By Steven Petite
It hit me when I first hopped into my spaceship. I had just united with my new comrade Clank to embark on our adventure. We had to prove ourselves to the Galactic Rangers and save the galaxy. As Ratchet jumped in the cockpit with Clank in tow, a reflection hit the side of the ship. The engine roared and the freshly fixed ship hovered for a moment before blasting into the atmosphere. What hit me wasn’t the excitement of the upcoming adventure, it was the way the light slid across the metallic surface, shifting quickly but noticeably along its side. That was the moment that I knew Ratchet and Clank was taking its remake seriously, refining details as small as light reflecting off my ship’s shiny exterior. The gamemakers would allow this realistic element to shine and reflect all the way through the rapid ascension into space.
The first foray of Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank on Playstation 4 enters into familiar territory for veterans of venerable series. Arbitrarily, it’s a remake of the Playstation 2 classic, but I feel as if that distinction is unfair. Remakes, often branded as HD remasters, have flooded the industry to nauseating degrees. Most of the time, developers merely slap a new coat of paint over a well-traveled adventure and ask consumers to buy it.
I’d be lying if I claimed that I’ve eluded this marketing tactic. I have now bought Final Fantasy X four times. Once on Playstation 2, twice in one fell swoop when arguing with myself over whether I would rather play the remastered version on Playstation 3 or Vita, and the final time on Playstation 4 for good measure. It’s a damn good game, but looking back on my purchases, I finished the game only on PlayStation 2. That shiny new paint wasn’t enough to carry me through familiar terrain. A remake worth playing to all the way through to the credits is one that recaptures the feelings of playing a wonderful game for the very first time. I spent the past few days playing through Ratchet & Clank, and to be frank, it stands above all other remakes and sets a new standard to follow.
I feel like I should disclose that Ratchet & Clank is one of my favorite series, and easily my pick as Sony’s top franchise besides Metal Gear. That’s not to say that I’ve been in love with every iteration, as I consider the original trilogy to be the best, followed by the three traditional Playstation 3 entries. I’d like to forget that any of the spinoffs happened (Deadlocked, Clank, Full Frontal Assault, All 4 One). Still, a half dozen mightily impressive games in the span of roughly a decade is no small feat. The remake which will hopefully be the start of a full series reboot, does a number of things that elevates it above other games of its kind.
It’s all, or at least mostly, about the weapons. It always has been for everyone’s favorite Lombax and robotic companion. From standard blaster weapons to flamethrowers and bombs to the Sheepinator (yes, it turns enemies into sheep), Ratchet & Clank’s first foray into next generation gaming keeps with this tradition. My personal favorite is the Pixelizer, which, unsurprisingly, turns enemies into pixelated art. Occasionally, they are frozen for a few moments before crumbling to dust. With improved aiming, weapon mechanics, enemy hit recognition, and handling, the fine-tuned combat is at its best for the long running series. The weapon upgrade system is intuitive and addictive, catering to your specific play style and tendencies for maximum enjoyment.
Despite being a remake, it does rework the story to coincide with the upcoming animated feature of the same name. It’s a lighthearted, zany adventure that features some well-timed twists and turns. Some of the humor has been updated for modern relevance — you’ll find social media jokes. The plot is nothing extraordinary, but I was gleefully surprised by the depth of its characters, especially Captain Qwark –WHY– considering I didn’t know what to expect since my last voyage to Ratchet’s home planet of Veldin was more than half of my life ago.
But I have to admit, for all of my talk at the beginning about HD remakes and fresh coats of paint, the most impressive quality here is the visuals and animations. This isn’t just enhanced colors, rounded out character models, smoothed environment textures, and more movie quality cut scenes, though. Even though all of that is great, it should be the bare minimum standard for a remake. Ratchet and Clank is one of the most impressive visual displays available today. It’s undeniably the best looking cartoon-ish game on the market, but calling it merely that is a disservice too.
Animated games and movies unfairly get lumped into a perceived lesser category than their realistic counterparts. The Oscars gives animated features its own category which is cool, but also creates a barrier for entry to best picture. Only Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story 3, and Up have been nominated for the top prize, but none of them won. Similarly, modern day game awards for titles in the animated variety are typically only doled out for Italian plumbers and Hyrulian heroes. Ratchet and Clank doesn’t subscribe to realism, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feature some of the most realistic aesthetic aspects in gaming. Here, the sheer breadth of lighting is stunning. Chaotic explosions are rendered in startlingly detail. Frame by frame, from the casual movements of Ratchet’s wrench to the picture perfect gear rotations of Clank, Ratchet and Clank is simply marvelous to watch in motion. Every moment of the game feels as if it has been lifted from a lovingly detailed animated feature.
When I took down Dr. Nefarious and the credits rolled, I was met with a rarity in my gaming life: the desire to start all over again. I booted up the challenge mode and kept going. This is a remake whose quality is of the highest order. Ridiculously fresh, and absurdly enjoyable, Ratchet and Clank brought me back to the beginning, and beckoned for me to relive it all again and again. To me, this is the benchmark for remakes and remasters, and if every one of them was like Ratchet and Clank, the games industry’s frequent recycles would actually be deserved.
Steven Petite, a frequent Circle contributor, will be writing The Moment column regularly.