Ratchet & Clank PS4

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper In­som­niac Games Pub­lisher SIE For­mat PS4 Re­lease Out now

De­press­ingly, it’s been 14 years – a long time in a medium that moves at such a pace. The gap be­tween Don­key Kong and Su­per Mario 64 is only a year wider; like­wise, Pole Po­si­tion and Gran Turismo. In a sim­i­lar span of time, we went from As­ter­oids to Doom. And now Ratchet & Clank to Ratchet & Clank. If at first it sug­gests we need to ac­cept that change now comes in much smaller in­cre­ments, it’s also a sign of how far we’ve come. Where the orig­i­nal was likened in crit­i­cal cir­cles to a Pixar pro­duc­tion, this tie-in to a new an­i­mated fea­ture makes it clear we’re still some way short of Las­seter and com­pany. Clips from the film scat­tered through­out a re­worked nar­ra­tive sug­gest the kind of two-star re­lease that keeps kids oc­cu­pied while par­ents fruit­lessly check their watches for the du­ra­tion.

The game part is rather bet­ter. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant re­work­ing of the orig­i­nal by a de­vel­oper imag­in­ing how it might be de­signed if it were mak­ing its de­but this year. The thrust of the story is broadly the same – a long-eared fe­line/hu­man hy­brid and a diminu­tive ro­bot re­ject from a fac­tory pro­duc­tion line team up to save the galaxy from a mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal busi­ness­man – though it works in char­ac­ters and other plot el­e­ments from later en­tries. It serves its pur­pose ad­e­quately, pro­vid­ing light mo­ti­va­tion for the kind of planet-hop­ping romp that seems to have all but died out since the PS2 era, but that its cre­ator has been try­ing to de­fib­ril­late ever since.

Dis­re­gard­ing spinoffs, this is the tenth Ratchet & Clank game, and any­one pos­sess­ing even a pass­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with the se­ries will have a good idea of what to ex­pect. For its part, In­som­niac has no in­ten­tion of fail­ing to meet those ex­pec­ta­tions – and, seem­ingly, lit­tle de­sire to sur­pass or sub­vert them. As Ratchet, you’ll run around alien worlds, fir­ing an out­landish ar­se­nal at waves of ag­gres­sors while solv­ing the odd light en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zle. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’ll play as Clank, solv­ing marginally more com­plex co­nun­drums that tend to in­volve more busy­work than men­tal ex­er­tion. Else­where, there are ob­jects to fetch, gaps to swing across, rails to grind, hover­board races to win, guises to don, and doors to hack. Plus ça change.

There is, of course, com­fort to be found in such con­ven­tions, es­pe­cially when they’re re­alised with such com­pe­tence. There’s a cer­tain ef­fort­less­ness to Ratchet & Clank that can only have been achieved through hard work: from the re­spon­sive han­dling to the zippy pac­ing and the snap, crackle and pop of com­bat, every­thing speaks of a smart, or­gan­ised team do­ing its job well. It may never quite set your pulse spik­ing, but rarely will you find your­self let­ting out an ir­ri­tated huff. And though the script is full of char­ac­ters you oc­ca­sion­ally wish would stop talk­ing, there’s some­thing en­dear­ing about its cease­less at­tempts to make you smile. Once or twice, it might even suc­ceed. Hardly an en­vi­able hit rate, but it’s more than many games man­age.

To de­scribe Ratchet & Clank as a plat­former is mis­lead­ing: the tit­u­lar Lom­bax’s jump is more of­ten used to dodge mis­siles and bul­lets sprayed from nearby tur­rets than to leap over gaps. Com­bat is and al­ways has been the fo­cus, and In­som­niac has got pretty good at it over the years. The stu­dio sub­tly shifts the tempo through­out, ask­ing you to deal with aliens at mid-range be­fore launch­ing waves of ro­botic at­tack dogs to snap at your feet. Limited ammo forces you to en­gage with a wider range of weapons, which have been pulled from the en­tire se­ries. The Groovit­ron, in­tro­duced in A Crack In Time, pumps out a disco beat to which no en­emy grunt can re­sist get­ting down. All 4 One’s War­mon­ger fires rock­ets that land with a thud. Go­ing Com­mando’s Sheep­ina­tor – well, have a guess. There are fresh ad­di­tions, too. The Pro­ton Drum fires out throb­bing pink shock­waves that zap any­thing caught within their ra­dius, while the Pix­eliser is an instant clas­sic: a shot­gun that turns en­e­mies into blocky sprites, even­tu­ally caus­ing them to frag­ment into vox­els. Bat­tles are usu­ally chal­leng­ing enough to avoid mind­less­ness with­out ever be­com­ing frus­trat­ing road­blocks, and can of­fer quite the spec­ta­cle, es­pe­cially when mul­ti­ple Buzz Blades are ric­o­chet­ing be­tween op­po­nents, as scores of bounc­ing bolts foun­tain up from the de­feated. Col­lect­ing th­ese has al­ways man­aged to sat­isfy some deep, pri­mor­dial de­sire for all things shiny. And even when you’re not fir­ing, there’s plenty to gawk at. The Pixar ref­er­ences may be ob­vi­ous ones to make, but such com­par­isons do In­som­niac’s artists a dis­ser­vice. Con­sis­tently imag­i­na­tive, de­tailed and gor­geously lit, its set­tings are a re­minder of how the fan­tas­ti­cal can eas­ily trump the pho­to­re­al­is­tic.

So high are the pro­duc­tion val­ues, in fact, it’s easy to see why the in­dus­try doesn’t make them like this any more. In an era of pro­ce­dural con­tent and sweep­ing sand­boxes, there’s some­thing quaint about a game fea­tur­ing lav­ish, elab­o­rate, hand-crafted spa­ces in which you rarely spend much more than an hour. It looks and feels ex­pen­sive, yet it’s be­ing sold at a bud­get price. Which­ever way you slice it, those sums don’t seem to add up, even fac­tor­ing in the pos­si­ble at­trac­tion to an au­di­ence of school-hol­i­day cinema­go­ers and the swell of good­will Sony has been rid­ing since PS4’s launch.

If tech­nol­ogy’s in­ex­orable march sug­gests Ratchet & Clank may be among the last of its kind, there are plenty who would re­spond with a dis­in­ter­ested shrug. This, in truth, will do lit­tle to sway that opin­ion. None­the­less, it’s solid, three-star en­ter­tain­ment: as pretty as it is in­con­se­quen­tial, as likely to be thor­oughly en­joyed for the dozen hours it lasts as it is to be forgotten within weeks. It’s not tax­ing or provoca­tive, it will leave you nei­ther up­set nor elated; it sim­ply wants to give you a good time. Some­times that’s enough.

So high are the pro­duc­tion val­ues that it’s easy to see why the in­dus­try doesn’t make them like this any more

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