The PS2 era was a wonderful time for 3D platformers. With the heightened power of a new console and those early teething issues largely resolved, the genre flourished: games like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet and Clank opened the doors to colourful new worlds rife with things to collect, places to explore, and quirky characters to meet. Twenty-odd years on, that spirit lives on in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart: far from a “retro-inspired” nostalgic throwback to the past by any means, but rather, a decidedly modern game that feels like the natural extension of that golden era. It’s a wonderful thing.
Rift Apart takes place after the events of 2013’s Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, though it’s self-contained enough for a new player to just jump right in. In an effort to show his appreciation for Ratchet, Clank rebuilds a dimension-hopping “Dimensionator” so that Ratchet—the last known Lombax—can try to find his people and discover his past. Naturally, that goes awry when the evil Doctor Nefarious gets involved, the Dimensionator breaks, and different dimensions get smashed together. Cue all the zany antics and interstellar adventures of any Ratchet & Clank game, only now with the fun of alternate realities and a new ally to join in the action in Rivet, another Lombax from another dimension.
It’s the kind of setup we’ve seen time and again (including from Crash Bandicoot 4, just last year), but for this sort of game, it’s one that always works. The possibilities for goofy cross-dimensional interactions between different characters is always a lot of fun, but most importantly, it lays the groundwork for the vibrant, creative levels that 3D platformers thrive on. Rift Apart takes you from crowded, floating sci-fi city streets to sprawling plains full of ancient ruins, from toxic swamps to the destroyed remnants of a mining colony.
Each world feels unique, but they’re united in how bright and colourful they are, and how stunning they are to witness. Every location feels alive, with an abundance of plants and little critters running around in the more naturalistic environments and the hustle and bustle of futuristic city life in the urban spaces. Look closely, and you’ll find plenty of little details; look from afar, and each location—even the most deserted—feels like it’s teeming with life, or at least the remnants of it.
If you can take a moment to put the non-stop, energetic action of a Ratchet & Clank game on hold for a sec and just admire the scenery, there’s so much to take in. It’s more than a little impressive—and I say that as someone who’s not usually that interested in raw power. Rift Apart is a technically impressive game, certainly, but it’s also a great showcase of how that graphical horsepower can lend itself to the art direction of a game to create something truly stunning.
Taking in the sights is part of the appeal, but the bigger draw is how much fun it is to simply explore—and this is where Rift Apart really shows its classic 3D platformer spirit. Every level is packed with little secrets to find, environmental puzzles to solve, and collectibles to tempt adventurers off the beaten path. There’s a lot of stuff to find, but the way the pieces of each area come together with the various navigational tools at your disposal makes the search for every last golden bolt a joy—far more than just a checklist of things to do. New tricks like wall running and a dimension-altering dash that lets you pass through certain objects adds a new layer to navigation, and the way the level design encourages creative use of these abilities, often in tandem with one another, makes just getting around a whole lot of fun in its own right.
All those gadgets are fun, but there’s one that stands out above all the rest: the Rift Tether. As a side effect of the whole broken dimensions thing, there are little portals scattered about each level; aim your tether at one, and you can pull yourself through it, rapidly travelling to another section of the map. Teleports are nothing new in games, but you’d normally see your character disappear in one spot and pop out in the other. In Rift Apart, you go through the portal with your character, the level changing instantly and in real-time as you pass through the portal. It’s a hard thing to describe in words, but the effect is bizarre, even disorienting—deliberately so, as the whole world changes around you in an instant. It’s fantastic (and a handy way to get around, besides), and easily the most creative application of the PS5’s ultra-fast loading times that I’ve seen to date.
I can’t remember the last time I had as much fun working towards 100% completion—though I’m still a long way off from that, I should note—as I’m having in Rift Apart. In a time where open worlds with tedious to-do lists are the norm in the blockbuster space, it’s refreshing to play a game that knows how to make the journey to that perfect save file worthwhile. (And on that note, I’m so relieved that Insomniac didn’t try to shoehorn Ratchet & Clank into an open-world format. Finely crafted, layered levels work so much better, especially for a game like this.)
And what would Ratchet & Clank be without its assortment of the most ridiculous weapons imaginable? Rift Apart starts you out with your standard assault rifle, shotgun, and grenades—albeit in over-the-top, Ratchet & Clank style—but after that, all bets are off. Want to drop a sprinkler that can turn your enemies into topiaries, ready to be tidily trimmed? Go for it. Want to summon some fungus monsters that call to mind Ragnarok Online’s mushroom enemies? All yours. Want to hide some drillbots in the ground, ready to burst out beneath your foes? Go nuts.
The action in Rift Apart is constant, and while I wouldn’t mind a little more room to breathe between grand set-piece battles, the sheer creative variety of weapons available makes the constant fighting plenty of fun. There’s also a nice touch this time around with alternate fire modes, which make use of the PS5 controller’s adaptive triggers in a similar fashion to Returnal. Pull the trigger halfway for one of the two options, before the resistance kicks in and makes it easy to stop at that point, while a pulling all the way activates the second mode. This can be the difference between a single and double shot from your shotgun, a way of pre-charging a charged laser blast, or a way to shift between rapid fire and slower, more accurate shots from your rifle.
That said, the enemy designs can be a bit generic, and foes generally try to overwhelm you with numbers rather than do anything that requires any particularly creative response. It can get annoying at times, with attacks coming at you from all sides—often from off-screen—but enemies in Rift Apart mostly exist to be things to try out your news toys on. Luckily, the toys themselves are fun enough that the forgettable enemies you’re using them on end up not really mattering.
There isn’t a whole lot of depth to the story that Rift Apart tells as you fight to save the universe again, but it’s got plenty of laughter and a surprising amount of heart. The next joke is never far away, and with the sort of finely-tuned comedic timing and animation chops of a Pixar film, it’s a constant delight. There aren’t too many breaks in the non-stop action and hijinks, but when Rift Apart does allow itself a quiet moment to explore the relationships between its characters, it can get a little emotional in a way that I certainly wouldn’t expect from a bombastic action platformer. Rivet is the real star of the show here—sarcastic and untrusting, but with a heart of gold and a fierce sense of justice. Again, nothing terribly original or nuanced, but engrossing all the same.
As the first entirely new Ratchet & Clank in almost eight years, and the latest entry in one of the defining franchises of the PS2, Rift Apart had a big legacy to live up to. But boy, does it manage to step into those magneboots, delivering a decidedly modern game that creatively pushes technical boundaries, while also being grounded firmly in the joyful, playful design philosophy of that golden age of 3D platformers. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart feels like something from an alternate dimension where that early 2000s style of platformer design never went out of vogue.
Title: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release date: 11 June 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.