The case against Ratchet & Clank being any good is overwhelming.
For starters, it's a remaster - and not just any old remaster, but a remaster of a 2002 original that was itself remastered once before as part of the PS3 Ratchet & Clank Collection. Come on, guys, how many times do you want us to play the same game?
Not only that, but it arrives mere weeks before a spin-off movie designed to introduce the non-gaming world to the charms of a gadget-building Lombax (not a real animal) and his vertically challenged robotic companion.
Frankly, it'd be easy to see this new game as a shameless cash-in on a movie that itself seems a shameless cash-in on a gaming series that many gamers have completely forgotten about.
But that simply wouldn’t do it justice. That's partly because pretty much every aspect of the game has been reimagined and rebuilt from scratch, but also because it may well be the prettiest damn thing ever to grace the PlayStation 4.
A new old favourite
If you’ve had your retinas seared by any of Sony’s previous first-party remasters (God Of War III, The Last Of Us, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection), you’ll be well aware how much better older games can look when a developer sets out to harness all the horses beneath the PS4's hood.
But as we already mentioned, this latest take on R&C is much, much more than another remaster, reboot, or re-release. While it features familiar gameplay, levels, and characters, much of this origin story's content has been completely reworked and re-envisioned to both take advantage of the new-gen hardware and appeal to fans who weren't brought up tethered to a PS2.
As with their over-a-decade-old debut, the titular duo's return spins a ripping sci-fi yarn, complete with galaxy-saving quests, nefarious baddies (seriously, it stars a super-villain dubbed Doctor Nefarious), and planet-scorching weapons that make the Death Star look like a pea shooter.
Playing through the pair's introductory tale means solving simple puzzles, navigating platforming sections, and, most importantly, tearing the universe a new one from behind an imaginative arsenal of high-tech hardware.
And while technically a third-person shooter, R&C forgoes familiar fragging in favour of dispatching foes with a bit more flair. Whether sending enemies into a disco-dancing frenzy from behind the Groovitron gun or introducing baddies to Mr. Zurkon - a spawn-able sidekick that spits laser blasts and snarky comments in equal measure - the gunplay will stretch a smile across your face with each trigger pull.
Thanks to the power of the PS4, R&C's clever combat looks better than ever. Everything - from shadow and lighting tech to particle and physics effects - has been tweaked and refined to bring Ratchet and his robo-buddy up to visual parity with the very finest of today’s polygon-pushing protagonists.
Screen-swallowing set-pieces, such as a thrilling sequence atop a speeding train and Ratchet’s seat-of-the-pants escape from a flooding sewer system, steal the spotlight. Subtler touches, though, such as the debris kicked up from a stomping mech or the way individual hairs stand out on Ratchet’s ears, reveal the care and depth that’s gone into polishing every last detail.
An early encounter showcases one of the series’ signature candy-colored levels. Cloud-parting mountain peaks, lush greenery, and a beautiful blue sky serve as the backdrop to a battle that sees eye-popping enemies - both ground-based adversaries and aerial attackers - attempt to turn Ratchet into a muddy smudge.
While these jaw-dropping skirmishes almost trick you into thinking you’re playing a Pixar movie, less vibrant sections prove the game can look equally gorgeous when forgoing bright colors for more subdued, atmospheric hues. Caves lit by bio-luminescent mushrooms and a dark, rain-soaked city stand out as being particularly pretty, even without the benefit of being brought to life by every stripe of the rainbow.
Weapons to die for
R&C is top-to-bottom beautiful, then, but it has far more to offer than a static sightseeing tour.
Because it's been completely rebuilt, its improvements aren't limited to the visual space. Gameplay has also been significantly reworked to leverage the various innovations the series has introduced over the years. More intuitive controls, a tighter camera, and fresh features - such as the ability to quickly access weapons with the D-pad - combine to yield a simplified, streamlined experience that makes platforming feel more fluid and combat crunchier than ever.
These modern controls are further complemented by a weapon wheel brimming with classic hand-cannons, fan-favorite fraggers from later games, and brand new death-dealers.
You'll begin your journey with Ratchet's signature Omniwrench 8000, but will soon be barbecuing baddies with the Pyrocitor and, later on, transforming targets into 8-bit versions of themselves using the aptly named Pixelizer. A new upgrade system also adds another pistol-pimping layer to the previous weapon leveling system.
When not offing foes with style to spare, fans will appreciate the return of the franchise's witty writing. The storytelling still features the series' trademark charm and personality, but a new level of self-awareness adds a fresh layer of meta-humor.
As narrated by the buffoonish Captain Qwark, the story drops plenty of gameplay convention-skewering lines such as “A conveniently placed crate provided Ratchet with a Combuster”. Later, a friend of Ratchet's quips, “See you in the next reboot.”
Ratchet & Clank verdict
On top of the stunning art direction and gameplay refinements, fans can look forward to fresh Clank-starring content, new flying sequences, additional boss encounters, and an addictive collectible trading card game.
But they're all merely nice extras to what are the main attractions here: beautiful gameplay matched with gorgeous graphics.
Relatively early in the game, Ratchet arrives at a destination he'd always dreamed of reaching and exclaims “I’ve died and gone to nerd heaven!” After playing through Ratchet & Clank, you'll know exactly how he feels.