Video Games editor Saman Izadyar takes a look at the reboot of one of the PlayStation’s top icons: Ratchet & Clank.
Let me preface this by confessing my love for Insomniac Studios before I totally destroy this game. I have spent countless hours on the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance games with them being some of my favourite platformers and first-person shooters respectively. Initially I wasn’t going to purchase the reboot of one of my favourite games of all time because I didn’t want to taint such an important part of my childhood experience. Given the track record of video game films and the cringeworthy trailer, I wasn’t overly keen on Ratchet & Clank coming to the big stage and subsequently getting a game based on the movie (which is based on the game). After reading the overtly positive reviews, I second-guessed my opinion and decided to give the reboot a try. Oh, what a mistake I made.
Reading the reviews whilst playing the game, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m at fault and am getting too old for this or if the reviewers are at fault and didn’t play the first Ratchet & Clank (2002). One of the things the original excelled at was creating actual characters with actual personalities. There was Ratchet, the lombax who craved adventure but let emotion get the better of him. Then there was Clank, a cute and naïve little robot that wants to save the galaxy. The difference in the reboot is that both of them just satisfy the generic hero role. They are incorruptible, with no selfish desires or inherent flaws, becoming friends immediately and experiencing no conflicts of interest at all for the entirety of the game. I failed to feel any emotion during my 8 hour play through… the only thing that made me chuckle was when one of the characters says: “See you in the next reboot.” Any other attempt at humour misses the mark by a long shot. During one of the races in the game the announcer says “That boost pad just gave Ratchet a … boost, heh, sorry,” which is a great example of how bad the dialogue in this game is. Adding even further insult to injury is the way that most of the time characters idly look at each other whilst talking, and the camera switches from one to the other like this is some sort of cheap role-playing game. None of the characters did it for me, Skid McMarx (one of the best pun names in gaming) and Big Al are significantly more annoying and unrealistically exaggerated versions of their original selves; the former being one of those revolting skater bros and the latter being so nerdy that he is impossible to relate to. I would criticize all the new characters as well, but honestly I cannot remember their names. Where is the character development?
Then there is Captain Qwark, who was impossible to hate in the original trilogy. He is the arrogant superhero whom Ratchet aspires to be like. The developers really have noticed how loveable of a character he was, considering they have milked him dry in nearly every one of their games. The same thing happens in the reboot as he is the first main character you are introduced to. In fact, he condescendingly narrates the whole game. A big mistake. Every single time you swim, he makes the same comment that you are going to run out of breath, every time you lack a gadget when trying to access an area that requires said gadget, Qwark will remind you. I desperately searched the options for a way to turn this narration off but no dice. In person, he acts shady from the beginning and starts off in prison, so of course it is no surprise that he does something bad eventually in the game. As fans of the original should know <minor spoiler> Qwark betrays Ratchet & Clank, taking the enemies’ side. However, no-one seems to care when this happens. Compare this to the original where we spend half of the game trying to find Qwark, and then the psychological effect it has on Ratchet when the betrayal is revealed. It fills him with hate, an actual human emotion! He is annoyed at Clank for dragging him on this wild goose chase, and it’s actually heart-breaking when they fall out. The reboot broke my heart too, but in the way where it feels like someone has taken a dump on one of my favourite franchises. The other villains are Chairman Drek, a Blarg who is creating a new planet for his race by stealing parts of other planets, and Doctor Nefarious a mad scientist who was actually introduced in Ratchet & Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal (2004). And here we have yet another mistake; making Drek the secondary villain. This means that Drek never gets to fulfil his evil intentions like he does in the original, where he nearly destroys Ratchet’s home planet (another emotion filled event). Introducing Nefarious this early on only serves one purpose: sequel bating his return as a robot who wants to hypocritically destroy all organic life. Qwark apologises and is forgiven straight away for his evil doings, even though he was responsible for destroying an entire planet. It’s nice that kids are being taught that being evil has no consequence if you say sorry. It also ruins the interesting plotline of Qwark’s redemption that was shown in Ratchet & Clank 3 and the hilariously shocking twist in Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando (2003).
Then there is the gameplay, which is a lot better than the story but still has glaring flaws. For the majority of the game you control Ratchet, but in certain sections you get to control Clank. Just like in the original, this is a boring minigame that drains all of the momentum in the story. He has no weapons, so all he can do is control other robots to complete puzzles. The difficulty of the puzzles makes me question the audience of the game. Towards the end it took me, a university student and veteran gamer, a few minutes to get it right, yet the humour seems fitting to more of a young child’s taste. Somehow a “boss” was even squeezed into this Clank segment. You run away from a hulking robot as he attacks you in the same three ways until you turn the sprinklers on and he dies. What a waste of an awesome looking character.
Ratchet & Clank prides itself on its weapons and gadgets. This being a reboot means that the guns are more or less just redesigns of previous stuff in the franchise. One exception to this is the Pixeliser which serves as a shotgun type weapon with the special ability of turning enemies into 8 bit versions of themselves, showing that Insomniac still have it when it comes to quirky ideas. Another similarity to the original is how bad aiming with Ratchet is; this extends to controlling the camera in general which feels slow and clunky (with no settings to change it). The combat feels a little too much at times, as waves and waves of enemies come running at you. I played on hard difficulty so all I did was jump around and hope I didn’t get shot. Although the weapon effects look great, it’s hard to see enemies and their attacks with the amount of environmental destruction that is made. This makes it very frustrating when a stray bullet hits you, masked by one of your own explosions. Furthermore, in the original, there were 4 life points (which you could increase to 8) and every time you got hit, one would go down. In this reboot it seems random how many hit points an enemy will take off when they hit you, which makes you uneasy and so you dodge and shoot without thinking. The whole thing is chaotic.
Don’t get me wrong, the game looks stunning and some of the problems of the original are fixed (such as having to manually select gadgets). Though it serves as yet another reminder how good looking games don’t necessarily make great games. I am genuinely confused at how the game has received reviews of around 80%+ and some have even gave it a perfect score. It doesn’t reinvent itself after 14 years and it doesn’t push any boundaries, it just looks really good. The first one looked really good for its time, but still delivered in the narrative and character development areas whilst offering diverse gameplay. It’s a shame that this is a movie tie-in, otherwise I have no doubt that they could’ve done so much more. I think I’ll be sticking to my HD remastered collection of Ratchet & Clank, thank you very much. I’ll see you in the next reboot.
- Aesthetically pleasing to the eye
- The Pixeliser is one of the best guns in the R&C universe
- Weapon upgrades which the original lacked
- Jet pack level is cool
- Very weak storytelling and character development, with a side order of terrible humour
- Less planets, less enemy variations
- Boring Clank gameplay; Clank doesn’t turn into a huge robot mech
- Annoying Qwark narration
- Generic music
- Boss fights require zero brain power
Text – SAMAN IZADYAR
Photography – SAMAN IZADYAR