Probably one of the most important games for any console is that first game that it feels like would’ve been completely impossible on the last generation of hardware. For PS5, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart may very well be that game.
This isn’t to knock some of the great PS5 games we’ve seen so far. Astro’s Playroom is a must-play, I’d argue – and it’s free! Demon’s Souls is a strong remaster of a classic. Returnal, while an acquired taste, is brilliant. And there’s a slew of third-party offerings, including cross-generation releases with big PS5 upsides, the most recent of which is Resident Evil Village.
But, man. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Goodness me. While I haven’t had the chance to play it due to various pandemic-related restrictions, I have been able to watch extended gameplay demos and hear extensive developer commentary explaining how the team at Insomniac Games built the game – and it feels like the game that the PS5 needed at launch. I’d argue that it might be the first game that is truly one of this new generation and only this new generation – and it’s mind boggling.
For a start, it’s worth saying that Ratchet & Clank fans are going to find much to love here. New co-protagonist Rivet offers a new perspective of a sort, and the game seems to expand on the core mechanics and systems of the series in interesting ways, with both returning and new weapons and moves to make for an extensive list of options.
As in Spider-Man, Insomniac has a real knack for giving players a bunch of tools to let them approach combat in a number of different ways. The same is true here; I lost track of the number of weapons I saw, and despite that during the call developers briefly mused on some of the more outlandish, game-breaking weapon concepts they couldn’t make work. That’s the approach to this game it seems: everything and the kitchen sink is in, almost.
But, I admit, a lot of this didn’t mean as much to me as it did others. I’ve played several past Ratchet & Clank games, but not in the religious way where I can spot every nuanced change and addition. For that, when VG247 reviews the game, series expert Tom (and his son) will take the reins. Essentially, as the tech nerd, I was at this preview for the technology: and wow, what technology it is.
Rift Apart has absolutely been built from the ground up to take advantage of everything the PS5 has to offer. 3D audio is used effectively to ‘sell’ the effervescent sparks of weapon fire and seemingly endless particle effects. The adaptive triggers are used as in a few other examples so far, offering more feedback and input options. Some weapons will fire differently when you only pull a trigger shallowly as opposed to all the way, for instance. The hoverboots now give a realistic sort of feedback as you kick along and ride around, a facsimile of the feeling of resistance you really have on real-world rollerblades.
The core of the experience as a PS5 game, however, is in the titular rifts. This is the title’s gimmick, but it’s a bloody impressive one. We’ve seen it in games before, of course – from BioShock Infinite to Portal, the idea of passing through a hole to another world or another piece of the world is nothing new – but this execution is something else.
Basically, it’s all about that special data streaming solution the PS5 has. Insomniac designers explain that despite this not really being an ‘open world’ experience in the Spider-Man sense, they’re streaming content in and out in a very similar way. Even when you turn the camera, the game is unloading textures and the like that are behind you, out of sight, pretty much instantly. Traditionally, games will hold things that are nearby in memory even if they’re out of sight, so it can access them quickly if you suddenly open a door or whip the camera around. Rift Apart doesn’t do that, trusting in the PS5 hardware’s speed to load things in only when they’re strictly needed.
This basically allows for more detail. Usually a game’s memory budget isn’t just determined by what’s on-screen, but also anything that’s loaded in off-screen. By minimizing anything hanging around in memory, there’s more technical real estate to fill the screen with stuff, which means practically every frame of Rift Apart seems to burst off the screen. That can mean more particle effects or scope, but also more enemies, for instance.
This isn’t just about the game being visually impressive, though this is certainly the closest real-time experience to a Pixar movie yet. Crucially, however, Insomniac says the PS5’s technology has “changed the shape and content of the game,” meaning entire mechanics have been birthed out of what is technically possible this time around.
This therefore impacts moment-to-moment combat and exploration, but the ultimate expression of this idea is the rifts themselves. Sometimes, the game is rendering the same world from two different angles when you look through a rift. Other times, you’re tumbling through portals and literally being ferried from one densely detailed world to another, each entirely different.
Some of the planets featured in this adventure will be seen in two different dimensions, with you flicking back and forth between the two in order to progress. There’s no visible loading in that, and when you switch to one dimension, the other is dumped out of memory completely – meaning there’s no design compromise of keeping two worlds in memory at once. When the time comes to switch, the worlds are swapped seamlessly in a matter of frames.
Perhaps the most impressive example of this I saw was outside of play, however – in a cutscene. The cinematic sequence utilized a wipe transition as often featured in pulpy sci-fi and perhaps now most famously used in Star Wars. A wipe would’ve been nigh-impossible to execute real-time on last-generation’s technology – instead, you’d use a pre-rendered FMV. But Rift Apart has them in real time, where basically the PS5 renders two scenes at once and wipes from one to the other, and it just looks… seamless and ridiculous.
Ultimately, this is a game you have to see for yourself. Watching it on streams online, even posh ones from Sony, can only tell you so much. But it’s certainly better than my nattering. Scroll on up and watch some new gameplay alongside our impressions and just see for yourself. Certainly, this feels like the first true PS5 game – and it looks to be a technical tour de force.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is set to release for PS5 on June 11.