Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Ratchet & Clank (2016)

Ratchet & Clank released in 2016 is a PS4 “reimagining” of the original “Ratchet & Clank released on PS2 in 2002. Serving as “the game, based on the movie, based on the game,” is Ratchet & Clank (2016) a solid addition to the series, or a shameless ploy to milk more money from the series in the wake of the movie?

Story - 9/10

The story of Ratchet & Clank works surprisingly well, with how it is framed as a recollection from the present. I wasn’t a huge fan of one significant deviation from the story of the original (something I won’t spoil for those who haven’t played it), but the story does stand on its own very well. Recurring characters of the series stay true to their personalities, while still managing to seem fresh and interesting. Long time fans will appreciate cameos and nods, but new players aren’t bombarded with jokes that they don’t understand. The balance of old and new is near perfect.
As the series has progressed, Insomniac Games has done a remarkable job of giving depth and detail to characters. Ratchet and Clank have become individually more interesting, and their relationship more nuanced. The other characters that they encounter have a palpable reality. Even if the game doesn’t give an explicit background for every character that the player encounters, it genuinely feels like they belong. Every important character experiences a sort of growth as the game progresses. Both intrinsically within the character, and externally via what the player learns about them, there is a great amount of change in characters across the course of the game.
One of the most vivid features of every game in the Ratchet & Clank series is the setting, and the reimagined 2016 release is no different. Every world has a story, and each planet exists in a sort of cohesive net of interconnectivity. These aren’t individual places, cut off from everywhere else. The entire galaxy is a living ecosystem, and each planet is firmly a part of the galaxy, despite having their own distinctive environments. Even outside the playable area, these cities and places seem full and complete.
The length of the game is one of the best in the series. While some Ratchet games have tended to be too short, and others have felt too lengthy, the 2016 title just feel right. Each planet has enough material to let you fully explore, but not so much that you get bored of a place before moving to the next location.
Replay value is spectacular is always great in Ratchet & Clank games, the 2016 version included. With challenge mode, there is a risk reward factor where enemies are more powerful, but sequential kills without getting hit give a multiplier to the bolts you earn. Couple that with the beefed up versions of weapons that you can unlock and purchase, there is genuinely a compelling reason to play the game through another time or two in order to obtain and upgrade everything.

General Gameplay - 9/10

With a number of different vehicles and transportation methods, gameplay in Ratchet & Clank is extremely varied. As Ratchet, there are platforming segments to jump around on, grind rails to slide through levels, jetpacks to fly freely, and a number of Clank mobility tools. In addition to what Ratchet and Clank can accomplish on their own, there are hoverboard races and ship segments that have their own mechanics. Having so many different styles of gameplay makes the game continuously interesting.
Like other games in the series, there are numerous collectibles and bonus content in Ratchet & Clank. There are gold bolts scattered across the game, that reward the player with unlockable skins for Ratchet. Skill points have been excluded from this game, replaced with PSN trophies. Such an exclusion is unfortunate, but expected, given that trophies and skill points were basically redundant forms of the same mechanic.
Controls in this Ratchet & Clank are extremely tight. Where previous games in the series have relied heavily on aiming assist for the shooting mechanics, the lock strafe mode of Ratchet & Clank (2016) works particularly well. It’s nice to still have a pretty liberal amount of aiming assist, since the game is far from most first person or over-the-shoulder shooters of today.
As for the currency, the balance of bolts to the cost of items is one of the best I’ve seen in the series. Weapons aren’t prohibitively expensive, but they also aren’t handed out like candy. You can prioritize which ones to buy first, but you’ll easily make enough bolts to buy all weapons without an excessive amount of grinding.

Combat - 9/10

The combat of Ratchet & Clank is all about big guns and big explosions. Fortunately, the weapon selection is really good, and every gun is reasonably useful. Unlike previous games that had a few great weapons and a bunch of mostly useless weapons, none of the weapons in the 2016 game are notably bad. Some are obviously better than others, but none of them are specifically annoying or worthless.
One thing that has been improved drastically in Ratchet & Clank (2016) is the ability to combo weapons and items. In previous games, there wasn’t much overlap between the effects of weapons. At most, you could throw some turrets and then switch to another weapon. With items like the Groovitron and Proton Drum, you can combine the effects of weapons for a more useful combination. The whole, in this case, is greater than the sum of the parts.
Amidst all of the things that Ratchet & Clank (2016) did well, ammo drops are painfully rare in boss fights. Through most of the game, there are enough ammo crates to keep a reasonable amount of firepower. Even if you burn through ammo at a faster pace than what the game gives you, you can buy more at vendors. In a boss fight, however, you’re stuck with what you have and what you pick up in the arena. As you improve weapons, this becomes less of a problem, and challenge mode basically removes it completely if you’ve been upgrade your weapons sufficiently. The first few fights in the game, however, can be pretty tight on ammo.

Difficulty - 4/10

Unlike previous games in the series, Ratchet & Clank offers multiple difficulty levels besides the step up for challenge mode. Every game in the series has been traditionally pretty easy, but it’s nice to see them offer more of a challenge for veterans of the series.
The game is still pretty lenient. Dying puts you back to the previous checkpoint, and there are numerous checkpoints in every level. There are no lives, so you can die as much as you want without a more severe penalty. Some segments can be tough in the later game, but the presence of so many checkpoints means they aren’t terribly inconvenient. Don’t go into the game looking for something genuinely difficult. It began as a game made more for younger teens, so forgive it for being easier than, say, Dark Souls.

Graphics - 10/10

The visuals of Ratchet & Clank are absolutely beautiful. Planets are lush, and rich, and just spectacular. Instead of limiting what players can see the only the playable area, Insomniac Games went the other direction and pretty much created an entire world that players can only reach part of. The backgrounds are full of activity, with buildings and landscapes, and often actual moving points. Everything looks crisp and clean, and somehow manages to avoid lag. The entire series is probably one of the environmentally complete that I’ve ever played, and the 2016 title stays true to that vision.

Music - 7/10

Ratchet & Clank (2016) is one of the few games in the series without music by David Bergeaud. Regretfully, this change in composers is noticeable. The music still isn’t bad, but it is nowhere near as atmospheric and fitting as Bergeaud’s music for previous games. As it is, the music in this game is good, but not great. Certainly nothing that will stand out to a player outside of playing the game.

My Take

The Good

All around solid game, from gameplay to story and everything in between.

The Bad

There were some big story changes from the original, which makes it less of a true retelling.

The Ugly

Ratchet & Clank as a series has a definite formula, and the 2016 title thoroughly sticks to this formula without adding anything new.

Overall - 9/10

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for some Ratchet & Clank games. Exploring vibrant, beautiful worlds and blowing things up has always been a blast, and they have a formula that works time and time again. Remasters and re-releases can be cop-out ways to milk money from a series, but this is different. It’s a neat way for original fans to look back on the beginnings and see how far the series has come. Simultaneously, it’s a good entry point for new fans to get a taste of the series and learn some background, without actually playing through some of the more cumbersome early games. Insomniac Games didn’t take any risky steps to push the series into new territory, but they did make a great game with the same style as previous titles in the series. I can’t say with certainty that Ratchet & Clank (2016) is my favorite in the series, but it is absolutely a great game and I think anybody would have a good time with it.

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