Review: Ratchet & Clank (2016)

For the last fourteen years, Sony has been releasing Ratchet & Clank games. Over that time, the series has spanned five consoles, contained single player and co-op campaigns, and even experimented with tower defense elements and online multiplayer. It’s clear that Insomniac has not been afraid to take risks with their beloved duo. However, what Ratchet & Clank (2016) represents is more return to form than experimentation; a re-imagining of the heroes’ origin story tailored for a 2016 audience.

But what relevance does a traditional, single-player Ratchet & Clank campaign have in an industry continually moving towards online multiplayer experiences? Turns out, quite a bit…

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Ratchet & Clank (2016) starts off similarly to Ratchet & Clank (2002). Ratchet works in a garage, idolizing the Galactic Rangers and hoping to join their ranks. One night, a ship crash lands nearby, promting Ratchet to go investigate. There, he meets Clank, a defective warbot who escaped the facilities of the game’s villain Chairman Drek. Ratchet and Clank become fast friends and set off on a mission to join the Galactic Rangers and save the galaxy from Drek’s evil plans. It’s a story that we’ve largely seen before, but some smart tweaks and new coat of paint keep it feeling fresh. Where Ratchet & Clank (2016) really differs from its PlayStation 2 predecessor however, is with its gameplay.

With a number of series standbys like the Sheepinator and Mr. Zurkon as well as a few newcomers like the Pixelizer and the Bouncer, Ratchet & Clank (2016) boasts the type of fun and inventive arsenal we’ve come to expect from Insomniac Games. Although I felt like the controls were a little loose at times, guns feel great overall and a number of the game’s weapons like the Groovinator and Sheepinator are laugh-out-loud funny at times. I was blown away by how many enemies were given dance animations for the groovinator…up to and including boss battles and even the tanks that occasionally cross your path. Although it does no damage on its own, forcing a boss to take a dance break with the Groovinator as you get your bearings is strangely empowering.

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There’s also a full weapon upgrade system in place this time around, allowing players to choose which of their weapons to improve first. Each weapon has its own set of abilities that can be improved upon like ammo capacity, fire rate, or duration of effect just to name a few. As you fill in upgrade slots, you’ll unlock larger upgrades along the way by surrounding them on the upgrade grid. At each visit to the Gadgetron vendor, it became a goal for me to get my favorite guns to their next big upgrade, forcing me to choose which of my favorites to improve. I typically landed on the Bouncer, which is unfortunately a pre-order exclusive weapon. Hopefully it will be patched into the game at a later date though, since it’s an absolute blast to use.

Graphically, Ratchet & Clank (2016) really shines on current-gen hardware. Fantastic particle effects allow for weapons like the Pixelizer and the Bouncer to rain chaos on the screen. The game’s vibrant color palette coupled with its attention to detail throughout its well-varied environments makes for a truly beautiful sight to behold. It’s been said before in previews and reviews elsewhere, but Ratchet & Clank (2016) truly shows how close real-time rendering on consoles has come to computer animated films. While we’re not there yet, the gap has closed considerably compared to where it was when the Ratchet & Clank series began. It’s easily one of PS4’s best looking games and, in my experience, it captured the attention of everyone who happened to walk in the room while I was playing it.

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Ratchet & Clank (2016) pushes the boundaries for the series, resulting in a game that has the ability to captivate gamers of any age. While its cartoon-like art style may seem best suited for kids at first, there’s so much here that anyone can enjoy. It nails its sense of humor while flawlessly blending an old school approach to level design with more modern third-person shooting mechanics, executing both perfectly. Most importantly though, it serves as an excellent example against the idea that a big-budget game must be gritty and serious in tone to achieve excellency. Ratchet & Clank (2016) does just that, and it does so by fiercely staying true to itself.

Score: 9 / 10

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