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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5

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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart   PC (Steam) 

Gender Swapping and Dimension Hopping    4.5/5 stars

When Insomniac, now a Sony first-party studio, released “Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus” in 2013, it seemed like the long-running series of 3D Platformer/Third-Person Shooter hybrid games was at an endpoint. The release of a feature film in 2016 based on the IP as well as a remake of the original “Ratchet & Clank” from 2002, with bits and pieces from the movie grafted on, ultimately met with disaster, and proved a massive dud for Sony. Even as a rabid fan of the ‘Ratchet & Clank’ IP who owns and has enjoyed nearly all of the games in the franchise’s two-decade run, I have to admit that I never got around to watching the movie (but a DVD rip is sitting on my network drive), and I contributed to the flop of the “Ratchet & Clank” remake due to my general view that if I want to re-experience an old game, I’ll just play my original copy instead of shelling out full price for a remake – which only feels like a more egregious waste of money when I don’t own – or intend to buy – the console in question.

Thus it seemed that ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ for decades the best-in-genre alternative to Nintendo’s ‘Mario’ games, was done; its story arcs all wrapped up, and its attempted reboot and transition to a modern Cinematic Universe failed. Fortunately, it’s hard to keep a good IP down for long, and the corporate overlords who own the copyrights will try to wring more profit out of them at some point. And it was Sony’s need to show off a wide variety of System Sellers for the PlayStation 5 that ultimately gave the furry Lombax and his diminutive robot sidekick another chance.

“Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” (“RA”) was born as a PlayStation 5 launch window title before mercifully being tossed into Sony’s equivalent of the Sportsball Transfer PORTal, and finding its way to Steam, making it the first-and-only title in the series to find a home on a non-PlayStation platform. This turn of events made me very happy as a long-time fan of the series who has soured on everything PlayStation for two-and-a-half hardware generations at this point. Even better, “RA” is yet another excellent entry in the series, allowing it to serve as a fantastic brand ambassador for non-PlayStation platforms.

Presentation
“RA” is built in the proprietary Insomniac Engine, which has been used to construct most of the studio’s recent projects for Sony. In includes a lot of fancy visual bells and whistles, including raytracing. The result is a thoroughly modern ‘Ratchet & Clank’ entry that manages to up the visual ante even more from previous titles. Character movements are vibrant and stylish, facial animations are incredibly lifelike and as believable-as-possible for the stable of non-humans that populate the game world. Even our titular furry Lombax has actual fur now, which looks pretty darn good even on a midrange RTX GPU.

Audio in “RA” is not exactly a high point. While most of the vocal cast returns with excellent, movie-worthy performances, as usual, I was disappointed that Captain Qwark, one of my favorite supporting characters, has been recast, and the new actor doesn’t really capture his pompous, Shatner-esque personality nearly as well as Jim Ward did. However, the real disappointment in the audio department is the soundtrack, which may as well not even exist for how understated it is. Indeed, while exploring one of the game’s planets in search of secrets, I realized that the background music had stopped looping at some point, but couldn’t actually recall what the music was supposed to be. Of course, audio was the weak point in the last major ‘Ratchet & Clank’ release, so it’s not surprising, just disappointing.

Technically, “RA” is pretty solid, but does have the occasional glitch (and I’m not talking about the new AI anti-virus sidekick named Glitch). The worst actual bug I encountered was during the final boss battle, in which I had whittled the enemy’s life-bar down to 1%, at which point, something was supposed to happen… but it didn’t, and I couldn’t actually get rid of that last 1% of health until I died and ran through the battle again. Ending with a bug like that is NOT a good look! Other than that, I was significantly disappointed by the absolute proliferation of invisible walls and blocking volumes scattered all throughout the game’s stages. ‘Ratchet & Clank’ has always been full of wide-ranging exploration and some trickily-hidden secrets. While I did manage to so some truly unorthodox platforming while exploring at times, there were far too many instances where an obviously-reachable platform would be blocked off by nothing.

Lastly, on top of the occasional bugs and questionable environmental construction, “RA” needs to be called out for Sony’s sheer quantities of lying, misrepresentation, and BS regarding the technology that underpins the game. We heard that “RA” could ‘only’ run on the PS5 due to the unique and proprietary pipeline between the consoles SSD storage and GPU. That wasn’t even remotely true, as the PC port runs perfectly well on any old SSD, and further supports proprietary GPU features for both nVidia and AMD cards. Then there was the lie about how the game engine ‘instantly loads entire stages’ while traveling through the titular rifts. That was an even bigger whopper, since the only major transitions occur during stages, barely-interactive quasi-cutscenes, while the in-game rifts the player interacts with are nothing more technologically complex than the portals from Valve’s ancient-and-hoary ‘Portal’ series. In short, Sony hyped up “RA” as some sort of technological breakthrough that could only happen on their proprietary hardware, while, in reality, it’s just another ‘Ratchet & Clank’ game akin to “Into the Nexus,” featuring smaller-than-average stages and a few raytracing visual gimmicks that don’t really make an impact on anything.

Story
One of the main things I have always appreciated about the writing in the ‘Ratchet & Clank’ series has been the fact that the stories of each subsequent game always build on what came before. While most mascot games (*glares at Nintendo*) tend to rehash the same simplistic conflict between the recurring hero and recurring villain, ‘Ratchet & Clank’ has given the titular heroes plenty of independent character development, as they’ve faced off against a myriad of villains.

Unfortunately, Insomniac does seem to be in love with the occasionally-recurring robotic villain, Dr. Nefarious, who is back to torment Ratchet and Clank in this game as well. However, I feel like a lot of what made Dr. Nefarious as a character has been pushed to the background or paved over. He doesn’t once mention his hatred for organic life, nor does he lapse into a catatonic crashed state, and even his robot butler, Lawrence, is missing in action.

Anyway, the story opens with the titular heroic duo of Ratchet – the last Lombax in the galaxy – and Clank – a defective Warbot turned robot-Jesus – on the receiving end of a ticker-tape parade to celebrate umpteenth anniversary of them saving the universe. Clank cryptically lets slip that he has a ‘surprise’ waiting for Ratchet at the end of the parade route, as the duo set off through a brief, interactive recap of series lore and high-points, narrated by Not-Captain Qwark.

In the middle of the parade, though, a sudden turn of events reveals that Dr. Nefarious has infiltrated the parade route and sent a platoon of Goons 4 Less thugs to kill his long-time foes while Nefarious himself has his eyes on Clank’s ‘surprise’: A repaired and fully-functional Dimensionator – the Lombax-crafted McGuffin from “Into the Nexus.” Throughout the running battle, Nefarious taunts the duo with his latest magnificent plan: To use the Dimensionator to travel to a parallel universe where HE always wins.

Unfortunately for… everyone, really, the Dimensionator is damaged during the heist and following battle, and Nefarious’ mishandling of it causes it to explode, ripping-open an impossible number of random dimensional rifts all over the fabric of reality. But Dr. Nefarious does ultimately get his wish, as he, Ratchet, and Clank are unceremoniously dropped – at different locations – into a parallel universe where Emperor Nefarious has defeated his Lombax foe at every turn and rules over everything with a Raritanium fist.

This other-dimensional Lombax is Rivet, a re-designed, gender-swapped take on Ratchet, who – in the developers’ words – never met her other-dimensional version of Clank. Of course, with Ratchet, Clank, and Dr. Nefarious suddenly bringing their own baggage into a different universe, things are likely to change.

After being separated from Ratchet by the malfunctioning Dimensionator, a severely-damage Clank is rescued by Rivet, who is, unsurprisingly, incredibly suspicious of all robots. Meanwhile, Ratchet it forced to go it alone until he meets up with Clank’s other-dimensional gender-swapped counterpart, Kit, who is convinced she’s irreparably broken and ‘not a good partner.’

“RA’s” story is full of twists and turns, and, in spite of being yet another ‘multi-verse’ story, actually handles the other-dimensional counterparts quite well. It’s well established that Insomniac (and its overlord Sony) is a rather ‘Woke’ corporation. But it is rather pleasing that they were able to work-out all of their gender-and-race-swapping by placing them in a parallel universe. Rivet, however, does tend to get the lion’s share of the cool heroics, but it never really smacks of the kind of in-your-face 4th Wave Feminist propaganda it could have been.

In general, all of the characters and their counterparts – even the minor ones – get fully-realized and satisfactorily-resolved story arcs. This is, of course, a hallmark of ‘Ratchet & Clank’ writing, and it’s good to see that Insomniac hasn’t lost their touch yet.

Overall, it took me roughly 20 hours to play blindly through the story and collect 100% of the achievements, which is a pretty good runtime for this genre. New Game +, a.k.a., Challenge Mode, is also back, and provides players with the ability to acquire two new weapons and upgrade all of their items further. However, breaking from the tradition of previous ‘Ratchet & Clank’ titles, all of the secret collectables can be found in the first playthrough, rendering Challenge Mode much more optional than ever before.

Gameplay
For anyone who has played a traditional ‘Ratchet & Clank’ game over the past 20 years, not counting any of the weird spinoffs, “RA” is emphatically more of the same. And that’s a good thing!

For those who are completely unfamiliar with the series, it’s a 3D Platformer fused with an over-the-top Third-Person Shooter, in which Ratchet or Rivet (who take turns tackling each of the game’s 9 planets) with run, jump, double-jump, hover, gravity jump, dash, and rail grind through a wide variety of alien ecosystems. Along the way they will face off against an array of unhappy indigenous wildlife and hired goons. While a good pounding with Ratchet’s wrench or Rivet’s hammer will put most enemies in their place (e.g., dead), the Lombaxes can collect Bolts – a pan-dimensional universal currency – in order to purchase a total arsenal of 18 crazy guns, ranging from the more mundane pistol and shotgun to the more outrageous Topiary Sprinkler (that paralyzes enemies and covers them with chia leaves) and Apocalypse Glove (which deploys a small army of ravenous mini-bots).

Each of these weapons can be upgraded by damaging enemies with it, to a maximum level of 5, at which point each weapon evolves into its ultimate form (though not too ultimate, considering there are Omega variants of each available in Challenge Mode that can be upgraded to level 10). In addition to basic stat boosts from leveling up, each weapon has an upgrade board where the player can spend Raritanium (a collectable that doesn’t respawn upon leaving an area and returning) to unlock specific extra stat boosts, with extra special upgrades unlockable by surrounding their tiles on the board with purchased upgrades. I personally found this to be the best iteration of the upgrade system in the entire series, and the arsenal of weapons itself is devoid of absolutely useless filler.

In addition to their weapons, Ratchet and Rivet can gain extra health (known as nanotech) by killing enemies and gaining experience. Of course, we’ve known that adding RPG elements is the simplest way to add depth to any Action game for a very long time. Unfortunately, some Action games embrace the grind a little too hard, to the point of becoming tedious. I never found that to be the case in “RA,” and I always felt like I had enough health to survive any encounter. Likewise, Ratchet and Rivet share all of their purchased weapons and upgrades, so the player isn’t forced to do everything twice.

The gameplay really only has a couple of downsides. First, and most noticeable, is that the game only has 9 different planetary stages and some of them are quite small. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, with the last new ‘Ratchet & Clank’ game (“Into the Nexus”) also featuring a fairly low number of fairly small planets to explore. It’s just the nature of the beast with modern game development, I guess. Less noticeable is the fact that some of the traditional platforming abilities have been neutered. For example, Ratchet and Rivet can no longer crouch, which means high-jumping and long-jumping are out of the question. Instead, crouching has been replaced with a *sigh* dodge-roll mechanic (complete with i-frames) that can be used in mid-air for a bit more mobility. There is also a rather diminished focus on non-weapon gadgets, with only grind-rails and grapple points making any kind of major appearance.

In lieu of new gadgets, “RA” features two different stand-alone puzzle-type sections: One featuring Clank in his role as Robot Space Jesus, and one featuring a new character, Glitch, a sentient anti-virus who can’t jump, never gets any significant upgrades, and is easy to forget about until Ratchet runs into a corrupted terminal that needs a good Norton-ing.

Overall
“Ratchet & Clank: Ripped Afart”… err… “Rift Apart,” is a much appreciated return by one of my most beloved IPs. And, thankfully, in spite of all the opportunities this new game had to be changed, ruined, and corrupted beyond recognition, it turned out to be an incredibly good experience. Like all the best entries in the series, this game both tells a complete story, AND leaves open plenty of opportunities for interesting new stories and sequels. As long as Insomniac keeps the quality this high – and keeps bringing their games to Steam – I’ll keep enjoying them.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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