Game review: Ratchet & Clank is remade for the PS4

The PS4’s latest remake may be the best one yet, as a new movie adaption inspires a re-imagining of the very first Ratchet & Clank.

It’s good to have Ratchet & Clank back. It’s not a franchise that has produced any cast iron classics, and there’s probably at least twice as many sequels and spin-offs then there needs to be – but in part that’s because there’s nothing else quite like it being made today. Or at least not on the PlayStation or Xbox formats. It’s a family friendly third person shooter that looks just as good as any adult-rated game, and often plays just as well. And now there’s going to be a movie of it.

The film, due out on April 28, is computer-generated (obviously) and although it does feature the likes of John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone the titular duo utilises the same voice actors from the games. We haven’t seen the film but clips are used as cut scenes in the game, which suggest it could be the most authentic video game adaptation yet seen – pitiably small praise as that may be.

The game is a tie-in to the movie, but first and foremost it’s a remake of the original 2002 PlayStation 2 release that started it all. What that implies for the future of the franchise we couldn’t say, and we suspect no decision will be taken until after Sony sees how well the film does. But whether this is the start of a whole new era or a fond farewell for fans it is, if nothing else, one of the best remakes of the current generation.

We’ve already described the game as a third person shooter, and although it also makes a pretence of being a 3D platformer there’s very little in the way of precision jumping. In fact, the game happily takes inspiration from a number of different genres, in that carefree way that many PlayStation 2 era games tended to (especially stablemate Jak And Daxter, with which this has always shared some DNA).

Where there is a gameplay emphasis in Ratchet & Clank it’s in the series’ famously inventive weapons. Or at least they became inventive. The first game was fairly tame by the standards of later sequels, and so this remake adds in both other franchise favourites and some new ones of its own. You’re also able to strafe, which you couldn’t do back in 2002.

As well as Ratchet’s (the fluffy space cat thing) iconic wrench, you have a range of typical video game weaponry such as blasters, flamethrowers, and grenades. On top of this is more exotic fair, from a beach ball-like device that shoots out shockwaves to the pleasingly self-explanatory Pixelizer and Groovitron. (Or if you need them spelt out, the former turns enemies into 8-bit sprites and the latter makes them drop what they’re doing and start dancing.)

On top of this is a light role-playing system, where each gun levels up separately as you use it. They can also all be upgraded with collected items, via a complex grid that either gives incremental improvements to things like range and power or adds whole new abilities.

Despite enemies having little in the way of artificial intelligence the game’s not the pushover you might be expecting, given the colourful graphics, and neither character can absorb much damage before succumbing to enemy attacks.

Clank (the diminutive robot, as you’ve probably already guessed) is strapped to Ratchet’s back most of the time, but he does occasionally have his own more puzzle-orientated sections. Clank can interact with other robots, moving them around to set-up trampolines or activate generators. Again, it’s simple stuff but the level design, which consists of a number of small but open-ended worlds, is usually interesting enough to keep even a veteran gamer’s interest.

There’s even a mild Metroidvania element, where obtaining new gadgets and abilities – such as Ratchet transforming into a jetpack – means there’s plenty of hidden secrets to be discovered by returning to an earlier area.

What also helps is the game’s excellent graphics, which are extremely impressive and some of the best cartoon visuals this generation has seen. The backdrops are highly detailed and one early level, where you’re flying around in a spaceship and picking up robots from the ground to hurl at an enemy cruiser, looks particularly good. Ratchet & Clank is filled with mini-games and one-off levels like that, which again helps to distract from the potentially one note gameplay.

The other positive is Ratchet & Clank’s sense of humour, which is presumably why it was chosen for a film adaption. There’s some genuinely funny jokes, with many of the best ones revolving around egotistical superhero Captain Qwark, who now narrates the whole game and provides plenty of fun digs at common video game tropes.

Oddly there’s not really much of a story, but perhaps that’s something the movie will compensate for. It doesn’t seem quite right hoping for the success of a film to ensure a long-running video game series continues, but after a necessary break Ratchet & Clank feels like a breath of fresh air and we’re already ready for more. Again.

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