I remember the huge talking point around “Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction” for the PS3 was that it looked like a “Pixar movie.” Animated blockbuster seemed to be the relevant watermark to judge graphical fidelity against. “Look at what games can do now!” was a huge talking point around the first HD consoles and Ratchet & Clank was one of the first to arrive that people could really point to. Insomniac had nailed how to properly utilize the hardware with Ratchet and seems to have made a point of it both with the PS4 and now PS5. The Pixar example was an easy way to communicate just how pretty the game looked. The example seems to have stuck around and I’ve seen the same thing being said about the new game “Rift Apart.” It’s an apt description in more ways than one. The Ratchet & Clank series are pure animated blockbusters from the story, humor, world, and bombastic set pieces. They’re games that tell straightforward stories with surprisingly heartfelt lessons wrapped up in a goofy sensibility that is never above a fart joke (see all of the mainline titles). Insomniac is great at this and it wouldn’t be ridiculous to argue that they have a better batting average than the film studio they’re often compared against. Rift Apart is no exception and is possibly the best mainline game they’ve created.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always been kid centered entertainment, wrapping punny humor around bombastic, cartoony action. There’s a lot of buffoonish characters like Captain Quark, the “hero” who likes to take credit for Ratchet & Clanks victories while also being an absolute coward. Dr. Nefarious, the recurring villain, has aims to conquer the universe and the ineptitude of Wiley Coyote. The games also contain themes usually found in kid centered movies like trusting yourself, learning about chosen family, and overcoming difficult odds to be a hero. They’re simple but affecting and seeing Ratchet & Clank discover themselves even though they feel like weird outsiders is heartwarming. Add in a healthy dose of cartoonish violence and you have yourself a blockbuster movie (although when they tried to turn it into one of those, the results were lackluster).
19 years and 9 mainline games later (not including spin offs), Insomniac has found a great way to breathe new life into the story: the multiverse. With the success of “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” Marvel seems to be ramping up its own version of multiple dimensions, so I’m very happy this came out before we were all sick of the concept. Rift Apart uses this to smuggle in all kinds of great winks and nods for long time fans without being overly dense for newcomers. They keep most of the longtime lore stuff to the fringes; you don’t have to understand why it’s funny that this universe’s Mr. Zurkon is a spiritual practitioner tending bar. New players will understand the basics (Nefarious = longtime nemesis, Ratchet’s misgivings about meeting his ancestors who he was orphaned from) and are given a new perspective with the introduction of Rivet.
Rivet is one of the best parts of the game because she’s so much more than just a Ratchet palette swap. Her universe was unfortunately saddled with a competent and more evil Dr. Nefarious so she had to work under hostile occupation. As a result she’s more decisive and planning than Ratchet, who flies more by the seat of his pants. She knows when to adjust and how to move forward and she doesn’t doubt herself when she’s taking on a new plan. The world has hardened her a bit though; she’s distrustful of robots precisely because she lives in a world where they’re the oppressors. Rivet doesn’t trust Clank when she first meets him because he’s a robot. She’s very self aware though and immediately comments on how that’s hypocritical of her because she had a metal prosthetic which says so much about her inner conflicts. In a world of organics versus machines she doesn’t feel like a full person because of her missing limb. It’s a touching character beat that never gets too saccharine; instead Insomniac relies on small moments like this to communicate River’s insecurities.
Ratchet’s story instead moves the focus off him and onto a new robot that he meets that adopts the nickname Kit. Kit is hiding out on a remote planet and working alongside the dimensional monks you meet. Turns out Kit was created to be a destructive robot and has decided to reject her programming after a dark run in with a rebel. She blames herself for the incident and sees herself as broken. Kit is the opposite coin to Rivet; she’s dealing with imposter syndrome because of how she was made. Kit views herself as irredeemable for her actions and this negativity clouds her every move with self doubt. She constantly belittles herself and reminds Ratchet that she isn’t a “good friend.” Their relationship is very sweet as Ratchet gently reminds her of all of her good qualities and things they’ve accomplished. Kit’s arc is similar to Rivet’s in that they both have to overcome their feelings of self doubt that the world thrust upon them. And when their paths eventually unite in ways that you can guess pretty early on, they both have to reckon with forgiveness. It’s a touching arc for both of them that deals with adult themes in a very serious way.
The story really went above my expectations and that it’s paired with the usual strong, platforming gameplay is a treat. Rift Apart’s action is the same bread and butter gun play that the series excels at paired with even larger action moments. There are some truly spectacular and awe inspiring moments that strike a great balance between gameplay and cinematic moments (one fight against a giant robot is particularly impressive). Also did I mention the game looks gorgeous? It’s worth taking your time and utilizing the robust photo mode to snap some pictures along the way.
Really it’s the story that seals this impressive game. The Ratchet & Clank series has always been a good source for reliably good fun, but Rift Apart is their best yet. It hits some new themes for kids blockbusters and tells it in a surprisingly touching way. The new cast of characters is just fantastic and I loved spending time in their new dimension.
One reply on “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Tells a Blockbuster Caliber Story”
[…] Read a deeper discussion on the story from my time with the game over the summer. […]