Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the first full entry to the original series since A Crack in Time launched in 2009. As a fan of the franchise since I was four years old, the wait for a proper sequel has been excruciating. And after replaying the entire series this year, I’ve been curious what a complete and modern Ratchet & Clank experience could look like.
After 12 years, it’s finally here. With the introduction of a new playable protagonist and instant loading times, Rift Apart is a great demonstration of the PS5’s powerful SSD and technical prowess. But beyond that, this latest entry is lacking in creativity and is a disappointing continuation of A Crack in Time’s story.
Rift Apart is still a good game thanks to its satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay, astounding graphical fidelity, and unique arsenal of weapons, but it’s missing the magic found in the best entries in the series.
An underwhelming narrative
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart opens with a parade being thrown in honor of the iconic duo’s heroic efforts across the galaxy. Ratchet and Clank have been in an indefinite retirement since the events of Into the Nexus, and it’s been years since they’ve done any “hero work.” The two don’t seem thrilled about this, and there’s a sense that they feel washed up in some ways.
As Ratchet darts across giant balloons and blasts through choreographed mock battles, Clank says he has prepared a surprise for him. When they reach the culmination of this bombastic parade, Clank reveals he has repaired the Dimensionator, giving Ratchet the ability to go home and meet the rest of his species.
Ratchet appears conflicted, but before he can make a decision, the Dimensionator is snatched from its platform by the series’ most prominent villain: Dr. Nefarious. The two chase the scoundrel, but as the device goes out of control, dimensional rifts tear into reality. Our two heroes drift apart as they’re transported into a world unlike their own. In this twisted reality, Nefarious has won, and the universe is nearly conquered.
Hope isn’t completely lost, though. A rebellion is working in the shadows to dismantle Emperor Nefarious’ tyranny; this is where Rivet, the new female protagonist, comes in. She’s an important figure in this revolution, and as Clank finds himself estranged from his best friend, he creates an unlikely bond with the mysterious lombax. As for Ratchet, he’s looking to reunite with his metal companion, with the goal of leaving this warped dimension.
Rift Apart jumps between Ratchet and Rivet’s adventures as light-hearted shenanigans occur around the world. Dr. Nefarious attempts to coordinate with his alternate self in humorous ways, and his robotic army is as incompetent as ever.
Spoiler warning for Rift Apart’s story: Rift Apart has an amusing script, but the character arcs are underwhelming. Ratchet is conflicted about whether he should seek out the Lombaxes because he is comfortable in his current life. However, he also doesn’t seem happy about being in retirement; this degree of uncertainty isn’t resolved in a convincing way. It’s difficult to believe Ratchet would lose all motivation to continue his quest while also being unhappy about the lack of hero work. Without much buildup, Ratchet comes to a decision in the story’s finale.
Rivet’s story revolves around her robotic counterpart, Kit, and although the two are cute together, the way in which we see them bond and get closer is equally unconvincing. Rivet has to learn forgiveness, while Kit and Clank learn to be more confident in themselves. These arcs only receive a few cutscenes to marinate, and although this is how narrative elements were handled in Tools of Destruction, I wish the series’ approach to storytelling had evolved after 14 years.
Rift Apart brings new players up to speed on what's happening in the story thus far, but it carries none of the emotional weight from the Future series. It’s best for new players to go back and play Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time to understand why this narrative is compelling.
Rift Apart’s moment-to-moment gameplay is faithful to the original formula, but takes the fast-paced nature to new heights. The additions of a dodge and sprint mechanic change the fluidity of combat, allowing players to evade attacks and swiftly maneuver the battlefield.
Jumping side-to-side is still necessary, as some encounters require an element of verticality to avoid abilities that hit close to the ground. Hoverboots let you swiftly boost across the arena, giving our Lombax heroes more control of the distance they travel amidst battle.
Players can also utilize the Rift Tether; if there’s a Rift with a yellow outline, pressing the designated button quickly warps reality and transports the player to that position. And if there’s a giant wall with arrows on them, players can cling to those walls and cross dangerous gaps.
All of these elements mesh excellently in combat. Players can dodge, sprint, boost, jump, teleport and wall-run in the middle of a battle to gain an advantage, which makes every encounter in Rift Apart exhilarating..
Unfortunately, Rift Apart is a walk in the park even on the hardest difficulty. The aforementioned mobility, responsiveness and control creates room for better battles, but makes it easier to avoid attacks. There are challenging moments, including the awesome final boss, but when compared to Tools of Destruction or A Crack in Time, Rift Apart is nowhere near as demanding.
Rift Apart’s weapon selection is the most distinctive the series has seen, boasting a one-of-a-kind assortment of memorable concepts and ideas. One of my favorites is the Ricochet; when launched at an enemy, the player can continuously press the fire button to have ammo bounce and hit them over and over. The Topiary Sprinkler is also useful; launching it on the floor causes it to spurt a blast of water at an enemy and turns them into a piece of shrub art, effectively freezing them in place.
Something like the Void Repulser simultaneously acts as a mobile shield and a short-range burst weapon. This is where the DualSense comes in; if the player has the fire button held down halfway, the shield deploys and allows them to block incoming projectiles. Once the player pushes the button down all the way, it causes the shield to explode, damaging enemies in front of them. Insomniac Games cleverly uses haptic feedback to turn each trigger into two buttons.
However, Rift Apart suffers from certain weapons lacking tactile punchiness. The Buzz Blades, a perennial favorite, are comically small as they bounce across targets; the Shatterbomb’s effects feel far too minimal considering its explosive nature, Mr. Fungi shoots projectiles so tiny it’s difficult to tell if the weapon is even doing damage, and the Drillhound’s radius is small.
Previous Ratchet & Clank games ensured each weapon was exaggerated in projectile size, explosive effects, and how nonsensical they appear to the player. Rift Apart has a few weapons like this; the Negatron Collider emits a colossal beam of energy that disintegrates foes, while the Enforcer launches an arcing electric blast of shotgun pellets that shocks foes to death; I wish every weapon felt this satisfying to use.
Rift Apart starts strong with the best planet in the game: Nefarious City. This futuristic dystopia is beautifully detailed, with level design that encourages exploring alternate paths and jumping through creative set pieces in a city populated with brainwashed robots.
Afterward, players jump into Rivet's shoes as she explores an overly-familiar Sargasso, a planet that made its debut in Tools of Destruction. Players are then encouraged to engage with a classic franchise staple: finding as much of a certain item within the area to unlock something special.
Not only are players revisiting old planets, but they’re doing the same things they did back in 2007: Explore a swamp to collect an item, kill giant creatures to get more of that item, and even unlock a method of flying to explore the area with more ease. Sargasso was enjoyable, but the dip in quality compared to Nefarious City is jarring.
This over-reliance on old ideas continues to plague Rift Apart. When players visit Ardolis, more than half of the level is nearly identical to how it was structured back in Tools of Destruction. The best parts of being on this beautiful pirate planet are when you get to explore the never-before-seen beaches or discover another unseen part of the map. Otherwise, I was constantly wondering when it would end.
Nearly half of the planets in Rift Apart are revisits from the Future series. Some are better than others, with Torren IV being one of the best planets in the game thanks to its exciting vistas that have the player tightly maneuvering cliff sides as they battle an onslaught of enemies. Having players return to old planets makes sense to the narrative, but these are planets after all — they should be larger and have diversity not seen in prior games.
To make things more frustrating, Rift Apart forces players to go back to two planets after having already explored them, one of which is Sargasso. Replaying the same planets felt like nothing more than filler.
Gorgeous graphics, underwhelming application
Rift Apart’s graphical fidelity is undeniably stunning. Every area is full of detail and each asset is high quality. There’s not much to complain about as far as technical beauty goes, especially with Rift Apart’s instant-loading.
However, the application leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the game’s environments are too simple and lack the creative and colorful flair I’d expect from the series. This is especially noticeable thanks to Nefarious City, which is the best looking area in the game. Your journey goes from a gorgeous and colorful metropolis to a barren ashy desert, a decimated asteroid field, and a dark underwater base. Rift Apart hits it out of the park with its introductory set piece, but at no point does the game reach this level of creativity again.
Rift Apart’s overwhelming grittiness is also jarring; seeing cutesy animals exploring dark and desolate environments as they battle goofy crocodile-like creatures and make amusing quips doesn’t fit the tone of the environments. In most ways, Rift Apart is meant to be lighthearted and adventurous, but during these dark visual moments, this magic is completely lost.
One of Rift Apart’s most present ideas is its rift mechanic. While this is conceptually awesome, the application has mixed results. On one hand, there are excellent scripted moments where you're shot through a rift and are loaded into an area immediately; these show off the incredible power of the PS5’s SSD. The scenes are exciting and almost always occur during a boss fight that transitions into other worlds during its new phases.
On certain worlds, players can also attack a crystal and get sent into an alternate dimensional version of the planet they’re currently on. Jumping between an obliterated mining colony to one that’s fully formed, completely powered, and still full of robotic life within a second is an entirely new experience for the franchise.
On the other hand, optional rifts are scattered across the worlds, but none of them challenge the player and they’re too short to feel significant. These can usually be completed in a minute, and considering there are less than a dozen of them, their addition feels half baked.
It’s also disappointing that all Rifts look the same; They're a faded environment with assets and models haphazardly placed around. Insomniac Games could have messed with interdimensional ideas and gotten as ridiculous as possible with the environment design, yet none of these areas feel visually imaginative.
After reaching the Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart end credits, I was satisfied, but I didn’t love the experience. The game’s narrative arcs are handled carelessly, which made it difficult to invest myself in the character development. And thanks to an over-reliance on ideas from the Future series and environments lacking imagination, parts of the experience felt tedious.
However, Rift Apart is still a blast to play thanks to its responsiveness and mobility; darting around the battlefield and blasting enemies with the game’s unique arsenal of bizarre weaponry never gets old. And thanks to the game’s awesome graphical fidelity and instant loading, there’s a lot to love in Rift Apart, although it’s far from the best entry in the series.