Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ratchet and Clank (2016) Review

A reboot that works, but not without losing its soul.

Ratchet & Clank is a franchise that I always forget I enjoy. I remember the first three games very fondly on the PS2, but once the PS3 came out, it took me ages to play through what's commonly referred to as the "Future Saga". The Future Saga were four Ratchet & Clank games that told a singular story and are often regarded as being the best games in the series. They're bright, colorful, and action packed, but the finale of the saga was in 2009. Yes there was a very brief epilogue called Into the Nexus, but it was only five hours long and wasn't exactly memorable. So with nearly 7 years without a full Ratchet & Clank game, it was time for a new entry to emerge. Or rather, a reboot. 

While I made it clear a while ago that I wouldn't review remakes because I'm essentially reviewing a game with a new coat of paint or a few new added features, reboots are entirely different. Video game reboots aren't as common as you think. I can think of a few franchises that rebooted themselves like Hitman or Devil May Cry, but that's about it. Typically speaking, reboots don't happen in the gaming world unless the franchise is old and hasn't had a release in a decade, was forgotten by popular culture, or a new direction in the series is being taken because of... probably terrible reasons. 

With Ratchet & Clank, while I don't think that the series was in dire need of a reboot, it's nice to see the series open itself up more to current gamers. Very few gamers remember playing the original Ratchet & Clank, with it releasing 14 years ago. With an entire new generation of gamers brought in on the PS4, it makes sense to show off a flagship franchise of bygone years to generate interest. Add on to that a feature movie that I will review eventually, and it's clear to see that Sony has very obvious plans for Lombax and robot. 

I just wish I wasn't so apprehensive about it. 

Our story begins on the planet Veldin. Ratchet is a mechanic who has always dreamed of joining the Galactic Rangers, a group of heroes led by Captain Qwark that save the galaxy from evil. The Galactic Rangers are having tryouts for a new member on Veldin, but after attempting the tryouts, Ratchet is rejected for his criminal record. Meanwhile, an alien named Chairman Drek, leader of a race called the Blarg, are slowly gathering power throughout the galaxy to construct a new planet for their race. While creating an army of warbots to help further this goal, a mistake happens on he assembly line, leaving one of the warbots as a defect named Clank. Clank escapes the factory he was created in, stumbles across Ratchet, and both of them form a friendship so that they can find Captain Qwark and join the Rangers to stop Chariman Drek from destroying the galaxy for his own goal. 

The story is almost exactly the same as the original, and this is unfortunately where I have major problems with this game; it feels like it has no soul. It's a Ratchet & Clank game in name only. The game itself doe shave the same great combat, platforming, and locales that the original had, but the humor and character just isn't there. This is a series known for it's sense of humor and character. Previous games have been called Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, A Crack in Time, and Size Matters. All of them are lowbrow puns, but that kind of humor just isn't in this game. There were barely any funny jokes throughout the entire playthrough, even though there were attempts to be funny. 

While I can excuse the lack of good humor in this game, I can't ignore that these character just don't feel like the duo that gamers know and love. The first game was dedicated to fleshing out their friendship to the point where the entire second act had Ratchet and Clank arguing and barely tolerating each other because Clank nearly got them killed by a major trap set by one of Drek's underlings. They forgive each other, but it's a big moment where they feel like they're stronger friends for it. Here, they're just best buddies for life the whole time. 

This may also have to deal with the movie, which takes complete cinematics from the film and just slaps them on as cutscenes. Both the movie and the game are telling the same story, which is ambitious, but it leaves the game feeling restrained and weaker for it. Why would I want to watch a 90 minute movie over the span of a 10-12 hour game when I could just watch the damn movie? And from what I can tell from the cutscenes, the movie doesn't look too great either. So we have a game that originally had a very fun story with enjoyable characters and a solid friendship... to a shallow action blockbuster to appeal to any dumb kid. Again, I haven't seen the movie, but I'm not sold on this reboot yet if this is the pace the story is going. 

Story and characters aside, the gameplay is still the main reason to play this game. Racthet has access to a huge arsenal of weapons, with each of them offering a different play style and impact. There are sniper rifles, a gun that shoots pixels, mini robots that can fight for you, several giant rocket launchers, and a disco ball that forces every enemy to dance. And of course, a weapon that turns people into sheep. 

Each weapon can be upgraded up to five times, and then another five times once certain conditions are met. Each weapon also has a unique skill tree that can make each weapon stronger and give the player more items the more Raritanium a player has. Raritanium is dropped by certain enemies, but it can make your weapons incredibly strong on very complex, yet easy to grasp skill trees that will take multiple playthroughs to complete. Adding on to that a new feature called Holocards, which can make collecting Raritanium and money much easier, and you have a very replayable game in the vein of the original games. 

The arsenal of a Ratchet & Clank game is always one of the highlights of the game. It's just so much fun laying down a path of destruction with ridiculous weaponry and you go from point A to B. Is it a bit predictable when the game is just going from location to location killing new enemies? Not at all! Outside of the immensely fun and enjoyable combat, you have sections dedicated to flying spaceships, racing, grinding on rails, swimming, stealth sections, and puzzle sections that break up the pace of the combat. Some of these diversions are a joy, while others just slow the game to a crawl. I love grinding on rails when a lot of things are exploding around you, but if I had to do another puzzle section with Clank, I was going to choke someone. 

Every level is absolutely bright and colorful and is a damn spectacle to watch. Plants are lush and there is just so much color and detail on screen at any given moment. I know a lot of people are saying that this is a playable Pixar movie, and they're not wrong. It's that damn gorgeous to watch. I'm blown away by how good games look and will easily say that this game kicks the crap out of the original by far. Once you've gone HD, you can never go back. 

What makes me so happy though is that despite the reboot taking several steps to modernize the franchise, more classic gaming elements are still present. There are cheat codes in this game! You can get items called Gold Bolts, which will unlock cool features that can be applied instantly. You can get random faces, different armor color, filters for your screen, unlimited ammo, invincibility, and access to behind the scenes features and artwork. It's just so great to see remnants of a bygone era of gaming return to brighten my day. 

What isn't so bright and happy though is that this game is a short cakewalk. The original game boasted 18 levels to play that had some stiff challenge behind them that you also needed to go back to multiple times to progress the game. Here, you have 12 levels that are much easier than the original that can be beaten on your first time. It's mind boggling that so much content was lost from the original to the reboot, but I can't exactly say why. I loved all of the levels in the original game to the point where it became pretty irritating seeing which levels were cut for the reboot. 7 worlds were lost from the original, while only one new level was added to the reboot. It felt like I was playing through a cliffnotes version of the original game. 

Even worse was that the reboot is barely even a challenge when compared to the original. I won't say that the original was a perfectly paced or even fair when it came to challenge, since most of the challenge came from more archaic mechanics, but there was still at least some challenge present. Here, the only reason the game was hard was because I maybe failed the odd stealth section or forgot to kill one enemy out of frame. I can count how many times I died on one hand it was that easy. 

It's so frustrating that these glaring issues exist, because as a game, I love Ratchet & Clank. It returns the series to its roots and adds just enough of the more recent entries to make the gameplay spicier and more of a blast than ever before. It's just that one you realize that this game has most likely been hindered by the movie trying to be more family friendly and the shorter length, it actually made me want to play the original more just to see if I'm going crazy or not. Was the original as flawed as this reboot?

Either way, the game is still a hell of a lot of fun and for $40, you really can't go wrong here. This is a must play game for all new PS4 owners, though fans of the series may be split on whether or not this game captures the pure essence of the franchise. Buy it and judge for yourself, but that means you'll still have to play a fun, albeit brief, action game. 


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