Ratchet and Clank has rather struggled as of late. The series was near-universally loved on PlayStation 2 and in it’s early tenure on PlayStation 3. However, it’s two most recent instalments have had a mixed reception (though we liked All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault). Those who found themselves dissatisfied will find themselves placated by this new release, which has a pleasing back-to-basics approach.
You’re thrown back into the world of Ratchet and Clank in spectacular style. It begins with a simple escort mission; you have to transport dangerous prisoner Vendra Prog to a prison. However, all does not go as planned, and the stakes become very high. Indeed, for a game that’s meant to be an epilogue to the Future trilogy, it doesn’t skimp on creating drama of it’s own.
The story is one of the game’s strengths, with the main villains and heroes having clear motivations for their actions. There are also many references to games in the Future series and further afield in the franchise, which helps this game to feel like a fitting ending to this era of Ratchet and Clank.
However, the franchise’s trademark humour misses the mark, with many jokes falling flat thanks to poor delivery. It’s a real shame to cringe when you should be smiling, but many of the ‘comic moments’ feel forced, whereas it is still possible to laugh at the plumber sliding down a sewer pipe in the original Ratchet and Clank. Ratchet’s now comparatively-serious persona doesn’t help matters.
The production values are still high for the most part, though, with the game engine mostly holding up. The PlayStation 4 will hopefully make environments look a bit more convincing: distant environmental textures can be poor, and it’s still frustrating to see skyscrapers enshrouded by fog. The game also suffers from not having populated worlds, as is usual with the franchise; there is not much character interaction even outside of gameplay, so this makes the universe feel more empty than usual. This solace may have been intended, since there is a mild horror element. Yet the solace and the horror itself feels tonally at odds with this series’ usual lightheartedness.
The gameplay itself is the main attraction and it proves that there is life left in Ratchet and Clank. The combat itself hasn’t changed, but for the best, as it is reliably solid as ever. The upgrade system has changed though, and is more versatile, allowing you to pick how your weapon upgrades. There are of course new weapons too, and they are as fun as any that have existed in the series before, but alas, expect variations on a theme. For instance, the enemy-distracting Monster Box is conceptually little different than the Groovitron, except that the former has the ability to injure.
Sadly, the A.I. is a little dumb. Not only will enemies continue to fire at a spot when you’re not even stood there any longer, but you’ll sometimes blow several of them away only to find that their nearby buddy hasn’t heard or seen a thing. This undermines the general high-quality sheen of the game, and it’s frustrating to still be seeing such glaring errors when we are about to step into a bold new console generation.
Whilst the main combat remains much the same, Ratchet traverses the world in three new gravity-defying ways. One method is by creating grav-streams, where you create an anti-gravity stream between two points. Another is the repurposed grav-boots, which you can use to leap between magnetic surfaces with. The final, and most exciting, is the jetpack. Sure, jetpacks have appeared before, but not with free vertical movement in a traditional instalment. It changes the way you play the game, giving you a new approach to the battlefield. Sadly, the jetpack is grossly underused.
Ratchet isn’t the only one of the duo to have some fresh gameplay, with Clank getting a rather unique segment. He must explore the Netherverse, an alternate dimension where gravity is under his control. These sections are 2.5D puzzles, and whilst they aren’t particular taxing, they are rather enjoyable and are satisfying breaks from the main adventuring. The upgrade system has changed for the better, though, returning to the style seen in Tools of Destruction that allows you to choose how all of your weapons upgrade.
One of the major concerns about Into the Nexus, before playing it, was whether it would be of a significant length. Whilst the main story can be blasted through in five hours, there is plenty to keep you playing longer: the Challenge mode (i.e. New Game+), collectibles, skill points and the gladiatorial arena. Yes, it’s a short game, but it has plenty of depth.
Into the Nexus is a great example of how to make a short game and not leave the player feeling shortchanged. However, where it steps forward it does so only in the slightest of ways – mainly it is just picking up from where the series was before it spun off into different territory. It’s a solid return to Ratchet and Clank’s world, but hopefully PlayStation 4 will take the series to more creative, exciting heights.