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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is next-gen Uncharted by way of Pixar

The PS5 gets a family-friendly blockbuster

There were times during Rift Apart, the latest entry in the Ratchet & Clank series, when I felt like treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Buildings collapsed around me as I made my way through perfectly tuned action set pieces, and I’d manage to jump out of the way of each explosion at just the right second. The only difference, of course, is Rift Apart is much cuter — think of it like a sci-fi, family-friendly take on Uncharted.

A combination of shooter and platformer, Ratchet & Clank has always been a series closely associated with PlayStation, and the last game — a 2016 reboot of the original — showed that it could also be a technical showcase. Rift Apart, meanwhile, might just be the most pivotal entry in the franchise to date. Thanks to cross-generation releases, true PS5 exclusives still remain vanishingly rare, even months into the console’s life. But Rift Apart is exactly that: a game you can only play on Sony’s next-gen console and one that actually takes advantage of the new hardware. It also happens to be an extremely fun adventure.

Though the series dates back to 2002, Rift Apart is largely a standalone story. It stars a fuzzy little fox creature named Ratchet (he’s actually an alien called a Lombax, believed to be the last of his kind) and his adorable robot companion Clank. As a nice intro for new players (and a refresher for longtime fans), the game starts with the pair being honored for their past achievements in a parade-like setting in front of a huge crowd of adoring onlookers. It even serves as a clever mini-tutorial — but it’s not long before the celebration is interrupted when longtime villain Dr. Nefarious attacks.

The core of Rift Apart is a device that can open up portals between dimensions. After yet another defeat, Nefarious uses the device to go to a dimension where he always wins — and he accidentally brings Ratchet and Clank along in the process. The two become separated. Ratchet is on his own for a while before befriending a tiny bot named Kit, while Clank teams up with another Lombax named Rivet. It’s a clever setup that has the new duos jumping across planets, searching for sci-fi MacGuffins to fix the device and return the dimensions back to normal. The setup is also great because it allows you to play as both characters in a way that feels organic; often, you have a choice of which planet to explore, and you’ll control whichever Lombax is closest.

Ratchet & Clank isn’t exactly a series known for its narrative, but Rift Apart pushes things quite a bit forward. The new characters, in particular, are a great addition, turning it from a wise-cracking caper into a story with real heart (though there are still lots of wisecracks). Rivet starts out as a pessimistic loner, but you get to watch her slowly learn how to trust and work with people, thanks to Clank’s calming presence. Likewise, for most of the game, Kit has a hard time connecting with anyone for reasons that become clear once you learn her surprisingly dark backstory. But this leads to some heartbreaking moments. At one point, in a fit of frustration, she yells, “Why do none of you understand? I am broken. I will always be broken!” This is not the level of emotional awareness I expected from a series with a character named Skidd McMarx. There are even side missions where you can learn more about Lombax lore.

The film-like quality of Rift Apart is heightened by the visuals. Simply put, the game looks incredible. I’ve said this about past games in the series, most notably the 2016 release on PS4, but it’s even more true now: playing Rift Apart is like being inside a gorgeous animated film. There’s a level of detail that you rarely see in games. You’ll venture through a densely packed sci-fi city that puts anything in Cyberpunk 2077 to shame and glide across desert wastelands, creepy underwater research facilities, and an incredibly charming gas station in space. It’s all rendered in a kid-friendly way but also with a sense of realism, whether it’s the gleam of a metallic robot or the fuzz on an alien sheep. Every time I saw Ratchet’s furry ears up close, I wanted to give him a pet and tell him he’s a good boy.

Rift Apart doesn’t just look great, but it runs incredibly well, too. I didn’t experience any slowdown during my time with the game, despite the fact that battles get pretty wild, with dozens of enemies on-screen and all kinds of projectiles flinging about. Ratchet is a series defined in part by its inventive weaponry; you’ll have guns that shoot razor blades, encase enemies in blocks of ice, and — my personal favorite — a grenade that launches a sprinkler, covering everything it touches in beautiful green foliage. Battles involve constantly switching between weapons and firing off all kinds of strange bombs and bullets, and yet I didn’t experience a single hiccup or stutter while playing. (Rift Apart also offers three different graphics options: “fidelity,” which runs at 30fps and features ray tracing, better lighting, and 4K support; “performance RT,” with 60fps and ray tracing, but lower resolution and fewer details and visual density; and “performance” which runs at 60fps but features increased resolution in place of ray-tracing.)

Perhaps even more impressive is that this happens with barely any noticeable load times. When you venture to a new planet, there’s a brief clip showing your ship taking off, but once you’re in a level, there’s no loading whatsoever. Likewise, the game transitions between cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly, to the point that sometimes I didn’t realize I had to pick the controller back up. One of the most impressive things in the game are the titular rifts. Essentially they’re cracks between dimensions, and you can see — and often enter — them to head to a completely different world. It’s wild standing in front of one and just staring through at a totally different location and then jumping into it without any friction whatsoever.

At its most basic, Rift Apart is a fairly standard action platformer. There are some nice diversions, including a side story involving a spider-bot that kills computer viruses, and a series of tricky puzzle rooms that reminded me a bit of the shrines from Breath of the Wild. But for the most part, you’re running around and shooting things. It’s straightforward, but it works: the gunplay is fun, there’s an almost overwhelming amount of variety in the weapons, and lots of cool spaces to move around in. At one point, you’re even riding a dragon. But all of this is elevated by how beautiful the game looks and how well it runs. Rift Apart is the kind of game where I keep stopping just to ogle at seemingly simple things like waves in water or the reflection on a glass cockpit. It shows the importance of aesthetics and style.

That said, the game is relatively linear. For the most part, that’s not an issue. The levels are big enough that you can still poke around and you never really feel boxed in. It also helps keep you from getting lost. (If you do, you can see your destination with a simple click of the right stick.) But what this does mean is that, much like in Uncharted, the big action set pieces follow a very specific path. When it works, it’s incredible, like you’re controlling an action movie sequence in real time. But if you miss a step or are unsure of what to do, everything falls apart. There were multiple times where I had to replay the same sequence a whole bunch of times because I missed the best way to time a jump or didn’t see a ramp with a speed boost on it. These moments are relatively rare, but they stand out because everything else is so seamless.

I should also note that Rift Apart makes great use of the PS5’s controller. In fact, aside from launch showcase Astro’s Playroom, it might be the best DualSense game so far. In one early sequence, for example, you have to find a dance club in a bustling alien city, and you’re able to do it by following the music through vibrations you feel in your hands. I especially loved how some of the weapons made use of the two states of the controller’s triggers; one lets you give a slight press to activate a shield, but when you push it all the way down, that shield turns into a destructive blast. It’s an intuitive way to add depth to the controls.

For the most part, Rift Apart doesn’t stray far from what has made Ratchet & Clank so enduring. The formula remains the same: silly characters, great graphics, and lots of interesting guns to play with. But virtually every element is better than it’s ever been, from the touching-if-goofy story to the frantic action set pieces. And through this Rift Apart becomes a showcase for why someone might go through all the trouble to secure a PS5. It shows how more detailed worlds and faster load times can elevate a tried-and-true formula — and it might even make you care about Lombax lore in the process.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart launches on the PlayStation 5 on June 11th.

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