The Ratchet & Clank franchise continues to be one of Sony’s longest-running Playstation-exclusive series, with over a dozen titles (including spin-offs) released across the PS2, PS3, PSP, and Vita since the pair made their debut back in 2002. Despite many of the more traditional entries in the series receiving acclaim from critics and longtime fans, the past two outings (All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault) moved away from the single-player exploration that the series is best known for, and instead focused on simultaneous multiplayer and tower defense-styled action (respectively).
Despite being fun diversions, these two games were not as well-received as their predecessors and it seems that Insomniac has listened to the pleas for a more conventional Ratchet & Clank title with their latest release, Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus. Though still shorter and smaller in length than most of the duo’s previous adventures, what’s included here is fun and engaging, and should likely please longtime fans yearning for a return to the elements that made the franchise so endearing in the first place.
The game starts off with Ratchet & Clank helping to escort the recently captured space criminal, Vendra Prog, to prison, only to be ambushed by her hefty brother Neftin and his hired Thugs-4-Less mercenaries. After the siblings escape, our heroes set out to uncover and stop the evil pair’s plans, which involve unleashing horrific creatures known as Nethers from another dimension to wreak havoc back home.
The game’s shorter length (about half the length of your average Ratchet title, and fittingly half the price to purchase) translated, at times, into an overly compact story. The Prog siblings in particular have a vaguely defined tragic backstory serving as their motivation, which leaves the ultimate resolution to their arc feeling halfhearted, despite some interesting character designs and voice work. Some vague attempts to tie things to Ratchet’s personal plight in the Future trilogy also failed to go anywhere.
Still, the story provides enough of an incentive to keep playing, and (thankfully) so does the gameplay. Gone are the overly simplified weapons, the control and camera setups from All 4 One, and the tinier levels from Full Frontal Assault. What we get instead is a setup that will feel right at home to veterans of the original PS2 games and the PS3 Future trilogy, with several upgradable weapons to choose from and a couple of useful accessories to help you traverse each level.
Weapons generally work the same way as they did in previous titles. Vendors — who sell both new weapons and ammo for the ones you already have — are sprinkled throughout each map, provided you have earned enough bolts by exploring each level and defeating enemies. Much like an RPG, weapons earn experience and level up in strength and capabilities as you use them. It’s a nice system to encourage constant switching and you’ll likely find yourself yearning to complete the upgrade paths for each and every one.
An interesting new side feature of weapon upgrading is the Raritanium system. This appropriately rare elemental crystal can be found in certain areas as you progress and can be used in a separate menu that is accessible at each vendor. Similar to such systems as Final Fantasy X‘s iconic Sphere Grid, you’ll open up tiles on a grid for each weapon one at a time with individual crystals, enabling capabilities like more destructive power, more max ammo storage or faster shooting times. It’s a clever feature that adds a good element of customization to what has become a series trademark.
One of the major new accessories is a jetpack, but don’t get too excited, as it runs on fuel and only select locations have refilling stations for you to use. Holding the L2 trigger will let you ascend in these areas, and you can fly, aim, and shoot freely in the process. This allows for more open level layouts than you’ve seen in the past, which is another welcome change. Indeed, the levels generally look intricate and gorgeous. I’d argue that in certain areas, this may be the best-looking Ratchet & Clank game of them all.
Unfortunately, I do have a bit of a complaint regarding some of the other new gameplay mechanics, not so much for the way they actually play, but how they are handled in terms of frequency. The first level has Ratchet using a pair of magnetic boots that can allow him to jump and stick to far-off services in zero-gravity space. The second allows Clank to enter the parallel dimension of the Nethers in side-scrolling sections where the player manually controls the flow of gravity with the right thumbstick. There’s also an anti-gravity gun that allows you to create a stream of energy between specific tether points in certain levels, and travel across large gaps to previously unreachable areas.
These are all neat functions, but after the second level they are almost entirely abandoned until the very last area and boss fight, in favor of more standard gameplay — such as the now-trademark arena battles. This seems like a shame, because while I’m happy that the franchise has returned to the style of gameplay that fans want the most, it also means that you won’t see a lot that you can truly call new. It doesn’t feel like a lazy rehash, but after so long since the release of A Crack in Time, the last full-fledged traditional entry in the franchise, I was hoping for more of a step forward.
Still, at half the price, it’s hard for me to argue that Ratchet & Clank: Into The Nexus isn’t worth picking up for longtime fans. I had a lot of fun with it despite the relative brevity. Even though there is a lack of innovation, it’s still another solid entry in one of my favorite series. I have a hunch that Insomniac may be saving bigger leaps for the inevitable PlayStation 4 entry, but obviously, we’ll have to wait and see on that front. In the meantime, this one is definitely worth a look.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
It's a bit short, and doesn't push the franchise in bold new directions, but Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus still presents many of the series' trademark elements that people have come to love.