At several points during my time with Ratchet & Clank – after landing on a new planet whose peculiar rocky landscape stretched off far into the distance, for instance, or while I was zipping around a collapsing city and battling a titanic robot as dimensional rifts catapulted me at speed through different worlds – I felt compelled to call my partner into the room to watch. If you want to know what the PlayStation 5 can do visually, this is the game that will show you. I have rarely been as awestruck by how a game looks; I think the last time was when I was drinking in the austere beauty of mythical Scandinavia in God of War. It’s hard to overstate how technically impressive Rift Apart is, and how much that contributed to the joy I felt playing it. This family-friendly action game might not do anything revolutionary with its structure or storytelling, but good lord, does it elevate the spectacle and fun to a new dimension.
This is a blissfully uncomplicated cartoon science-fiction escapade about two furry aliens trying to save the universe (multiple universes, in fact) from a robot supervillain with a gun that can tear open portals between dimensions. You run and jump around with an arsenal of bizarre weapons, from a sprinkler that turns foes into stationary topiary to a buzz-saw launcher to a good old-fashioned bazooka, and point them at space pirates and robot armies and alien critters until they explode. You wave a wrench around to smash up crates, which explode in gratifying cascades of bolts that you can use to buy and upgrade new toys. Everything you do feels good and showers you with sensory feedback, whether visually, aurally or through the controller’s haptic rumble.
There’s not a great deal of downtime between all the fighting and immense action set pieces – one of the only relatively chill spaces in this game is a Mos Eisley-style bar, which itself is filled with dancing, chattering aliens and adjacent to a battle arena. As a result, playing for too long feels like the video game equivalent of eating an entire packet of Haribo at once, or reading a book written entirely in all-caps. Rift Apart moves fast, and so do protagonists Ratchet and Rivet, especially when gliding around massive planets on jet-boots or grinding across city-spanning networks of rails. But if you stop to look around, you’ll notice the attention that’s been paid to the animation and set-dressing. Rivet’s furry ears even flap in the wind.
Everything is colourful and gorgeous. Imagine if Dreamworks made Star Wars, and you’re close to the aesthetic. There’s a lot of obvious Star Wars influence here, but all filtered through developer Insomniac Games’ charmingly goofy Californian lens – one planet is home to a cuddly race of teddy-bear aliens, but they all have Minnesotan accents. One planetary adventure, during which Ratchet skips between dimensions to make his way through a power station that’s derelict in one universe and buzzing with robot guards in the next, felt like an unexpected homage to Alien (and to Creative Assembly’s superb horror game Alien: Isolation), except with more humour and less peril.
Humour has always been a defining feature of Ratchet & Clank, right back to its origins on the PlayStation 2, but it doesn’t try too hard. It’s funny in a laid-back, undemanding way, and the story is similarly easy to digest. Rift Apart did not exactly challenge me, but it entertained me immensely. It’s just such a lot of fun, and so gorgeous I still can’t quite believe it. If this is an indication of how the new generation of consoles can infuse familiar-feeling games with new wonder, we’re in for a great few years.