In her review for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Stacey Henley likened the game’s plot to how The Good Dinosaur stacks up against the rest of Pixar, and this comparison couldn’t be more accurate. While the characters of Ratchet, Rivet, Clank, and Kit are all wonderful, the unfolding narrative never gives them enough material to work with.
Major plot developments are rushed, while characters aren’t given nearly enough time to explore their own emotional journeys before we’re torn away and forced to focus on something new. Rivet and Ratchet’s most poignant moments are told in the cockpit of their respective ships while hurtling towards new locations, with Insomniac Games finding a few precious moments amidst the campaign for these heroes to bear their hearts. This means we’re left wanting more each and every time they do, and this universe deserves better than that.
It’s a shame, and I suppose part of the narrative issues are a fundamental problem with the platforming genre. Rift Apart is a fast, frantic, and satisfying game that seldom gives you time to breathe as it introduces new weapons and gameplay mechanics across the opening hours. Forcing us to stop and watch several minutes of cutscenes before returning to the action would likely turn some off, especially in something that is supposed to be a next-gen showcase for the PS5. Enough talking, let’s get to the good stuff. I understand this mindset, but I feel the developers could have stretched things further, especially when the foundations are so inherently compelling.
Rivet and Ratchet are the last of their kind, Lombaxes from different dimensions who are essentially opposite versions of one another. They’re used to being alone, or have abandoned any hope of finding their race and choose to instead find friends and family on their myriad adventures. Company is what you make of it, and Insomniac makes it perfectly clear that these characters don’t need a defined background to shine. But once you decide to lean into this aspect of their existence, failing to provide sufficient detail will only leave those wanting more in a state of disappointment.
I wanted to see more, or at least for Rift Apart to provide more depth to its characters beyond being happy, sad, or conflicted whenever the situation called for it. These are two central characters who are coming to terms with the fact that perhaps their entire race isn’t doomed, and a future awaits them that is more than a finite sequence of ambitious adventures. I’d be in tears at the prospect, while Ratchet and Rivet anxiously say hello before going on their merry way. I’ll admit I haven’t cleared the campaign yet, but upon defeating Emperor Nefarious I’m unsure it will subvert my current expectations. If it does, I’ll be chuffed, but I’m not crossing my fingers.
The freeform progression of Rift Apart and how you can dart between different planets at a moment’s notice also makes narrative agency difficult to convey. Towards the final act, it’s clear how urgent the circumstances are, and how our heroes need to defeat the big bad no matter the cost. However, you can also abandon the main quest and simply dig about in search of collectibles until you feel prepared for the final mission. You can’t commit to a seamless narrative experience when the entire game is constructed in such a way, since you risk taking freedom away from the player and boring them with the story.
I sadly can’t say the same for Ratchet and Rivet, both of whom are sorely lacking in genuine development. That will likely change with future games, but when it comes to Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, its chaotic pacing and scattershot approach to character growth holds it back from true greatness. Insomniac is seemingly hopping between this series and Marvel’s Spider-Man moving forward, so it shouldn’t be too long until Rivet and company make another appearance. With any luck, the studio will have learned from its mistakes and be prepared to craft a narrative that not only matters, but gels far better with the delightful platforming at the game’s core.
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