Welcome back, dear adventurers, to the second half of our rockin’ Ratchet and Clank retrospective, in respect of the release of Rift Apart. Too many Rs for you? Well, spell that as ‘arrs’ and you’ll have a pretty good idea what there’ll be a lot of in this era of the games.
Pirates, is what I mean. Pirates. The HD games focus on pirates. Terrible segue, I know.
Those of you who tuned in last time for part 1 will know we thoroughly wiped out the PS2 era of Insomniac’s beloved platforming gun-em-up – save for some spinoffs et cetera – so if you missed it, go get all nice and caught up before jumping into this one. Because really, who starts at the end of a book? Other than the Japanese, of course.
Everyone on the same page? That page not being the last one? Good. So, the year is 2006. The PS2 is… well, I would say it was on the way out, but that sucker stuck around until the early 2010s cranking out licensed games and footie sims, so let’s just say it was about to scooch over a spot. Gaming is changing. Expectations are going up, pixel counts are going up, and price tags are certainly going up too. Nowhere was that better exemplified than in the launch price for the PS3. 600 dollars? Over $770 in today’s money?! Jog on, Sony.
It wasn’t long before that absurd total got a significant slash, and with gamers now actually able to get their hands on the darn thing, the question shifted to: what is there to actually play? Well, ever faithful, ever true, up stepped Insomniac Games to return to the proven successes of Ratchet and Clank. Over the course of the PS3’s lifespan, no less than six Ratchet games, of varying genres and, frankly, quality, were produced for it, further cementing the duo as Sony’s golden platformer boys. Once again, my condolences to a certain raccoon, and a certain… whatever the hell Daxter is. Hold on, quick Google here… oh. ‘Ottsel’, apparently. There you go.
For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, the games we’re looking at today are collectively referred to as ‘the Future Saga’, but only in America, and rather sporadically at that. I can only assume it was some sort of marketing gimmick to push the next-gen tech of the PS3, since the games: don’t differ substantially gameplay-wise from the PS2 ones; are not set in the future; feature plots that, apart from one instance, have nothing to do with time travel. Heaven knows what they were playing at.
Nowhere else in the world were the PS3 games called this, so, sorry Yanks, I’m dropping that pointless little moniker. I’m sure it seemed cool and interesting at the time. Like Microsoft Kinect. Anyway, let’s get into this.
Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (2007)
The HD era of Ratchet and Clank kicked things off with a duology: one main game, and then a little while later, a smaller DLC post-game adventure that bridged into the sequel. The big ‘un, Tools of Destruction (getting a little sneakier with our innuendos, are we, Insomniac? Been told off a few too many times, have we, Insomniac?) represents a huge leap forward in graphical fidelity for the franchise, and it shows almost immediately. The opening cinematic is gorgeously rendered, and at times pushes Disney quality – mid-2000s Disney, at least. The environments pop with colour, and we get to revisit classic locations like Kerwan’s Metropolis, now rebuilt from the ground up in dazzling 720p, their skies and streets bustling with activity and their lighting looking just mighty fine.
Physics have been given a retool (heh) as well. Crates topple about with abandon – thanks, Havok – as you thwack away at them. There’s an electric tether ability that lets you tug about bits of scenery to create makeshift paths years before Breath of the Wild was doing it. Lampposts, signs and other detritus respond realistically to your reckless violence. Even Ratchet himself has been lovingly re-rendered, with individual hairs visible on his pelt, while Clank glistens in the sunshine and takes on a dull glow in dark, damp areas. It’s just an all-around pretty title.
The main focus of this one, though, as well as most of the other PS3 entries, is the story. For the first time, lore becomes a central concern for the writers and the characters, continuing the trend into more sophisticated – albeit less dark – territory that Deadlocked began.
Remember how the earlier games made a big deal of Ratchet thinking he’s the last Lombax, only to discover he isn’t and wonder where all the others went? Including, you know, his parents? Well, Tools of Destruction begins to answer that. We open on a regular day for the duo, as they hang around in Metropolis fixing their ship. The serenity is short-lived, however, as the sky promptly cracks open and down comes an army of creatures known as Cragmites. Their leader, a tiny, squeaky-voiced fellow called Percival Tachyon (ha, I’m calling him Percy) is after Ratchet as he claims to know – and more importantly, hate – the Lombaxes, wishing to eliminate the very last one.
Ratchet and Clank escape to the Polaris galaxy; not to be confused with the Pancada galaxy. If anybody gets that, and leaves a comment below, we’ll screenshot you and share it on our socials. Because if you get it, you’re my kind of guy. Or gal.
Now, bear with me here, because this is the point at which the series about a gun-toting feline alien and his talking robot sidekick gets a little strange. In Polaris, Clank begins to have visions of tiny little creatures called Zoni. Ratchet can’t see them, but they insist the little bot is meant for some sort of greater purpose. They repeatedly whisk him away to (tedious) puzzle sections and leave him with cryptic comments about clocks and his ‘father’, all while Ratchet thinks his buddy’s going round the twist. Understandable.
The duo also meet Talwyn Apogee, a Markazian (it says here) girl with whom Ratchet is immediately smitten, as well as her aging warbot allies Cronk and Zephyr. Their schtick annoys some, but I always found it endearing. Something about these washed-up old farts waxing lyrical about the battles of old is just funny. Sue me.
Talwyn is in search of her father who went missing looking for the Lombaxes. Because, you see, the Lombaxes are not dead! Collective gasp! As it turns out – after a few twists and turns including a run-in with local pirate captain Slag, yes, I know, grow up – their disappearance is linked to an invention of theirs. Years ago, war raged between the Cragmites and the Lombaxes, until the clever little devils thought to build a ‘Dimensionator’, with which they sealed the Cragmites into another… well, dimension. Genius inventors they may have been, but creative namers they were not.
One Cragmite egg survived the cull, which the Lombaxes took in and hoped to raise as their own. They were trying to turn him off genocide, pillaging and all that nonsense, to prevent a repeat of history. It didn’t work. Because, you see, this was Percy! Double collective gasp! Once he discovered what the Lombaxes had done to his people, he turned on them and raised an army, forcing the felines to flee into another plane of existence using the Dimensionator. A lone guardian remained to look after things, along with his infant son, who he sent to the remote Veldin for protection. The son’s name? Ratchet.
Well, that’s about as many familial revelations as Ratchet can take for one day, so with a bit of non-help from Captain Quark, he confronts Percy with the Dimensionator and finishes the job. As the marauding little pipsqueak is sucked away, he screeches that only he knows Ratchet and Clank’s true purpose, and that things aren’t over yet. The vortex swallows him, and that’s all she wrote for Percy. But the victory jubilation doesn’t last long, per the norm, as the Zoni make another appearance and teleport Clank away to some unknown location. Nobody can catch a break, can they?
So, to recap: this game ends with Ratchet and Clank separated, the fate of the entire Lombax race in the balance, and a million dangling plot threads. You thinking sequel? I’m thinking sequel. On the whole, Tools of Destruction was a decent foray into the new frontier of high definition for the franchise – but I’d struggle to call it one of the best. There’s a few too many irritating gimmicks meant to show off the PS3 controller, like some infuriating motion-controlled gliding bits and lock puzzles, that make the whole thing feel like a glorified tech demo. Several of the new gadgets are also duds, like the Gelatinator which does nothing but spit out jelly platforms to bounce on and serves little combat purpose. Still, at its core this is still classic Ratchet gameplay, with all the strafing and mindless blasting one could want – and it laid the foundation for something truly marvelous.
Ratchet and Clank: Quest For Booty (2008)
But before we get to that, let’s touch on that DLC follow-up, Quest For Booty. OK, I take back everything I said innuendo-wise, that’s just… blatant. This was released physically in a few select markets, but it was so, so short that I don’t know why they bothered. You were better off just tacking it onto your Tools of Destruction file digitally and saving your money.
Pirates are again the order of the day here. We focus on ToD’s Captain Slag and his sidekick Rusty Pete, whose semi-drunken ramblings and general likability earned him a permanent place in the Ratchet NPC roster, as well as in my heart. He’s in Rift Apart, too!
Other than the more maritime theming, not much is different here. It runs on ToD’s engine, and pretty much walks, talks and squawks exactly like it. All your weapons are the same, there are no notable collectibles, and there are maybe five areas total. The plot just concerns Ratchet looking for clues about Clank’s disappearance, and has you visiting a series of beaches, damp caves and pirate fleets. If you’re into that kind of aesthetic, more power to you, but it’s been done.
The real kicker comes at the end, though. After finishing off Slag and the soul of Captain Darkwater – the pirate ghost inhabiting Slag’s sword – Ratchet finds a gem that lets him see where Clank is. Cut to a dark room where Clank is strapped to a table; and who should walk in, cackling with glee, but Dr. flippin’ Nefarious. This was his first mainline appearance in over four years, and nobody was expecting it. If you were, you’re a liar. I don’t think I need to tell you what a huge deal this was for fans, and what an amazing cliffhanger it established. No time to waste. Onward!
Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (2008)
Well, here it is. The game that, to me, is the absolute best thing the series has to offer. Whenever anyone asks me which Ratchet game they should play to get the best idea of things, I point them toward this one. I’ll get some heat for it, I know. “What?! They have to start at the beginning!” you’ll all cry. I know, I know, it’s heresy. But guys; A Crack in Time is just. So. Good.
Everything about this is amazing. The visuals are like if you took Tools of Destruction’s graphics and passed them off to Pixar. The musical score is sublime. The weapon variety, spectacular and inventive. The environments, gorgeous. The diversity of mechanics, stellar – gravity puzzles, time puzzles (more on these later), puzzles of all sorts abound.
You also now have the ability to manually fly your ship between planets! Just think of that! Up until now, space travel had been something constrained to loading screens, a little amusement to watch while you waited for the PS2 to spin the disc enough. But now, the galaxy is yours to wander. There are very few loading zones; you just hop in your ship and you’re off, disembarking seamlessly onto whichever planet you want to visit. There are little intergalactic gas stations, outposts and the like to discover, some housing NPCs with side quests for you to do. Why, yes, I think I will help you deliver your unnecessarily complicated fuel cell to your remote destination, bystander!
You can also run into space pirates – yes, pirates again, I wasn’t kidding, was I – and engage them in tense dogfights. For God’s sake, you can even put on a radio! A little space radio! In your ship, to listen to! And they have little talk shows on there, little comedy routines and songs that expand the lore and… man! It’s just awesome. Why does nobody ever talk about this?
And the story. Oh Lord, the story. I’ve been looking forward to this. Narratively speaking, A Crack In Time is the cream of the Quartu crop, upending everything we knew about these beloved characters and putting them through some real, mature growth, with a truly inspiring message at the end. In fact, it’s so good that for a brief moment I considered not summarising it here and just telling you all to bally well go off and play it yourselves, for fear of ruining it. Sadly, I’ve come this far, and must persist – but for real, do please stop reading if you fancy experiencing it for yourself.
So yeah, Nefarious is back, but he’s taken a few lessons in competency since last we saw him. Obviously he’s still a bit of a blowhard, but he’s got his sights set far higher than simple galactic domination; now, he wants dominion over all of time itself. And the secret to that apparently lies dormant in Clank, so he’s passed himself off as a humble repairman to the Zoni in an effort to gain access to the robot’s memory banks. Naturally Clank isn’t having any of this, so he escapes and discovers where he is: the Great Clock, a cosmic power source at the universe’s core that controls the passage of time and fate. It’s watched over by the spirit of an ancient Zoni called Orvus and the neurotic janitor Sigmund, who handles the actual physical operation of the Clock as Orvus is a little, erm, corporeally challenged at present.
Orvus pulls Clank aside and drops the mother of all bombshells on him, and the player – he is Clank’s father! Clank is, in actuality, the soul of a Zoni transferred into a robotic body. His creation was no accident, with the bolt of lightning that made the warbot machine malfunction actually being Orvus’ intervention. So Clank, real name XJ-0461, is heir apparent to the Great Clock and spends most of this game training to take over from his dad.
This twist… divided players. On one hand, it’s probably the single most ludicrous reveal they could possibly have written for the character. On the other, it’s used to great dramatic effect, with Clank suddenly feeling torn between his newfound responsibility to his father and his loyalty to Ratchet. It’s extremely compelling stuff. Clank’s training also lends itself to some absolutely mind-bending time based puzzles, with you having to create multiple ‘timelines’ in which other versions of yourself step on switches and the like for you to progress. It totally messes with you and gets a wee bit existential, but it’s genius. At times there are up to five ‘past’ Clanks running about in parallel timelines all at once.
Meanwhile, Ratchet is still searching for the Lombaxes, the poor lonely lad. He runs into one Alister Azimuth, yet another survivor of the Lombax escape (gee, they’re not actually as uncommon as they make out, are they) who knew Ratchet’s father. Azimuth feels a deep regret as he was the one who told Percy about the Cragmites, basically causing the eradication of his own race. You can see why he’s a bit down, then.
Azimuth means to reach the Great Clock for himself and use it to turn back time, undoing his mistake and bringing back the Lombaxes. Initially Ratchet goes along with him, enticed by the idea of seeing his folks again, but when they actually get there and dispatch Nefarious, he learns about Clank’s responsibility. Orvus was clear: the clock is not to be used as a time machine (though he did joke that ‘he would maybe risk six minutes’).
In a stunning display of restraint, Ratchet reneges on his deal with Azimuth, and it’s here that we get possibly the most dramatic moment in the whole franchise. Unwilling to give up on his chance for atonement, Azimuth strikes Ratchet down and kills him to get at the Clock. I’m going to repeat that. He kills Ratchet. Ratchet is dead. Permanently. In the ground, cold, bereft of life, no coming back. Yeah. It just got real.
So now Azimuth is preparing to use the Clock, potentially wiping out all of time with a huge paradox, and we get a nail-biting climax. Clank flies the finale solo, in a radical departure for the series that makes everything feel urgent and down-to-the-wire. After fending off Azimuth, he makes it to the control room; and, probably realising that unless he sorts all of this out the series is done because who would play a game called And Clank, he pulls the lever and turns back time. Only for six minutes, as advised. That’s just enough time for him to save Ratchet from Azimuth, and we get the final battle, which, thematically, is brilliant. Ratchet has been trying to save the Lombaxes, and now he has to wipe out one of the very last ones.
Finally, Azimuth gives out and, realising he’s been a bit of an idiot, sacrifices himself to stop the paradox. The Clock rights itself, Azimuth dissolves, and Ratchet mourns the Lombaxes. Heavy stuff. In the end, Clank considers staying behind to look after things, but ultimately passes the responsibility onto Sigmund (uh, yeah, everyone is screwed) so he can be with Ratchet. Good choice, lad. The adventure ends with a closing speech from Orvus, which is just so fantastic that I’m going to paste it verbatim here.
That final line especially has stuck with me since the game came out. Overall, A Crack in Time is peak Ratchet and Clank for me. The gameplay and variety are excellent, and the plot puts to rest many hanging threads while being exhilarating, with plenty of twists and turns that deal with some serious themes. I have no qualms with declaring it my favourite Ratchet and Clank outing, and encourage you all to give it a go. It was, put simply, a crackin’ time. It wasn’t, however, the end of the saga. More was still to come.
Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus (2013)
The announcement of Into the Nexus (initially titled Into the Nether Regions, but nowhere on Earth would they get away with that) in 2013 was a surprise, as most gamers assumed Crack in Time, with all its climactic finality, would mark the end of the mainline games. We thought we’d only get the odd spinoff or remake from there on out. Insomniac proved everyone wrong with this game, one last hurrah for the PS3 era of Ratchet that sort of functioned as an epilogue for the preceding games. Much like Quest for Booty, this was very short and slight, but unlike that DLC, it was marketed as a fully fledged entry, drawing some ire over its lightweight nature.
The art style has had a serious revamp for this one, and to be honest, I’m not a fan. If Crack in Time is Pixar, this is Illumination Studios; bright and colourful, but overly simplistic and stylised to save on animation. Ratchet looks like a completely different character here, and gone is any detailing on his model. Side characters like Talwyn have similarly been butchered beyond recognition, their features wildly exaggerated to fit the new style. The environmental visuals themselves are still lovely, but overall Nexus just isn’t that pleasant to look at, apart from a handful of 2D Clank sections which feature striking darklight imagery.
Plotwise, this isn’t anything special either, although we do get a couple of interesting new villains. Ratchet and Clank are assigned to transport seasoned criminals Vendra and Neftin Prog to jail, but en route, things go south as Vendra stages a breakout and kills Cronk and Zephyr. Her and Neftin, her brother, are after the Dimensionator for diabolical purposes. So Ratchet and Clank have to – whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. She… kills Cronk and Zephyr? They killed off two of the most charming characters? In the opening act, no less! And this isn’t even a temporary, reversed death like Ratchet was last time. These totally innocent, elderly comedy relief sidekicks are just axed at the outset of an otherwise pretty lighthearted outing. OK. Game? You crossed a line. We’re no longer friends.
So let’s wrap this up. Ratchet and Clank do a little digging at the orphanage where the Progs grew up, and discover that in her childhood, Vendra was repeatedly visited by Mr. Eye, a demonic being from another dimension, the Netherverse, who preyed on her insecurity and loneliness. Mr. Eye wants to be released into this dimension to wreak havoc, and has emotionally manipulated Vendra, who now feels she owes a favour to her childhood ‘friend’, into doing so. She and Neftin get hold of the Dimensionator and let him loose – and I’ll give them props, there’s some seriously creepy imagery on display here. Billowing purple death clouds circle overhead as a huge toothy eye gazes down on the terrified townsfolk.
But the rest is business as usual. Ratchet and Clank do some dimension hopping, seal away Mr. Eye, save Vendra from his influence and the Progs turn themselves in. That’s it, you’re done, five or so hours after you started. There is a nice little scene just before the credits, however, with Ratchet saying to Clank that he no longer cares about finding the Lombaxes as he has all he needs with his friends, and leaving the broken Dimensionator in Clank’s care. It’s a sweet moment (albeit one which seems to have been undone by the Dimensionator showing up in Rift Apart) but for what it is, it’s nice closure to Ratchet’s arc, had this been the last game.
Let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t the last game, though. Into the Nexus is a thoroughly milquetoast outing. It isn’t so much that it’s bad – simply by virtue of being developed by Insomniac Games, the OG team, that could never really happen. It’s just a bit of a wet fart after what came before, and feels like an unnecessary elongation of the Dimensionator saga. Apart from the totally out-of-place offing of Cronk and Zephyr, nothing really changes about the characters or the universe. But whatever, we got it anyway, it’s fine, Rift Apart’s following it, I’m sure that’ll be fine too. Maybe even great. We live in hope.
That brings us to the end of our Ratchet and Clank retrospective, but we haven’t even covered everything the franchise has to offer. Oh, no, no, no. These were just the mainline games! There are spinoffs, including Secret Agent Clank for the PSP, which saw you playing the show-within-the-game; remakes, like Ratchet and Clank for the PS4, a somewhat bowdlerized redo of the first entry; and even media like a 2016 film that met with lukewarm reception, and more recently a short cartoon, Life of Pie.
The Lombax and his robot buddy have got their gloved mitts on basically every medium going, and there’s a reason for that. Be it the loveable, and ever-expanding, cast of eccentric characters, exciting universe with its own unique lore and history, or simply its tight, action-packed gameplay that laid the foundation for many imitators, people love this series. Insomniac have left a wonderful mark on gaming history. From Ratchet’s humble, pencil-sketch origins, to the pair’s newest adventure (due out tomorrow!), they’ve come so far. And I for one cannot wait to see where they head next. Let’s just hope Rift Apart is more Ratchet and Clank, and not so much Patch-it and Jank.
I salute you, guys. Now toss me that Combustor. I’ve a Blarg that needs blasting.
Have you enjoyed our retrospective? What thoughts or memories do you have of this beloved franchise? Hit us up and let us know!