Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus (PS3) Review

Continuing a week of reviews, including one for our founder's birthday this Thursday, we have a review of the latest Ratchet & Clank adventure entitled Into the Nexus. See what we think of the last installment of the Future series with our review.

Ratchet and Clank's Excellent Adventure

For over ten years now Ratchet the lombax and his robotic buddy Clank have enamored PlayStation gamers with top shelf platforming action. The duo has also done their share of disappointing players, notably with titles like Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One and Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. While these alterations to the structure of the series were admirable for taking big chances, they weren't really what fans wanted. With Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, Insomniac Games gives fans of the franchise the type of gameplay the series is known for-- and with a smaller price to boot. Does Ratchet's latest tread too much familiar ground, or does this lombax know some new tricks?

Our tale starts off with Ratchet and Clank aboard a prison ship, armed with the task of safely delivering a wily criminal, Vendra Prog, to a detention center. Of course, if this went well, we wouldn't really have a game on our hands. No, the ship's systems malfunction and Vendra's brother stages a jailbreak with the help of some hired goons. In the turmoil of all of this, longtime friends of Ratchet and Clank, Cronk and Zephyr lose their robotic lives. Now with a mission of revenge, Ratchet and Clank must track down both Vendra and her brother before their plan destroys the entire universe. Into the Nexus' story contains the trademark humor the series is known for. The scenes are enjoyable to watch, and if you're not digging the story, they can simply be skipped.

Hmm. It appears Ratchet is currently
at a disadvantage, no?
After deviations in the series' formula, the iconic Ratchet & Clank gameplay of titles predating All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault returns after a long absence, albeit in a much more bite-size form. Into the Nexus has you exploring planets, each featuring exotic locales of some sort that the heroic duo visit. From a flooded city to a murky swampland, the planets featured in the latest Ratchet & Clank contain a lot of variety.

The locales of Into the Nexus' five planets
give off a quality over quantity vibe.
Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus has you using weapons purchased with bolts, the franchise's currency, from vendors sprinkled throughout the game's five planets to take down enemies of all shapes and sizes. Using weapons repeatedly will eventually upgrade them automatically, boosting their abilities exponentially. For instance, Ratchet's starting gun, the Omniblaster, transforms once it reaches level 3 to the Dual Omniblasters,  A mineral known as Raritarium, located in mostly hidden locations and found by defeating foes, lets you tune up guns and other weapons. Increases to how much ammo a given weapon has, rate of fire, Raritarium and bolts each defeated foe gives you, and more are done through tuning up weapons.

When you see a lombax packing
this much heat, you best start running.
The weapon variety is quite admirable in Into the Nexus, offering plenty of ways to blow enemies into oblivion. From a powerful sniper rifle in the Plasma Striker to the boom-bringing shotgun the Temporal Repulsor, Ratchet will be able to have an amount of arms to rival many countries, much more his enemies. Creativity abounds in the weapon design, as one would expect from the series. A personal favorite of mine, the Winterizer plays a version of Jingle Bells as you spray baddies, eventually turning them into snowmen. Smashing them wide open reveals presents, each containing a nice chunk of bolts.

With the Winterizer, any time
is Christmastime!
Alongside weapons, gadgets are an important part to the Ratchet & Clank series. Into the Nexus doesn't disappoint, offering many returning gadgets, such as the Swingshot, increased agility Hoverboots, and Jet Pack, allowing temporary free-range flight. However, a big focus in Into the Nexus is on gravity. This is apparent with the early introduction of the Grav Tether. This gadget allows Ratchet to aim at special targets and create a beam of gravity between them, giving the brave lombax the ability to ride on the beam. Several puzzles force you to think about which target you shoot at first, because that target will be the starting point. The second target is where the gravity beam will move Ratchet to.

Behold, the power of the Grav Tether!
Ratchet doesn't get to hog all of the gravity-based gameplay. Clank has a large role to take as well. This comes in the form of opening rifts. Inside these inter-dimensional areas, the game is played similar to a 2D platformer. The thing that makes these truly fun is that with the right stick, you can control the gravity of each 2D segment (e.g. flicking or moving the right stick left with make Clank fall to the left). The developers present some clever concepts and puzzles to solve with this mechanic, and these sections don't overstay their welcome because there's but a handful of them to do.

Oh, what a feeling when Clank
is running on the ceiling.
Into the Nexus is not your typical Ratchet & Clank adventure. It only has five planets to venture to, and one of those is a coliseum-style planet. In total, a first run of the game will most likely take you five hours. That's including some time uncovering hidden Gold Bolts, acquiring all the pieces of the omnipotent R.Y.N.O gun, and completing skill points-- objectives like beating a boss without taking damage, destroying a dropship, among other tasks-- which unlock cheats to be used in the game.

Lombaxes aren't natural air creatures.
You wouldn't be able to tell, though, with Ratchet.
While the amount of planets is indeed small compared to other games in the series, what saves Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus is two things. The first of which is the price tag, a modest $30.00 USD. The other is a mode that fans of the franchise are most likely super familiar with, Challenge Mode. This mode unlocks once the initial game is beaten, and allows you to play a harder version of the game. However, you're allowed to bring over the weapons and armor you have in your collection, as well as the upgrade levels each are at. In addition to all that, weapons that have been upgraded to level 3 are available in the shop in more powerful form, granting the ability to upgrade them to level 6.

The prices are a bit exorbitant, but a helpful bolt multiplier makes it so the bolts you earn rack up quite quickly. As enemies are defeated, the number bolts are multiplied by raises. The highest it can go is 10. However, taking damage brings the multiplier back to 1, and you must build your way up to a high multiplier again.

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus is a stunning game to behold. The amount of complex geometry being displayed on screen at the same time, the special effects, and character and environments are all incredibly beautiful. The art design itself makes the already dazzling visuals even more spectacular. It's not all perfection, though, as there are notable signs of enemies, crates, and pieces of scenery popping into view abruptly, and some slowdown when the action gets quite heated. Then again, when the frame-rate problems did occur, there were about twenty enemies in sight and multiple special effects happening.

Gorgeous sights abound in Into the Nexus.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always been known for its impeccable voice acting, and Into the Nexus does not disappoint in this regard. The lines of dialogue are delivered well for both comedic and dramatic effect. What doesn't impress as much is the soundtrack. Even after repeated plays, I can't recall any of the themes heard in the game. They surely suit the action and platforming happening on screen, but they don't leave a permanent mark in the mind for future reference.

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus is a much welcomed return to the formula the franchise has been known for outside of entries like Deadlocked, All 4 One, and Full Frontal Assault. The game's campaign is relatively short, but multiple difficulties, Challenge Mode, hidden trinkets, skill points to obtain, and weapons to fully upgrade keeps the play time from being all too short. To do everything there is in Into the Nexus will probably take 15 hours. After some series missteps, it's abundantly reassuring to see that Insomniac Games has not lost sight of what makes Ratchet & Clank so cherished as a video game franchise. I personally can't wait to see the beloved lombax's first PlayStation 4 adventure, now that Into the Nexus has whetted my appetite, and I'm certain I'm not alone. While the latest Ratchet & Clank isn't the longest platformer around, what players of the game will find is a title that is short and oh-so sweet.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

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