Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review - A Riveting Adventure

  • First Released Jun 11, 2021
  • PS5

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart looks and plays better than ever thanks to new-generation hardware, but it's still the same lovable, goofy series at heart.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game about counterparts. In this strange new setting, everyone has a doppelganger who looks almost identical to the one we know, but their circumstances have changed them. Ratchet's new alternate dimensional counterpart, Rivet, may have had a harder life than him, and it's shaped her personality in surprising ways, but she's still the same heroic person at heart. The same can be said for Rift Apart. The new generation of hardware has made some dramatic changes for the better, but in a very welcome and comforting way, this is still the Ratchet & Clank you've come to know and love.

The title may be "Ratchet & Clank," but Rivet is the real star here. Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank are the template that helps inform what we learn about Rivet and her own journey, and the vast majority of Rift Apart takes place in her universe. She also seems to get slightly more playtime, even if the stages are split roughly evenly as the two heroes divide-and-conquer to enact their universe-saving plan.

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Once the game begins in earnest, after a brief tutorial in Ratchet's Megalopolis, the bumbling but sinister Dr. Nefarious transports himself and the titular duo to another dimension. When Nefarious gets there, he finds that it's ruled by an Emperor Nefarious. The Emperor is conspicuously absent at the moment, so our Dr. Nefarious just helps himself to the throne, and no one, including the evil executive assistant, seems to notice that he's a pretender. Meanwhile Ratchet and Clank are separated, and Clank is picked up by the freedom fighter, Rivet.

Most of the game centers around these dimensional counterparts, who are not exact twins but rather similar characters with different names and slightly different personalities in this new world. Rift Apart rewards longtime fans with little nudging winks on how the alternative characters break from our expectations. For example Mr. Zurkon, a violent autonomous robot that has been both a weapon and a character in past Ratchet games, now owns a bar with a strict no-fighting policy. Giving the alternate characters their own identities and names helps reduce what might otherwise be confusing dialogue about who matches who. Ratchet, naturally, thinks this mysterious lady Lombax has taken Clank, but thankfully the "heroes in strife because of a misunderstanding" trope is resolved quickly and they begin working together.

But this game belongs to Rivet not just because it takes place in her dimension, but because she's such a fantastic addition to the larger Ratchet & Clank universe. Having finished Rift Apart, I would love to play a standalone Rivet game, set in this or any other dimension. Part of that is the performance of Jennifer Hale as Rivet, who introduces a disarming amount of emotional heft. Unlike Ratchet, Rivet has experienced a string of defeats from the oppressive Nefarious regime, and Hale imbues the character with little tinges of self-doubt and loneliness even as she maintains her heroic determination. This is a character like Ratchet who fights for justice, but she hasn't had a partner like Clank. Ultimately, the story is a sweet-natured but relatively conventional one about friendship and trust, elevated above its conventions by Hale and the surrounding cast.

Despite the fact that the dual heroes barely ever talk face-to-face, they share one pool of equipment. The game gives a sci-fi gobbledygook explanation, but more importantly, having one weapon wheel between both characters ensures that you can switch between your favorite guns without having to pause the fun and look for what you need. Ratchet is known for its inventive munitions, and aside from a handful of returning guns like the Warmonger and Buzz Blades, almost all of the weapons are new. They largely fit into familiar archetypes, but the PS5 DualSense makes a massive difference to how the weapons behave and how you interact with them.

For the most part, the DualSense lets you control different functions with a half- or full-pull of the right trigger. The Negatron Collider, for example, is an energy beam that will charge up and then hold the charge at a half-pull, and fire at a full-pull. The default Burst Pistol swaps between a fairly accurate single-shot and a less-accurate triple-shot. Several of the grenade-types use the half-pull as a targeting reticle. These functions seem deceptively simple but once I got into a rhythm, it felt completely natural to call up functions without a second thought, encouraging me to experiment with satisfyingly complex strategies. For example, a favorite of mine, the Blackhole Storm, is a gatling gun that spins up at a half-pull and then fires at full. With a little experimenting, I found you can keep it spinning without firing by easing up on the trigger, saving ammo but keeping the weapon at the ready. It's that kind of smart implementation that makes the DualSense functionality more impactful than a mere gimmick.

Even the DualSense speaker is welcome. I never enjoyed the controller speaker on the DualShock 4, but here it's used to subtly signal when your weapon is charged, or to give you a crisp and satisfying ting-ting sound of collecting bolts. At some points the haptic vibration and speaker prompts blend so seamlessly it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Smart implementation makes the DualSense functionality more impactful than a mere gimmick.

Like past Ratchet games, the weapon upgrades come in two complementary tracks. The first simply upgrades your weapon through use, so the more you use your favorite weapons, the faster they'll upgrade. The other is obtained by purchasing nodes on an upgrade tree with Raritanium, a limited resource scattered throughout the planets. The upgrade tree unlocks more nodes as you upgrade the weapon through use, so the two systems sync together very well.

Some of the weapons feel a little off with how many uses it takes to earn an upgrade, though. The Ricochet gun, which bounces off your enemies like a pinball, upgraded much later than some of my other weapons even with heavy use, and very specialized or situational weapons like the Bombardier or Cold Snap are achingly slow to upgrade. Playing a Ratchet game as I do--where I basically abandon any weapon that's already maxed except in cases of emergency--I started to find that the very situational weapons were lopsided toward the back half. That meant that I spent the last handful of encounters firing off low-level weapons so as to not "waste" the experience before switching to my fully upgraded arsenal to actually take the fight seriously.

Rift Apart is an action platformer, and Insomniac has built further on its already robust traversal options from past games. Complementing the usual suite of jumps, rocket boots, and contextual swinging mechanics are two new moves: the Rift Tether and the Phantom Dash. The Rift Tether pulls you into a dimensional hole in such a way that it looks as if the world is moving around you, while the Phantom Dash lets you phase out of reality and functions like a dodge roll. In the platforming segments, these combine with the existing Ratchet & Clank mainstays to make for some breathless, harrowing setpieces, as you transfer from rail-grinding to wall-running to rift-tethering with reckless abandon.

Even better, these traversal tools sing when you apply them in combat scenarios, especially in tougher encounters when you're swarmed with enemies. The Rift Tether lets you close distances or get away for a breather quickly, and the Phantom Dash feels different than a standard jumping dodge because it breaks the continuity of your fire--including the charge for weapons like the Negatron Collider. Whether you want to risk a dodging jump to hold your fire or play it safe with a Phantom Dash is the kind of split-second risk-reward decision that makes combat feel exciting.

Not all of the traversal is quite as satisfying, though. A few times you have to jump on the back of a pterodactyl-like creature named Trudi to navigate a particular stage or snag some collectibles. While it's seemingly intended to add variety, the beast feels sluggish and temperamental compared to the smooth and intuitive controls of Ratchet and Rivet. These segments are short enough that they don't detract too much from the overall experience, but they stand out as a weak spot when compared to the rest.

More successfully, Insomniac mixes in moments of variety with two types of puzzle stages. A series of Clank puzzles has you placing orbs with different effects (like super-speed or heavy weight) to guide a constantly running line of Clank "possibilities," Lemmings-like, toward a goal. A more action-oriented puzzle section, featuring an adorable spider-robot named Glitch, has you unlocking and then zapping viruses to open computer systems. Similar to the guns and bolt pickups, the tap-tap-tap of Glitch's tiny metallic legs sound and feel very satisfying on the DualSense. These interstitial segments aren't deep enough to support their own games, but they're a welcome brief change of pace in this one.

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Those puzzles are also entirely skippable if you find they're not to your taste. The challenges and Trophies aren't gated by difficulty level, and you can use accessibility options like the slowdown mechanic to finesse your way past tricky parts. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart comes across as a game that's comfortable in its own skin and unafraid to let you engage on your own terms. Not into this or that? "Hey man, that's cool," it seems to say. "Just enjoy the rest, we're all here to have a good time."

All of this is delivered in such a refined, recognizable package that the technical prowess on display doesn't often call attention to itself. The Rift Tethers refresh your perspective almost instantaneously. Cutscenes and gameplay blend so seamlessly together you might often miss the transition. Pocket dimensions hidden throughout planets open an entirely separate environment that feel like they've punched a hole in the fabric of space. A couple of particular planets let you switch back and forth between entire realities in a snap. And load times are non-existent, either so fast that you'd never notice or hidden behind scene transitions. It makes the whole game feel cinematic and harmonious in a natural, unselfconscious way.

If you do pause for a moment to take it in, it will be to gawk at the stunning visuals. The environments are richly detailed and differentiated. Both the enemies and major characters have the kinds of stretchy, expressive faces and inventive design elements you'd see in an animated feature film. The textures are so well-realized you can practically feel the difference between Clank's shiny steel and other types of painted or rough metals. Each time I reached a new planet, I would take a few moments to just rotate the camera and soak it all in. It's just astounding to look at, even if that level of visual fidelity isn't as noticeable when you're in the thick of the action.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is flashy and technically impressive without feeling self-important. It's just as silly, sweet, and earnest as the Ratchet & Clank series tends to be, while the new generation of hardware makes this entry look and play better than ever. Like the heroes and villains and their dimensional counterparts, this one may appear different or carry itself with a new accent, but there's an underlying truth to the person underneath. At its core, it's still your trusty old pals on another grand space adventure. That's what's important.

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The Good

  • Gorgeous presentation that uses the PS5's power in inventive ways
  • DualSense is genuinely additive to the gunplay without feeling gimmicky
  • New traversal tools make for breathless platforming and combat options
  • Rivet is the heart and soul of Rift Apart and instantly lovable

The Bad

  • Trudi flight missions are awkward and imprecise compared to the rest

About the Author

Steve Watts spent 14 hours playing Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, completing the full campaign and most of the sidequests before going back for more. Review code was provided by the publisher.