Every new console launch needs its grand spectacle moment. The piece of software that lets us know the hundreds of dollars we just dropped weren’t a waste. That this new system is, in fact, a technological marvel and not just a conflict mineral paperweight. I’m talking about games like Ridge Racer, Halo: Combat Evolved, or Sonic Adventure. It doesn’t need to necessarily be exclusive, but it needs to immediately communicate “this is why we videogaming.”
The true spectacle of a launch title comes when your friend can turn to you while playing a game and say “Bro, this is just like action figures.” And then you can look at the screen, pick up the controller, and say “No, dawg. This is better than action figures.”
Sure, there are enjoyable games for the PlayStation 5, many of them holdovers from the PS4. But so far it’s lacked something vibrant, flashy, and substantive. Sony needed something so thoroughly maximalist it couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a summer titan.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the spectacle that the PlayStation 5 desperately needed.
The 16th in a series that goes all the way back to the (not-backwards-compatible) PS2, Rift Apart is as Ratchet & Clank as they come. It’s an embellishment on a formula that’s worked for 19 years and supported a franchise up until this latest entry. It’s splashy and charming. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it absolutely will dive into talking about trauma and disability, and tackle questions of belonging and imposter syndrome in ways that are simple enough to speak to children, but honest enough to resonate with adults. And at times, it manages to be surprisingly funny despite being entirely predictable, knitting trope to trope in a tapestry wrapped in more tropes. It’s a simple but surprisingly earnest and compassionate game. What carries this big flashy sci-fi romp along and helps elevate it from a simple farce is this charm and humanity. Rift Apart has the heart that Guardians of the Galaxy could never find.
As a game, Rift Apart is a shooter. What platforming exists in the level design is similar to platforming in a classic deathmatch arena. You’ll hop from platform to platform, duck around corners, jump dash across chasms to pick up more ammo and continue the killing. New to this version is the ability to dash while strafing. It’s sick. Dash-strafing with a quad-barrel space shotgun free aiming all around at enemy swarms coming from every direction? “Bro. This is why we videogaming.” That’s all you really need out of life. Insomniac wants you to use the shotgun (and the sick as hell rocket launchers) so badly they’ll give you every reason in the book to do so. Enemies love to line up just so you can get that big catastrophic splash damage. Spinning around and pulling the haptic trigger all the way back in a manic whirlwind of Fidelity-mode glee. Pull-click, BOOM, and then a rain of coins, or energy drinks, or the standard bolts (you can change what they look like). The frame rate never really drops to unplayable levels, but Insomniac’s development team clearly takes a singular pride in bringing the latest console hardware to its knees by seeing just how many small objects they can shove into a scene. It’s beautiful, though. When your little space furball is plodding around on cartoonish feet, their ears bobbing to the groove of The Enforcer taking down 3, then 7, then 12 dudes all at once, because you fell in love with this gun and shoved every bit of Raritanium into maximizing its upgrades before you’re even on the 3rd planet? Heaven. Absolute heaven. This is why you’re videogaming, and Insomniac knows it. This is a shooter that knows you want to go fast and be a maniac, and Insomniac will give you every possible opportunity to go ripshit and flip through weapon after weapon as fast as you can burn ammo. In fact, the best way to describe Rift Apart is that it’s specifically a twin-stick shooter that thinks it’s a character action game. It’s fast, manic, and beautifully rendered. It achieves a great deal of arcade delight without sacrificing charming narrative, clever and varied design, or world specific mechanical hooks.
If you played 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, you pretty much know the moveset. In fact, you largely know the game. The bones that made Ratchet & Clank work repeatedly for nearly two decades, and that powered the games that borrowed from them, are still present here. It’s just more. The enemies are more, the guns are more, the planets, lighting, objects, and particles are all more. And now there’s two new faces: Rivet and Kit, the alternate dimensional counterparts to Ratchet and Clank. There’s also the Nefarious counterpart. The one who was good at his job—Emperor Nefarious. If there’s a weakness in this game, it’s that Rivet (who is thankfully never relegated to a secondary role) is functionally identical to Ratchet. On the one hand this is helpful when constantly switching back and forth, but one would hope for a little more mechanical differentiation. Still, Rivet’s rad as hell and voiced by none other than Commander Shepard herself (I hope we’ll get more of her in the future). Not only do you have to work together to save her universe, you also have to save Ratchet’s, and every other universe. Emperor Nefarious has much bigger plans than Doctor Nefarious.
The hand off between Ratchet and Rivet comes in the form of planet hopping. “I wonder how Rivet is doing” / “Hope Ratchet is hanging in there” moments take place where load screens used to be. Each of them gets certain planets for certain narrative beats. You can more or less play them in any order, but alternating each zone makes the most sense. The division of labor brings with it character reveals, overarching plot beats, and a new weapon unlocked for most new planetary visits. The planets, of course, are mostly made up of alternate dimensional versions of series classics. Fans of the series will undoubtedly remember them, but newcomers (like me) won’t feel left out. This is arguably as good an on-ramping for this new and spectacular adventure as any.
I recently took a peek at the 2016 game, and it looked very lovely. Those planets and enemies you thought you loved, though? Hah. This is the next level shit you want.
Rift Apart plays, by default, at 4K, with raytracing and a number of additional lighting effects. It runs at 30 frames per second, and only jerks a little bit when things get particularly frantic. There are two other modes that make graphical trade-offs to achieve a solid 60fps: Performance RT which trades resolution for raytracing, and Performance which does 4K at the cost of raytracing. They both lose some of the object numbers and lighting effects, but still, not a single one of these modes was inelegant or lacking. Personally, there was a particularly enticing undercranked war movie sequence aesthetic that Fidelity mode has when things get choppy and the additional visual touches were too good to pass up. That being said, this game shines as the aforementioned twin stick shooter at 60fps. But I’d say you owe it to yourself to see the art in its full glory at least for a little bit. The artists have put such attention into building up these alien worlds and filling them with lovingly animated creatures.
Rift Apart has some of the most detailed, fluid, and lively animations I’ve seen in a game. Enemies act, react, and emote in a comedic ballet of gestures as they’re pummeled, pounded, and bombed. And it isn’t just the phases of battle damage they go through; there’s a classic animation quality to them, the poses they strike when damaged and ultimately killed. I found myself constantly slowing down my mayhem to fully take them in, to savor the Don Bluth-like animation cycles. The lighting gun that jolts enemies in their tracks in an extremely classic cartooning fashion is a particular delight. And then I went back to going ripshit because damn is it fun to go fast in Rift Apart. Unfortunately, going fast is why I didn’t spend nearly as much time with the Photo Mode as I wanted to.
Here’s my one photo:
I called it “Going to do an archeology” (you’ll figure out why when you get there). The game has a genuinely robust photo mode, with both near and far aperture settings which really lets you fine-tune the depth of field, the wealth of capture settings, frames, pose and object options. About the only thing you can’t do is move the sun. Which is fine. You don’t need to move the sun. I promise. It’s just elaborate enough to capture the vivaciousness of the universe that Ratchet & Clank’s devs have created.
It’s where I’m going to spend most of my time when I go back.
That’s right. “When.” Which is perhaps the most praise I can give a game as a reviewer. Reviewing a game is such an arduous process that most of the time you’re done when you’re done. They get deleted to make room for the next game. Especially on the PS5 where space is at a premium.
Rift Apart remains. I’m still enthralled by it. It’s still reminding me of why I went through the effort to get a PS5.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is fun. That’s not a word I’m supposed to use. “Professional Critics’’ don’t use “fun” because it’s a subjective, uncritical term. But real ass critics know when to tell old stuffy white dudes who think writing about videogames is epoch-defining work to fuck off. [We use “fun” a lot here at Paste.—Ed.] Rift Apart is fun. It brings me joy, the kind of giddiness you experience when you first watched Star Wars, or went on a roller coaster, or whatever state where spectacle overwhelmed you and you felt immediate and intense positive regard both for the self and for others. Rift Apart is Disney World to a five year old. It’s fast, kinetic, and it reminded me why I was so eager to get a PS5. This is the first game I’ve reviewed that made me want to come back to it. Even Shenmue III couldn’t manage that. There’s more left to do, collectables to find, weapons to upgrade fully, dimensional pockets to blitz my way through (and, yes, even do some platforming in). But mostly I just want to go back and hoverskate across an alien mesa under the gigantic legs of an ambulatory archive and pop off with The Enforcer, soaking up the cartoon sci-fi world that my furry buds inhabit. So yeah, I’m going to call Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart fun. Because it is. It’s the spectacle I’ve been waiting for. It’s the reason to keep a PS5 around. It’s a maximal game with big wacky characters and a killer shotgun. This is a game about friendship and games about friendship fucking rule. Rift Apart is better than action figures.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was developed by Insomniac and published by Sony. It is available for the PlayStation 5.
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer and photographer. She tweets too much at @dialacina.