The new Ratchet & Clank game is the best possible commercial for the upcoming animated movie.
While the orange lombax and his robot companion have been an enduring success on PlayStation platforms since their debut in 2002, they’ve never reached the level of mainstream popularity as fellow mascots like Mario, Pikachu, or Sonic. But this month, the goofy sci-fi duo might finally make that jump. Tomorrow a new game launches on the PS4, an incredibly gorgeous reboot of the original Ratchet & Clank, which will be followed by the theatrical debut of the Ratchet & Clank movie on April 29th.
Though I haven’t seen the movie yet, the two appear to complement each other very well. In motion, the game looks like an interactive DreamWorks or Pixar movie. In fact, when I was playing the game, my three-year-old daughter sat beside me enraptured, much like she does when Frozen is playing on the TV. When I wasn’t playing, she asked if she could watch "the Ratchet movie."
As a sort of re-imagining of the first game, the new Ratchet & Clank is really an origin story. It tells the same story as the original, but in a slightly different way. In the opening moments you play as Ratchet by his lonesome, just a strange furry alien with dreams of becoming an intergalactic superhero. Later, you play as the defective robot named Clank who escapes from a factory so as not to be disposed of. Eventually the two join forces. The whole experience is charmingly narrated by Captain Qwark — a famous, but questionable, superhero — giving the game an almost fable-like quality. The narration happens during the cutscenes, of course, but also throughout the action. It’s like you’re reliving an old story while also experiencing it.
It doesn't stray very far from the more recent games in the series
The gameplay itself doesn’t stray very far from the more recent games in the series. It’s a third-person action game with a heavy emphasis on shooting and gadgets, with just a touch of exploration and extreme sports thrown in. Ratchet has a fairly standard set of moves at his disposal — he can jump, run, and bash things with a giant wrench — but his real talents come from a wide array of weapons and gizmos. These include the basic, like a laser gun and explosive bombs, as well as the strange-but-useful, like a giant disco ball that causes enemies to stop what they’re doing and have a little dance break. The weapons get more powerful the more you use them, and you’re constantly unlocking new ones. By the end you’ll be zipping around on a jetpack while shooting a gun that turns bad guys into old-school pixels.
The action is straightforward but fun, and is one of the few games I can think of that has actual family-friendly violence. Ratchet is a game where you spend most of your time shooting robots with a gun and burning aliens with a flamethrower, but its violence is on par with a Saturday morning cartoon — more Transformers the animated series than Transformers the blockbuster action movie. For the most part the game is really charming; Ratchet and Clank have a playful rapport, and though the story itself is pretty flimsy, the cast of goofy characters helps pull it through. That said, it does have a 12-year-old-boys-will-love-this sense of humor, with character names like Skidd McMark.
The highlight of the game, though, is how amazing it looks. The trailers for the game and the movie are nearly indistinguishable. The vibe is sort of like Star Wars meets DreamWorks. You’ll be exploring wonderfully detailed sci-fi locations, all filled with goofy characters that wouldn’t look out of place in Monsters vs. Aliens. It’s especially impressive on a technical level. The battles have a lot going on — ships flying in the background, dozens of enemies charging toward you, hundreds of tiny collectible bits floating around until you collect them — but the action remains fast and fluid. I didn’t experience any noticeable slowdown while playing.
The worlds feel bustling and alive
This creates scenes that feel frantic, and worlds that seem bustling and alive. It also helps hide the fact that there isn’t a lot of freedom to explore. Ratchet & Clank isn’t open-world by any stretch; instead, it ushers you down a series of corridors, pushing you quickly from one area to the next. There are a few hidden and optional areas, but for the most part you’re following a set path. (That said, the levels are larger and more open than the original.) But the smart world design means that it doesn’t feel restrictive, because there’s so much happening beyond the slice of the level you can actually interact with. Instead of a claustrophobic hallway, it really feels like you’re running and shooting through futuristic megacities and frozen battlefields.
Looks aren’t everything, but for the new Ratchet they count for a lot. Aside from the visual upgrade, there isn’t much to differentiate this from past games in the series. It’s largely the same action and same story. And that’s not a bad thing! Ratchet has always been a lot of fun, and the new version fine-tunes the experience, making it arguably the best to date. But the breathtaking new visuals, combined with the fact that it’s a reboot of the original, mean that the new Ratchet is poised to bring the series to an even wider audience. All of these factors work together to create a perfect entry for new players — players who can then go and watch the movie a few weeks later.
After playing the new Ratchet for the past week along with my daughter, I know I’ll definitely be heading to a theater on the 29th.
Ratchet & Clank hits the PS4 on April 12th.