PlayStation has no mascot as such, not in the same way that Nintendo has. They tried to position a couple in PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, but none of these ever caught on like Mario, Luigi, Link and the rest of the gang, characters that we all know and love, and that's a damn shame, because some in Sony's fold deserve the same time in the spotlight. Here we're specifically thinking about a dynamic duo who have been exclusive to the PlayStation platform for a long time, and who now are finally ready for their first foray onto Sony's latest console. We are, of course, talking about Ratchet & Clank from Insomniac Games, who are finally set to make their return, and this time on PlayStation 4.
For starters, let's get one thing straight - Ratchet & Clank is more or less a straight remake - or rather a reconstruction - of the very first game in the series, which debuted on PlayStation 2 back in 2002. Insomniac has gone back in time to the series' roots for one sole reason, because the release of the game coincides with the release of the duo's big screen debut, their very own animated feature film. The game even markets itself as "the game based on the movie based on the game", so at least there's honesty and humour to be found here. That said, the game never feels like your typical remaster or remake, despite the fact that it's almost a point for point reworking of the original, if you can look past a slightly re-jigged story, some new weapons, and a couple of new sections featuring puzzle-solving with Clank. It feels fresh, it feels new, and it feels absolutely wonderful.
But, if your only getting acquainted with the dynamic due now, it's worth summarising just what Insomniac's iconic series is all about, so here we go.
The game is an action-oriented platformer, which is chiefly centred around an array of inventive and entertaining weapons, which Ratchet uses to crush his enemies. The levels are represented by planets, which you're free to travel between at your leisure once they've been unlocked, and these are both linear as well as small sandboxes for you to explore via short side-missions. There isn't a tremendous amount of freedom on display here, but like another beloved PlayStation 2 platformer, Jak & Daxter, the minimal feeling of openness does provide the player with the notion that they aren't being pushed down one, long linear corridor. It provides scope and context, and feels quite nice.
But yes, it's the weapons that are front and centre here, and we're pleased to report that they feel just as balanced, sharply designed and visually stunning as they did in the original oh so many years ago. The shooting mechanics are improved, of this there can be no doubt, but the arsenal of weapons has also be enhanced. Classics like the Combuster, the Pyrocitor and the Proton Drum are all back of course, but here we also encounter newer additions like the Groovitron, which sends affected enemies into a hardcore disco groove, as well as the all new Pixeliser, which quite simply reduces your foes to a pixelated mush. There is a huge array of weapons at your disposal, and you can even upgrade each and every one with crystals. They all have their own talent trees, and it'll take you a long time to fully upgrade them all. You can have four weapons on quick select at any time, and when you slowly start to upgrade a couple of them, you'll grow attached to them and develop tactics based around their use.
At the same time, you won't run out of enemies to shoot at, and with the new graphical upgrade (more on that later), there's enough visual variation here that the spectacle of turning your enemies into dust is at times exhilarating entertainment. The difficulty has been lowered a bit from the original, but that certainly doesn't mean you can run through on auto-pilot. A couple of sections demand your full attention, and require you to choose the right weapon at exactly the right moment, while keeping you constantly on the move.
There is no doubt that the weaponry is what will draw players in, and each and every one is great on its own. The same, however, cannot be said of the platforming sections, where Ratchet & Clank, exactly like Jak & Daxter, suffer from uneven controls and, at times, a wonky camera, especially when it comes to the more accurate and precision-based platforming. It happens all too often that you miss or screw up a jump because you neither have a very good concept of your characters exact position, or the exact physical boundaries of the movement model. It's a shame that that these sections are still a significant part of the game, when it's neither very good nor a part of what makes Ratchet & Clank so great. It simply kills momentum most of the time.
The same can be said of yet another new addition, which is a couple of sections where you control Clank. These are positioned as puzzles where Clank has to place a couple of small robots in a clever way so that he may advance to the next area. There is nothing particularly wrong with the design of these puzzles, and it somewhat does add variety to proceedings, but it has nothing at all to do with Ratchet & Clank's primary strength, so it's a shame that Insomniac continuously moves away from the game's most well designed and entertaining aspect, shooting the hell out of stuff - it comes across as filler, and not the good kind. "Know your limits" Alfred said to Bruce Wayne at the beginning of The Dark Knight, and those words as just as wise in this instance.
Now we're a far bit into the review, and we haven't even touched on the single most significant thing that this remake adds, which is the stunning visuals. We have no issue in saying that Ratchet & Clank on PlayStation 4 is one the most beautiful games we've ever played; it looks like a playable Pixar film most of the time. The colours are razor-sharp, the animations are lively and detailed, and the various planets are all dripping with quality. Because the game is set to release alongside its feature film debut, it's a wonder that they look so alike.
In spite of some uneven platforming and uninspired Clank sections, Ratchet & Clank storms the PlayStation 4 with confidence, aided by visuals that have impressed us no end and improved controls. If you add the tons varied and upgradable weapons to the fantastic humour which flows throughout the entire game, Ratchet & Clank is both as fun and as entertaining as it was 14 years ago. If you love this dynamic duo, then there's every reason to reacquaint yourself with this gorgeous game, but if you have yet dive into this first chapter, now would be the ideal time.