In the 14 years since Ratchet & Clank’s original release on the PS2, the platforming genre has seen a dramatic decline. Nintendo has been the sole torchbearer in a genre which was once the industry’s most successful; it continues to produce quality and innovative platformers while others have almost abandoned the genre completely. Despite the critical (and commercial flops) of recent releases in franchises like Ratchet & Clank, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro, many still remember these series fondly – even when they are undeserving. Society is so obsessed with nostalgia that we often misremember and ignore flaws. However, in a rare few cases the first games in these franchises are deserving of praise. In these cases we must ask the question: are these games only great when considered within the context of when they were released?
Video game companies have begun in the last decade to exploit nostalgia by reimagining and rebooting series, in the hope that gamers will forget about previous missteps. Ratchet & Clank is interesting in that it is not only a reboot of the series (after more than a dozen sequels), but a remaking of the original game. Without changing much, Insomniac’s reimagining of the original game feels fresh. It is still as exciting as it was all those years ago, a testament to the original release.
While Nintendo platformers might have revolutionised the environments players inhabit (Super Mario Galaxy) and multiplayer functionality (New Super Mario Bros.), the combat in their games has changed very little. Many rightfully regard Ratchet & Clank as an action-platformer; it brilliantly combines melee and third-person shooting mechanics. Traversing the environment and its obstacles is similar to any other 3D platformer, but if you hold down the left trigger you are able to enter a strafing movement mode which is better suited to combat (borrowing more from third-person shooters like Gears of War). Switching between these two types of gameplay can be exhilarating and it creates the sense of being an action-hero far better than other mature franchises do today.
After only a few minutes with the game, it is obvious that is more than a HD remake; many elements of the game have been changed. The most obvious is the massive visual overhaul. Other than Uncharted 4, no other game on PS4 is more visually impressive. From the lush planetscapes, with glistening vistas on the horizon, to gloomy acidic underworlds, every texture and model is polished and refined. Ratchet’s fur and other similar graphical details add up to create the best looking platformer ever. This is proof a game doesn’t have to be realistic (or gritty) to be technically impressive.
Trying to explain this installment in the franchise to someone else can get quite confusing. It’s based (loosely) on a movie which is based on the original game (from 2002), and it includes some footage from this film in between gameplay segments. Insomniac are aware that this is all a bit ridiculous, so have framed the game as a retelling of the original by Captain Qwark. His often unreliable narration is amusing and is an attempt by the developers to fit this game into canon. Some characters are weird throwbacks to early noughties tropes (e.g. the skater dude) and the script is often gratingly cheesy especially when it breaks the fourth wall. The story it tells is not particularly interesting, but is told well.
While a lot of original level designs have been reused, the developers have added new worlds and gameplay sections to ensure it doesn’t feel too familiar to players of the original. Clank’s puzzle sections, where you control a number of different Gadgebots (each performing a different purpose), provide a refreshing change of pace from the action packed shooting of Ratchet, even if these levels are too easy. One notable new weapon turns enemies into pixels and the weapon system as a whole has been overhauled adding more customisation to things like weapon accuracy, ammo capacity, and damage.
For a game where very little has changed, it feels incredibly modern. Insomniac have perfectly balanced the new with the old. Rather than relying solely on nostalgia, they have made changes where appropriate and where the game would have truly shown its age. Many were worried that Ratchet and Clank might not hold up after 14 years of innovation, but it does. A franchise that was almost lost, has now returned from the brink.
Ratchet & Clank is out now on PS4