Insomniac Games is one of those companies that almost always manages to deliver a noteworthy product. Starting with the debut of Spyro the Dragon on the first PlayStation, and ending with Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a game that launched the PlayStation 5 era, all their games provided a ton of entertainment.
In the meantime, however, the team from Burbank, CA have exhibited their skills in a number of other titles, including the Ratchet & Clank series, which began conquering our hearts in the PS2 era, set them ablaze on PS3, to perhaps disappoint a little with one installment on PS4, which was just a remake of the original, on top of that released as more of an add-on to the movie.
But the lean days are over, and a continuation of the adventures of this wonderful pair of heroes is coming soon to PS5. During the closed show and meeting with the developers from Insomniac Games, we learned a little bit about the future of this great franchise.
A great celebration
"The story begins many years after Into to Nexus," says Creative Director of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Marcus Smith. At the beginning of the game, we witness a spectacle with the eponymous duo at the center of it all. A celebration is underway in the city of Megalopolis to honor their lifetime achievements in fight to defend the galaxy, which is no small matter, as you can imagine. Among those celebrating are characters familiar from previous titles in the series, with Captain Quark leading the way. There are thousands of spectators around a huge moving arena and platforms hovering above it. One of the gifts for Ratchet is a device rebuilt by Clank called the Dimentionator, which allows to open rifts leading to other dimensions. "In doing so, Clank hopes to help his friend make contact with other lombaxes, as Ratchet is the last representative of his race in this dimension," explains Marcus Smith.
The parade is interrupted by a sudden attack by the Blargs, led by Dr. Nefarious, the "Longtime nemesis of a pair of heroes who, separated, end up in a strange new dimension. [...] Their job is to find each other, return home, and fix the ripples of space-time that could lead to the destruction of everything," Smith continues.
It's a story about friendship, community and empathy
Thus begins a whole new chapter in the history of Ratchet & Clank. "Players who watched the series during the PlayStation 3 era will simply learn the continuation of the two friends' story, but Rift Apart is also meant to be completely accessible to newcomers unfamiliar with the previous installments," says Lauren Mee, Lead Writer of the game. "Rift Apart tells a universal story that doesn't require knowledge of the previous parts. It focuses on family, friendship and heroism. We made sure we honored the heroes' past appropriately while moving them carefully into the future."
A decision like this one should surprise absolutely no one. It's been almost eight years since the release of Into the Nexus, and in that time, a whole generation of players has matured. It would be a waste to leave them alone with a franchise of this caliber, one that also addresses younger people.
Marcus Smith said: "The basic idea has remained the same, and over the years, the way we tell the stories has changed. The PS2 games had more action-oriented gameplay – they were a product of their time, when scenarios in these types of games were supposed to be fun, carry a positive message, and merely justify the action. In the PS3 era, the series placed more emphasis on introspective storytelling – storylines were larger and [...] often presented from personal points of view. We learned about Ratchet's origins [...], we learned about the great war forcing the lombaxes to go into hiding."
"On PS5, the story is even more personal," Smith continues. "The characters' internal struggles play a central role. The focus is on the interactions between different characters. The heart of Rift Apart remains action and adventure, but we use contemporary storytelling devices to allow players to better understand the motivations driving the characters' actions."
Sweet, sweet mayhem
The action and adventure Smith speaks of is a slight understatement – at least from what I was able to see with my own eyes at the show organized by Insomniac. What was happening on the screen was literally breathtaking. A huge, location full of life, where the action hurled headlong for half an hour, not stopping even for a second. The planet Torren IV was literally teeming with life. And death, as the thicket of lead spewed from Rivet's deadly guns brought doom to dozens, if not hundreds of enemies, including minor bosses. This intense gunfight was interrupted from time to time by impressive rail slides, which are one of the signature, arcade elements of the series. Rivet's finesse moves were accompanied by frequent changes of the awesome weapons that Insomniac Games is known for inventing.
Rivet = strong woman
Well then, who is this Rivet? Why was most of the show dedicated to this character, completely new to the series? "Rivet is a reflection of Ratchet from another dimension, a full-fledged character with personality and story," says Lauren.
"Rivet, unlike Ratchet, has been on her own for her entire life," – Lindsay Thompson, Senior Cinematic Animator, joins to explain the nuances of the new game. "She never had any friends with whom she shared hardships, no one to celebrate her victories. [...] In designing her character, we asked ourselves: Who should she be?"
Video games have rarely tried to place strong females as protagonists, but they were usually, and arguably, rather shallow, and perhaps not that feminine. For the past few years, women protagonists seem to fulfill more ambitious roles than over-sexualized baits for horny players.
"We started by endowing her with a strong character," – Thompson further recounts. "We asked ourselves, what was her life as a lone wolf in a dangerous world like? Has spending time alone made interactions with others problematic, despite having fundamentally good nature? Rivet is determined, self-sufficient, but always a little withdrawn. We have also ensured that despite her qualities, she never appears cynical or cruel [...] she carries out her mission in the name of good, to protect herself and the innocent beings tortured by Nefarious and his henchmen [...] She is cunning and independent. But also sensitive and loyal."
From the gameplay footage that Sony showed off during State of Play, we know that Clank has just been placed under the protective wings of a new heroine, and they'll have to work together. Of course, we have no idea if this will change throughout the game, but we also know well that at least for some part of it, Ratchet will be left to himself in the dark, cyberpunk, twisted reflection of Megalopolis, the Nefarious City. "In the alternate dimension, we will see an older, more serious and sensible Ratchet, no longer compulsively chasing knowledge about his past," says Marcus Smith. Based on this, can we think that suddenly this part of the story will turn into a dark noir thriller? Probably not, the corpses of robots and other creatures will be just as thick as usual, but we must admit that in terms of design and intensity of moving elements of the locations beats everything we've seen so far in the series. "At the same time, Rivet lives in this oppressive world where, as a member of the resistance, impulsiveness keeps her alive. They're the two sides of the same character [...] We're proud of the story we've been able to create, whereby each of these characters is able to learn something from the other," – concludes Smith.
Colors of the multiverse
The title rifts, through which characters traverse dimensions without any loading screens, thanks to PS5's SSD magic. At the moment, these are probably the only gaming devices that are able to cope with the kind of wizardry that the developers from Insomniac pulled off. The reflection of the actual dimension inhabited by Ratchet and Clank is not only the darker version ruled by Doctor Nefarious, but there are also numerous smaller dimensions we will visit along the way.
"We focused on the personal relationships of the characters, but we also put a lot more emphasis on each planet we visit. Not only by filling it with many creatures, but also by adding a unique story to each of them. We wanted the player to feel not only that they were visiting a strange place, but also to discover what had happened there," explains Marcus Smith. "We're hoping players will appreciate this extra layer of storytelling."
The alternative dimension also allows the filmmakers to play with the convention. We already know that Rivet is a reflection of Ratchet, but the lombax is not the only one who discovers their twisted reflection. Another example is the master of the hoverboard from the planet Rilgar, Skidd McMarx, better known in the other dimension as Phantom, a member of the resistance fighting against Emperor Nefarious and his evil regime. He's an expert hacker and inventor. I honestly admit that I would have loved to know by now what role Captain Quark plays in Nefarious' plans, but the creators didn't let off anything about him throughout the show.
Insomniac Games is a master at coming up with quirky weapons. Fans may remember many of the knock-offs that went into previous installments of Ratchet & Clank or the Resistance series, but perhaps the most memorable, at least in my case, was the disco ball from Tools of Destruction, as well as Mr. Zurkon, which I adored. We know that in the alternate dimension, Ms. Zurkon will be selling weapons, but the show also featured a weapon called Mr. Fungi. It is an autonomous fungus-like robot that releases smaller robots – sort of like spores – while also firing at the enemy. In addition, the creators showed off several other projects, among which Riccochet, shooting metal balls, such as those used in pinball, is particularly noteworthy. Interestingly, the projectile doesn't just hit the opponent; it bounces off them and hits again. And again. Until they're done.
Most, or even all weapons, will have alternate firing mode. This will be possible, and also very comfortable, with PlayStation 5's new controller, the DualSense. We'll be using the left trigger, and it will have a different effect when lightly pressed, and a different one when force is applied with more conviction. In doing so, the weapon designers showcased a few examples of other new inventions debuting in Rift Apart, including a shotgun called the Negatron Collider.
From earlier reports, we learned that Ratchet will be able to change parts of the costume he wears during the game. However, these will only be changes that affect the protection of a particular body part, with no separate stats specific to pseudo-RPG games.
A mega hit in the making
The strength of the Ratchet & Clank franchise comes from the characters. Characters that can seize the players' attention, topped with properly dosed humor and unique personalities. From attracting opposites. From their limits that keep them in check. We have a confident, even feisty Ratchet, balanced by the moral compass that is Clank. With this combination, the two characters have survived three console generations and will soon debut on another. Together, Ratchet and Clank are stronger than the sum of their individual abilities and have the strength to face and overcome challenges not because they are similar, but because of their differences. "This is the underlining idea of the series from the very beginning," says Marcus Smith. "Two distinctive friends, for better or worse, facing evil."
In Rift Apart, these differences are likely to be even greater, especially since players will be dealing not with a tight duo, but rather a trio that's still figuring it out. What will come of it? We will find out in the first half of June, when the game hits the stores.
Przemyslaw Zamecki | Gamepressure.com