Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus

Hey, did you know that there is a new Ratchet and Clank game?  No, not a spin off – an actual Ratchet and Clank game!  You didn’t know, you say?  I can’t say that I blame you.  If there has ever been a first party title sent out to die at a horrible time without any marketing, then Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus would be it.  That, my friends, is a shame -- a no good, low down, dirty rotten shame, because the latest and greatest Ratchet and Clank is exactly what fans of the series have been clamoring for since A Crack in Time.  It features the creativity and humor that the series is famous for, along with some great level design and some really impressive scenery.  It is shorter than the other flagship entries into the series, but the $30 price tag is appropriate.  On top of a short but sweet campaign, the game also includes Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty as a free bonus in case you missed it before.  There is an air of familiarity to the game’s weapons that does drag it down in spots, but not enough to keep it from being among the best that the series has to offer.  Insomniac’s future on Sony’s platforms is uncertain, but if this is the last Sony exclusive that they ever make, then they are going out with a fitting finale.

The game begins with our titular protagonists, Ratchet and Clank, escorting a dangerous prisoner through space to a detention facility.  SHOCKING SPOILER ALERT – things go bad, and pretty soon, the pair goes on another interplanetary adventure that involves using gadgets to traverse exotic environments while blowing up just about anything that stands in the way.  Familiar allies like Captain Qwark and Talwyn Apogee return as well.  The villains, who are new to the series with this game, end up being kind of interesting.  They aren’t oafish or slapstick funny as the villains from the previous games, but maybe a little more complex.  As always, the voice acting is superb and it provides a great personality for every character.  The story carries a Scooby Doo-esque ghosts and goblins theme through a lot of it, which gives it a different feel than previous entries.  Make no mistake though, this is a Ratchet and Clank game from top to bottom.

Insomniac’s trademark wacky weapon selection is back, although with less impact than you are probably used to.  With all of the titles that have come out  the past 11 years, it has to be hard to keep coming up with new weapons, and it shows here.  The stalwart blaster and bomb glove are back, albeit with different names.  The saw blade launcher returns.  There is a de facto shotgun that isn’t actually called a “shotgun”, and there are some other interesting ideas as well.  If you are a newcomer to the series, then you should be impressed by this powerful and creative collection.  If you are a series veteran, there is a bit too much familiarity here.  Understandably, Insomniac is running low on ideas.  The combat still thrives on sheer scale though.  Dispensing obscene amounts of ordinance into large groups of enemies with explosions happening all around you never gets old.

One aspect of the game that is as great as ever is the combination of gadget-based puzzle solving and platforming through huge levels with lots of space.  The areas in Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus are massive and in many cases, they sport a nice, long view distance.  The level design makes great use of that space when it comes to giving you areas to explore.  New gadgets and gameplay elements make their appearance, and they are good ones.  Certain spots on walls allow you to create gravity streams that can carry you through the air and past obstacles.  The game includes a jet pack and some old mechanics, like gravity boots and thruster boots, make their reappearance.  The jet pack and the thruster boots combine for some truly spectacular exploration, and the jet pack provides some great combat scenarios in the arena.  The game’s short length robs it of the chance to throw more new gadgets at you, but what is here works wonderfully.

Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus looks amazing.  If you compare this game with Quest for Booty side-by-side, you can see the improvements clearly.  It looks better than the PS4 launch title Knack.  The colorful environments burst with detail and activity.  They are beautiful and well lit without any annoyances like an overuse of light bloom or lens flare.  The textures and character models are impressive, especially those for the huge, lumbering boss monsters that you have to fight.  Best of all, the game moves smoothly without a frame rate hitch, which is impressive when you look at how much can be happen on screen.  The game’s engine is perfectly capable of handling whatever chaos you can create.

The most notable new mechanic is Clank’s new sections.  In this game, Clank can get the team past some obstacles by entering little alternate universes called “nether regions.”  At this time, the game switches to a 2D Platformer where you move Clank and control which direction gravity flows.  These sections offer a mixture of fast puzzle solving and tests of your skills, as you will spend a lot of them getting chased.   Each of them only lasts a few minutes if you don’t get killed, but they are worth it.  They are nothing like the Clank sections in any of the previous games, and they provide the game’s most satisfying challenges.  I am still a huge fan of the clock sequences from A Crack in Time, but the sequences here are possibly the best in the series to date.

The most valid criticism that can be leveled at Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus is that it is over too soon.  The game has a prologue, four large planets where the story missions take place, and an arena planet.  You can easily reach the somewhat abrupt ending in 6-8 hours, depending upon how much you look for the collectibles.  There is still enough to do, however, to easily justify the game’s $30 price tag.  Make no mistake – I would love to play a full-fledged, epic Ratchet and Clank adventure as much as any other fan of the series.  In the absence of that game though, I’ll gladly take this game, which is less ambitious in scope, but still a blast and priced right for its length.  Ratchet and Clank fans who have been annoyed by the series’s spin offs in recent years should be very pleased by what they find in this package, provided they actually know that it exists.  By publishing the game three days before the launch of the PS4 without any hoopla, Sony has all but guaranteed that sales of this game will be abysmal.  It really is a shame, because it is a game worthy of the top billing that an excellent first party game should get.