Jumping cold into the latest entry of a long-running series is often a daunting proposition. Catching up with dozens of characters across decades of games? Checking out Wikipedia pages between missions? No thanks! An exception to this rule is Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, released earlier this month for PS5, which doesn’t require even a wink of familiarity to be a good time.
Despite being a lifelong gamer, I’ve largely missed Insomniac’s iconic space-faring Lombax. (Earlier this year, I played approximately 30 minutes of the 2016 remake before getting distracted by a cascade of newer but not necessarily better games. I haven’t found the time to return.) But I wanted to play Rift Apart, because, well, freakin’ look at it:
When John Walker described Rift Apart as “brain-dazzlingly stunning” in his review, that wasn’t hyperbole. The game also sports the pedigree of a studio responsible for gems such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the tremendously overlooked Sunset Overdrive. Plus, it’s supposedly a showcase for the snazzy new features of the PS5—, like haptic feedback and instant loading screens— that bear a ton of potential but haven’t exactly been seen much in action since the console launched last November.
Going in, I fully expected to get a kick out of the gameplay but feel otherwise lost. I figured I’d be up to my shoulders in wiki lore pages, or at least pausing the game every five minutes to beg friends to explain references to me. Instead, I’ve found this game a breeze to jump into. The relationship between the two lead characters comes off as natural and earned, even though I missed its earlier chapters. Clank might be a robot, but he loves Ratchet to the moon and back—and that bond is reciprocated. Dr. Nefarious might be the bad guy, but that’s a blatant result of insecurity, which likely resulted from years of losing at Ratchet’s furry hands. I needn’t be steeped in Ratchet history to immediately grasp these concepts.
The ease of entry is further buoyed by the presence of a new character, Rivet, also a Lombax. In fact, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart even comes out of the gate with a cinematic sequence starring Rivet, a creative choice that seems designed to onboard newcomers who might not be up to speed on the decades-old PlayStation mascot. Rivet’s brand new to this fictional universe, just like those of us who haven’t played a Ratchet game before. It’s a lot easier to dive in cold when someone more capable than you is leading the way, even if they are of a species that doesn’t exist.
There’s also the matter that Rift Apart, perhaps more so than any game I’ve played for the PS5, is unabashedly a video game. There’s no need to hand-wave the more outlandish concepts—like the prominence of fully cognizant artificial intelligence, or the species of space beavers that are all individually and inexplicably named Mort—with some pseudo-scientific explanation that may or may not hold up to scrutiny. Much of Rift Apart is nonsensical in a way many video games aren’t these days. The primary upgrade material is called raritarium, for crying out loud. (Note: It doesn’t seem that rare to me.)
I’ve no doubt that, by coming into Rift Apart with little to no understanding of the series, I’m missing out on various winks and nods that would make the game more enjoyable, at least in the “Oh, ha, I got the reference” way. But missing this stuff hasn’t cut into my enjoyment of the game.
If you really feel like you need to start with an earlier game, you have an easy avenue to play the previously most recent Ratchet game, provided you also subscribe to PS Plus. The 2016 remake is among a set number of well-received PS4 games that are free at no extra cost to PS5 owners who subscribe to PS Plus, and, by most accounts, it serves as a good introduction to Ratchet & Clank. You could start there. In my mind, you don’t need to.