention also has to go to Insomniac for fully embracing the unique features and impressive audio properties of the PS5. The DualSense I’ve already covered, but it’s also worth mentioning that this game delivers a Wonka’s factory worth of ear candy through the Pulse 3D headset.
It’s clear that every department in Insomniac has come together to make all the guns look, feel and sound incredibly gratifying to use. That’s complemented by the amusing battle chatter of a bestiary of not-quite-human robot enemies and dudebro mercs who actually inform each another of the specific weapon and tactics you’re using against them.
When it comes to cons, there were only two points where I found myself annoyed at some poorly thought out game design. I’ll tell them to you now so that you won’t fall into the same traps yourself. Firstly, when you’re on Savali, don’t waste an hour trying to find gold bolt 3 of 3 – the game never says it, but you simply cannot locate or acquire it until much, much later.
It’s kind of the same deal in Sargasso earlier on, too. A submission will task you with legging it about to find 60 bits of fruit for a dragon. Some of these delectable collectables are positioned on high peaks and will leave you starching your ears and checking the controls to find out why you can’t grab them with your flying friend. Eventually, you’ll figure out that you need to find every single ground-based fruit before the game decides to hand you the ability to aerial blast the higher up ones.
Once again, just a big, needless time waste that needed to be better telegraphed to players better.
Aside from those moments, and the odd bug where enemy AI pathing gets borked during wave-based survival missions, Rift Apart is (ironically) very well put together. Rare is the time when I hit the end credits of a game and then click on an NG+ Challenge mode and burn through the game to 100% all over again, straight away. But I did it here. And I did it gladly.
Most of the reason why is because the weapons continue to bloom in terms of power, cosmetic flair and use satisfaction, but mostly it was because the top notch presentation sucked me right back in, harder than a Megacorp tractor beam.
While it felt like Insomniac was dozing at the wheel with that 2016, ill-thought-out mixed media mistake, Rift Apart confidently veers this franchise back on course. It’s the sort of product that I think is great enough to inspire a new renaissance in 3D platforming. Jak, Daxter and Sly, I can’t think of a better time for you to double-jump back into our lives.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was reviewed on PS5 using digital code provided by PlayStation Australia.