The new Ratchet & Clank on PS4 is technically billed as a reimagining of the original, a modern update to a nearly 15-year-old game. But based on the few hours I’ve spent with a preview version, it’s clearly much more than the splash of high-definition paint that constitutes most remakes. It doesn’t feel like an old game, wisely pulling in elements from later entries in the series and combining them into something that plays like a modern release. It’s basically a new Ratchet & Clank game, just one that goes over the same basic story as the original. And it might be the prettiest game I’ve ever played.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve played a Ratchet game — and it probably has — the new one will feel a bit like a prequel. It starts out with the questionable super hero Captain Qwark retelling the story of how the titular duo first met. The portion I played began with Ratchet accidentally stumbling into a quest to save the galaxy from an alien force known as the Blarg, before shifting to a robot named Clank’s thrilling escape from a factory, and then finally showing how the pair unite to fight bad guys together. The story is all familiar territory, though fleshed out a bit more here than in the original, and it manages to have some fun with the fact that it's a remake thanks to some fourth-wall breaking jokes. But what really makes it work is just how amazing it all looks — the cut-scenes feel ripped straight out of a high-end animated movie
Through some sort of technological magic, the game maintains that fidelity after the cut-scene ends and you take control. Even in the relatively short time I played, Ratchet was full of brilliant visual set-pieces, like a ride along a hover train speeding through a futuristic city, or a chase with a massive, lumbering robot through a treacherous factory. Often there was too much on the screen to keep track of — exploding robotic dogs charging at me, or sleek ships flying overhead — yet the action remained smooth throughout, no matter how much wreckage flew through the air. The Ratchet series has always had a unique aesthetic, one that shifts between cartoonish and realistic with ease, and it turns out that style works great with the power of a modern console. Standing on a ledge staring at a busy, constantly moving city felt a bit like I was looking at Coruscant as rendered by Pixar.
Those visuals are the main draw, too, since playing the new Ratchet is a very familiar experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the combination of third-person platforming and frantic shooting has always made the series a lot of fun. As does the focus on crazy new gadgets: within an hour of playing I was flying around using a helicopter add-on for Clank, while Ratchet fended off lizard creatures using a space-age flamethrower. The game also includes some brand new additions — most notably a grenade that turns bad guys into pixelated 8-bit explosions — though I wasn’t able to play with any of them in the demo. Really, the new Ratchet plays exactly how a new Ratchet should: it’s fast and loose, and just challenging enough to make blowing up robots really satisfying.
The combination of absolutely gorgeous visuals and familiar, but modernized gameplay makes the new Ratchet quite possibly the ideal video game remake. It has the core elements you remember, from the quirky sci-fi setting to the fast-paced action, but repackages them in a way that feels right in 2016. After spending a few hours with it, I can say that none of what I experienced felt dated in any way. In fact, it looks so good that it mostly made me wonder why it’s taken so long for a Ratchet & Clank movie to exist — the PS4 game is launching on April 12th, while the debut CG animated Ratchet movie hits theaters on April 29th.