TL; DR(eview) - The Ratchet & Clank remake is a beautiful action platformer. Along with being one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 4, the gameplay and story ooze charm and fun.
During the PlayStation 2 era, I played a lot of RPGs and the occasional action-adventure games like Grand Theft Auto and God of War. But I never really played any of the major mascot platformers like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, or Ratchet & Clank. Eventually, I picked up and played through the Jak trilogy when it was remastered for the PlayStation 3 but my demo of the remastered Ratchet & Clank at December's PlayStation Experience was my first encounter with everyone's favorite Lombax.
Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac Games is very much my favorite Xbox One title as I took great joy in the fast-paced natured, over-the-top weapon selections, and tongue-firmly-in-cheek attitude. If Sunset Overdrive is the Insomniac version of T for Teen, Ratchet & Clank is the poster child for their E for Everyone brand of humor, action, and world design. For those (like me) who haven't played any of the Ratchet & Clank games, it is very much a reboot of the franchise. Much like the Andrew Garfield-led The Amazing Spider-Man told a slightly different origin story compared to the Tobey Maquire Spider-Man film a decade earlier, Ratchet & Clank (2016) is a slightly new take on Ratchet & Clank (2002).* There are a couple references to the original game, but mostly, this one sticks to its own story.
* - And since 2002 was also the year that original Spider-Man movie launched, as well as Minority Report which was rebooted recently in television form, it was clearly an all-around good year for things that would get remade.
You play as Ratchet, a Lombax with dreams of adventure. Shortly after being turned down as a contender for the Space Rangers (intergalactic police of sorts), his life is thrust into adventure with an escaped defective warbot, affectionately nicknamed Clank. Clank knows his makers are up to no good and the two begin their adventure going from planet to planet to save the galaxy.
The story is told through a combination of in-game cutscenes as well as scenes that may also feature in the upcoming Ratchet & Clank film.** Many have been describing the look of the game to that of a Pixar film and I can't really argue with it. The animation is fluid, vibrant, and full of character. It might not be along the lines of modern Pixar like Brave and Inside Out but it certainly feels at home along side the era of Ratatouille and The Incredibles (leader of the Space Rangers Captain Qwark would fit right into that universe).
** There's another analogy at play here. Much like the Mel Brooks' move The Producers spawned a Broadway musical that was then remade back into a movie, this game is technically based on the animated movie that was based on the original game.
<Insert Up Your Arsenal Reference Here>
Insomniac's brand of outlandish weapons and gadgets is on full array in Ratchet & Clank. Alongside, you're trusty melee wrench, the game features 15 weapons to collect and enjoy. While you'll start off with the more straight-forward pistol- and grenade-type weapons, it's not long before you'll earn weapons like the Groovitron (which will launch a disco ball mine into battle and cause nearby enemies to stop attacking and just dance like nobody is watching) or the Sheepinator (a laser weapon that can, as its name might imply, turn your enemies into sheep).
As was the case with Sunset Overdrive, as you use a particular weapon, it will level up, becoming more powerful and allowing for customization. Each piece in your arsenal has an associated grid with weapon-specific boosts like increased damage, more ammo, etc. that can be purchased using Raritanium - one of the games currencies. While I certainly found myself favoring certain weapons over others, once those weapons would max out, I'd experiment with different ones so that experience wasn't going to waste. There's no set load-out. Once you have collected or purchased a weapon, it's at your disposal the rest of the game.
While most of the game plays as a third-person shooter bouncing across a variety of alien planets, each with a couple of main or side quests to explore, the pacing is nicely broken up with the occasional puzzle section where you'll take control of Clank, flight combat sections where you take control of Ratchet's ship to fight off alien enemy saucers and the like, and hoverboard racing tournaments where you rush around a three-lap race track filled with speed boosts and the occasional hazard. This kind of diversity goes a long way in keeping the game from feeling like its getting stale over the course of its campaign.
It's So Beautiful
The technical achievements of Ratchet & Clank can not be overstated. As I played across the game's many rich and beautifully crafted worlds, I was continually impressed but just how much was happening on the screen. Especially during some particularly hectic firefights, there were a seemingly unwieldy overabundance of enemies, four or five different weapon effects, and hundreds of nuts and bolts (the much more common in-game currency) flying around the screen but never even the hint of slowdown or a dip in the framerate. I would even try to "break" the game by throwing as much into an engagement as I could but the game held up under pressure beautifully. Much like the PlayStation 4 launch title Knack, Ratchet & Clank is an absolute showcase for the level of detail and graphical power of this console generation. And fortunately, I found the game a lot more fun to play as well.
As I played through Ratchet & Clank, I would occasionally tear myself away from the sheer pleasure of watching an arena of my foes dancing while others had been pixelated by one of my other guns to reflect on just how much I've missed by never having played this series until now. Of course, not every Ratchet & Clank title out there is going to be great but the spirit and style of this series would have been right up my alley over the past fourteen years so I'm sure I would have found more good than bad. If this remaster serves as the launchpad for a new era of the series, I'll be keeping a close eye on it in the years to come.