Tuesday, January 3, 2017

[REVIEW] Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Ratchet & Clank
Played on: PS4
Genre: 3D action-platformer
Developer: Insomniac
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Two of the Playstation brand's most celebrated mascots, Ratchet & Clank arrived on PS4 in this remake of their original PS2 title. Having never played the series, and being a fan of 3D platformers, this was a game I eagerly anticipated. What I found out is that the series (or, at least, this particular game) lacks many of the things that made me love the genre in the first place.

As the game opens, Ratchet is a mechanic apprentice lombax who lives on a peaceful planet but dreams of going in adventures and becoming a hero. One day, has a fateful encounter with Clank, an escaped robot from a grim warbot factory in another planet. Clank wants to stop the evil Chairman Drek from destroying planets with his newest weapon, the deplanetizer, and so the duo embark on an adventure to warn the Galactic Rangers. Yes, it's all very derivative of Star Wars, which is a real bummer when one considers the endless possibilities for a cartoonesque space opera universe.

The titular duo's gameplay partnership is reminiscent of one of the genre's pinnacles: Banjo-Kazooie. Ratchet walks, jumps, and attacks enemies, while Clank, affixed on the lombax's back, aids the gameplay with special movements such as shortly hovering in mid-air. That's where the similarities with Banjo stop, however, as R&C features linear, story-driven progression instead of the more open-ended format seen on Rare's classic series.

Collectibles are present, although the linear story-driven nature of the game hardly compelled me to go out of my way to find them. The most important items are the many wacky guns and weapons you can acquire, which help Ratchet defeat enemies in a variety of ways. They're fun to use, but the lack of a Metroidvania-like push for backtracking feels like a wasted opportunity.

It should be said that the game's performance and production values are stellar. Graphics are crisp and colorful, while movement is extremely fluid. The music is at odds with this, as Ratchet & Clank's soundtrack eschews catchy tunes for generic orchestrated action themes, usually seen on big-budget animation movies.

Sadly, the music isn't the only time the game shows its obsession with being a big-budget animation movie, which is generally to its great detriment. The strict adherence to a script brings forth problems such as the aforementioned linearity, which is frustrating in an universe full of potential like this one. Characters also constantly banter on screen, spewing out tired quips and ho-hum jokes. This is bad by itself, but gets aggravating fast in more difficult sessions, since you'll have to listen to every single line again after each time you die.

The game can certainly be fun, however. Like I said, weapons are a highlight, and there are several action-heavy sequences that can be exhillarating. What is missing is a way to just sit back and explore after each of those sequences, or at least meaningful reasons to do so. As is, Ratchet & Clank ends up feeling like a mere tie-in to their first movie, which was released concurrently, or a warm-up for young players before they get into other franchises in the genre with deeper, better-designed gameplay.


I think the main problem with Ratchet & Clank is not that it lacks ambition, but that its ambition is woefully misdirected. Instead of wanting players to discover and explore its admittedly alluring universe, it wants to strictly guide them through a mediocre movie plotline. I mean, they released an actual animated movie alongside the game, so why not try more of a focus on open-ended exploration here instead?

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