Ratchet & Clank has always been one of the unsung heroes of the PlayStation era, a definitive contributor to the PS2 and even the PS3’s medial success. It’s one of my all time favourite series, encompassing the various moments of my adolescence through to the far more decrepit specimen I’ve become. But it’s never quite emulated the same cultural heritage that the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter have achieved with less exposure. In fact it’s often regarded with a level of mild disdain reserved for a homeless person begging for change. And I can’t quite grasp why ignorance has beset this series with such fortitude? Sure its had enough of an audience to sustain numerous interpretations, but it should be a console seller! And if you are one of those that adheres to such abhorrent negligence then mores the pity, because you’re continued exclusion is something I can mock as a callous misuse of objectivity. I can’t express how good it is to have them back in my life though. I’d kind of forgotten just how much I, as well as the industry has missed such an unapologetically repetitive duo. It’s like going for drinks with an old friend that you haven’t seen since school, as they begin reciting the same tired anecdote with precise detail that you’ve heard a dozen times before. And even though you know the punchline, that the result is always the same, it’s reassuring to hear it again. And that’s Ratchet & Clank!
These acquaintances adventures are as perfunctory as they are endearing. Here we revisit the original tale concerning the alliance of a defective kill bot (Clank) and languishing mechanic Lombax (Ratchet), as they rally together encountering a retinue of additional enemies and allies, primarily consisted within an assembled team of heroes called the Galactic Rangers. This allegiance is tasked with thwarting the evil deeds of the maniacal Chairman Drek, a diminutive businessman with the galaxies greatest ponytail, who has developed his own variation of the Death Star called the Deplanetizer, who plans to blow up planets…..for some unspecified reason? For business purposes I presume? In the original he used his influence to harvest other planets, to assemble one perfect planet. Here, well I may have missed the point with that, and I’ve played through it twice?! The story isn’t really concerned with explaining motivations, but rather disclosing a vague interpretation of the original game and if I’m honest achieving this rather indelicately. It’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, and for me the relationship between Ratchet & Clank feels a little sterile than it did in the original. They meet, they become friends, the end. At least in the original the relationship between them was one of reluctance, steadily progressing to friendship by the end. There are slight deviations to the original plot that do work in its favour however, varying narrative threads from past games with interpretive perception. You’re introduced to a pre mechanised Dr Nefarious and the “Protopets” are briefly mentioned, both of whom fans of the series will be familiar with. And there’s an extensive synchronisation to this revamp, allowing the series to build existing stories organically with much more fluent continuity to the eventual follow ups. Trouble is is that the original kind of done it better. The antagonists intent was more defined and it established chemistry between Ratchet & Clank with a little more catharsis. But what it lacks in story it more than makes up for in visuals. And man are they exceedingly pretty!
With Captain Quarks hubristic narration guiding you through the sleek, sensuous and wholly resplendent recreation of the originals locales, you’re greeted by the generous environments despite the restrictive linearity. All the planets, the indigenous habitations, the people, even the plant life are utilised with bright vibrancy. Every space facilitates a diversified sheen often rejected by contemporary games. There’s always something so effusive about a game that relishes colour. It’s like someone has cleaned you’re eyes, cleansing years of dust particles that have been fused to you’re retinas. The unique ambience of every individual planet is so visceral that they feel habitable, even real. Each location offers diversity, contrasting the futuristic civilisation’s, towering structures and flying vehicles depicted with a nauseating bogs, sewers or volcanic streams. Every location has its own unique identity that encourages you to play for just a bit longer than you had intended too. But what truly defines the series as an entertainment plat-forming genre is the absurd weaponry.
During the earlier exchanges you’re most likely be conserving ammunition due to the lack of inventory at you’re disposal, which is a little disappointing. As you progress however you’ll soon be furnished with an array of quirky weaponry and a variation on ballistics we’ve come to expect. With varying auxiliary implements of destruction, bestowed with the most illogical of design. When was the last time you had a gun that chastised you for picking up health? Most have their separate uses; some are bog standard incendiaries and projectiles that provide more practical assistance. The groovitron, a gun that fires a disco ball that causes it’s recipients to dance uncontrollably is fantastic distraction from an overwhelming fleet of enemies. Mr Zurkon is an invaluable asset against the gathering masses, providing much needed support. The wrench is a useful tool to begin with but diminishes as you progress, becoming just a certifiable key rather than a trusted resource. And because every weapon you obtain is upgradable you’re encouraged to utilise all of them, though eventually you’re revert back to using the devastating ballistics of the R.Y.N.O (Rip Ya a New One), looking like a weapon that Jim Carey would pull out of his pocket in the Mask! You placate enemy resistance with the dispersal of highly volatile missiles that incinerate everything in its path, even emitting it’s own orchestral melody that invokes a terrifying rendition of “Ride Of The Valkyries”. Eviscerating enemies into smouldering craters has never been so elegant! Of course as powerful as these weapons are you’ll always need more.
Bolts are the galaxies primary currency, a renewable source of income, generated by defeated enemies or contained within wooden crates scattered across the level. Other than the strangely satisfying accomplishment you feel from breaking these crates and the alluring sound of collecting bolts, they are also used to purchase weapons or stock up on depleted ammunition. Raretanium is also another valuable commodity, though harder to come by, enabling you to upgrade your existing arsenal. And you will have to do this quite regularly as the enemies become rather challenging, descending into an exercise in survival and blending cinematic vigour and “holy crap I’m going to die” combat. But fundamentally there’s not one definitive element that’s new or even original, but more a synthesis of familiarity that’s both endearing and irreverent.
What has always excited me about this series is it’s errant familiarity. Most games in the franchise are merely tweaked aberrations of the same concept, exacerbated variations on the plat-forming genre. And as similar as the games are they still stand out today simply because there is no one else doing this any-more. What I respect most from this series is it’s enduring consistency, the way it has remained fundamentally the same. It hasn’t adapted to the shifting demographics or pandered to the favoured genres. The likes of Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Banjo Kazooie, Sly Raccoon and even Jak and Daxter have become notable casualties in recent years, yet Ratchet & Clank endures because of its familiarity. Often games that stick to similar thematics are mocked with sneering antipathy, ridiculed as un-inventive and therefore rubbish. Yet innovation can be applied to many games, yet doesn’t make them half as entertaining. It’s a series that has always understood it’s limitations, securing a definition that most series eventually try to distance themselves from. It’s never been afraid to be itself no matter how repetitive that may seem to some. Sure there have been subtle variations of the same concept, but it always employs the same plat-forming identity. It’s like not eating you’re favourite chocolate for a while. You sample other confectionery, even enjoy them. But when you go back to you’re favourite after a period away from it you feel gratification that its exactly as you remember it. The taste that you loved so much is the same.
This Ratchet & Clank is an extension of what you’ve seen and played before, never diminishing in rigour, which is either comforting or frustrating depending on your perspective. This remake harnesses nostalgia as if it understands just how precious these two heroes are to its long time fans, and makes damn sure not to tarnish those memories. But if you’ve never played a Ratchet & Clank game before, then this is the perfect introduction, especially for a younger audience. It’s as chaotic and explosive as it’s ever been, employing vibrancy and repetition as if it were beneficial. And it is! Despite its predictability long time devotees or new eager participants curious to experience something genuinely new will find just as much to relish. Just don’t watch the movie. It’s awful!
Have you played Ratchet & Clank? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.