Have you ever been REALLY good at something but then you start to feel that you’ll slowly lose the ability to do it? That’s a common issue with most artists or really anyone who creates consistently. But the magic is that there may not be thousands of others who think the same as you do. (And mostly you may just be judging yourself and your work too harshly) For big gaming companies like Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft though, this IS the case. And one of the games of Sony’s smaller companies is what I want to focus on.
Released in 2002, Ratchet and Clank made its way to Playstation systems as a platformer created by a gaming company known as Insomniac. It had plenty of planetary personality and put Insomniac on the map for its games. Fans from all over loved the 1st game, and the two sequels coming right after all the same. But it’s around 2007 where the series took an interesting turn for rebranding and remaking which deterred from what fans expected. Then there was the 2016 movie/game (which also decided to rebrand and remake the origins of the characters. And THAT deterred from what fans of the older games wanted out of a modern game… And it all led to last year, where Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart released. It was a game that was loved for many reasons, mostly being that the game was the best looking one in the entire franchise. In addition, there was a female version of Ratchet (the main protagonist) named Rivet that was a welcome concept to fans of the game. Before it was released, people were pretty ecstatic about the potential the game had. But considering all the past tense used in the last few sentences, you can probably guess where I stand on it.
But let’s back up a bit. WHAT makes fans dislike these newer R&C games? Or because I don’t know any other fans of the series personally, what makes me dislike the newer games?
Well, it’s simply the substance the games have now. Before, the game’s story and characters had bigger meanings. Ratchet was a rough edged selfish killing machine that was evened out by the level headed mechanical Clank. Their characters were explored through how they interacted with one another and others from the planets they visited. The game is a shoot-em-up, so a ton of time is spent mindlessly destroying robots which culminates nicely with Ratchet’s “hit-now-think-later” attitude. And on top of that, there were plenty of jokes about commercialism and consumerism that really brought home the idea that the galaxy needs your money which gave reason for why you, the player, have to buy. But of course, I don’t think those are the just the parts that made it compelling. Gameplay, presentation, and especially MUSIC were truly things that made the older games an experience to be had for many of the series’ fans.
And now I can properly rip apart Rift Apart. Do you remember those mentions of “rebranding and remaking” I had talked about before? Well it’s BECAUSE of those events in the series that this entry took a turn to be the most bland and uninteresting installment yet. Now, before I go any further with mindless complaints, let me explain: I am a fan of the series but I don’t have a PS5. I don’t know what made the original trilogy great because I barely even played them. Hell, the first game I owned from the series was Tools of Destruction, which was the BEGINNING of the series’ downfall. I say all this to say that I am not the greatest advocate for centralizing an opinion of this game. I feel I may be a little too disconnected for anything I say to be truly taken to a point of seriousness. And I want you to understand where I stand. I watched a whole playthrough of Rift Apart, listened to the soundtracks of both the older and the newer games and have seen plenty of opinions of the series’ decline from what it once was throughout these last few years. If you want to hear someone who actually knows what they’re talking about when it comes to these games, please watch TheGamingBrit’s video here. (Which is where some of my prior points on the original series originate.)
As for me, I’ll be focusing on things that as an outside insider of the series I can definitely point out. Such as the story, presentation, music, and characters. Now, let’s talk about the unfortunate changes that Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart brings.
Starting off with the music, it’s not great for a Ratchet and Clank game. This is going to be a big criticism of the entire gaming industry, where there is an unnecessary amount of orchestral music. The oversaturation of this probably stems from media such as films and such. Where instead of a dedicated soundtrack, its score consists of mostly just unrecognizable notes and melodies. However, don’t get me wrong: The soundtrack is AMAZING! The composer, Mark Mothersbaugh, is recognizable for many of his works before (The Lego Movie, Thor Ragnarok, and a few other shows) and has done a wonderful job in terms of setting the feel of whimsy in space. But his work is more fitting for a big time movie, rather than a Ratchet and Clank game. None of his work in this game captures the punch that should’ve stayed from the previous entries. They added a great unique feel of that planet, but the movie orchestra that’s in the game all melds together. I actually took a look at the WHOLE soundtrack for this game and it blew my mind that I could only find two noteworthy pieces, “Meet Me at Zurkie’s” and “Blizar Prime’d and Ready”. But those themes are just memorable as standalone tracks, their relation to the game itself doesn’t impact it the way it should. The music attempts to use some specific instruments to sound “spacelike” while the soundtracks before all used different instruments and kept that feeling throughout all its tracks.
And considering the rundown I gave earlier about the characters before, let’s jump into those next. And just like the music of the game, there is a distinct lack of real punch to the personalities of the characters. ALSO just like the music, they all tend to muddle together. There are no distinct personalities to any of the characters, considering how Ratchet no longer has anything special about him other than having a more “adventurous” attitude than Clank, who doesn’t really have any of his snarkiness that set him apart from just being robotic. (Other than one special moment near the end of the game.) And the new addition, Rivet, doesn’t really do all that much either. Despite what some reviews have said, she is sadly nothing more than a simple gender swap of Ratchet with trust issues. All of her character specifically stems from her arm, which is pivotal but it’s way too simple a motivation.
Kit, Clank’s counterpart from another dimension, does have a genuine personality that rubs off pretty well with Ratchet’s overall nice and inoffensive attitude. She’s one of the only characters that have flaws that are recognizable, which are prevalent to her disregard for others. And she does have a pretty simple story arc but it is nice to see SOMEONE that isn’t constantly a hero by heart with a nice and marketable face. But it’s the lack of actual character that makes this story stakes matter a lot less than they should. For example, one of the main villains of the series, Dr.Nefarious, takes a present given to Ratchet and transports him and our heroes to a dimension where he’s won against Ratchet. Near the end of the game, they meet both Nefarious and his dimensional counterpart, and he was an instant threat the moment he appeared on screen. He does so much evil in the short time that he’s present and made me feel really pumped to see some actual danger from a character.
But it ends with him being beaten in a way that feels anti-climatic, and goes down just like any other boss. His defeat is treated the same way as a Disney villain and shoved off to the side for our heroes to meet their by-the-books ending. It’s odd really. Because beating the big bad at the end of some games should feel much more emotional than what’s presented. It isn’t impossible for someone to feel something towards it but I don’t think the game achieves the heights it believes it does.
Regardless, Ratchet and Clank as a series has become a lot less intuitive and imaginative as it was before. From having characters that felt so important to characters that only act important, the series has lost a lot of the spark it had, especially narratively. And I can only hope that some major changes come to the titles proceeding this one, but I don’t think I’ll hold my breath on that one. They’ve kept Ratchet this cuddly for years and it may be just where the series is forever on… But fans can only hope for better. One last note is that I was definitely dumbfounded when this game somehow got a Game Of The Year nomination. But I guess the qualifications of those award ceremonies definitely don’t account for the game’s core issues. Well, as always… Until next time!