Insomniac and I have had a rough ride in recent years. It’s a wonderful, wonderful studio – one of those companies that seem to “get” how videogames should be made, a studio that can craft a fascinating – and often adorable – world full of vibrancy and humor. Sadly, I’ve just not been feeling the same kind of love and craftsmanship from Insomniac lately.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One was a tepid squirt of disappointment, while FUSE came to represent everything wrong with the pre-packaged, focus-tested, cynically regurgitated console market. While I crossed my fingers for Insomniac’s latest effort – its own swansong for this particular generation – I was worried that Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus would continue a chain of disappointment.
To my great relief, the team pulled it out of the hat with this one. The Lombax and his robot buddy are in fine form, delivering a fuss-free and quick-fire romp through the galaxy that rarely lets the pulse rate drop.
Into the Nexus caps off Ratchet and Clank’s PlayStation 3 adventures, as our titular space heroes imprison the evil space witch Vendra and plan to make her answer for her crimes. Naturally, things go wrong fairly quickly, as Vendra escapes and plots to open a portal to a world of deadly interdimensional monsters. The plot is as lighthearted as you’d expect, but peppered with darker moments, and rich in silly humor. It’s a brief game, at only a few hours, but the story keeps up an energetic pace that ought to satisfy Lombax fans.
Ratchet & Clank‘s formula hasn’t dramatically changed over the years, and it really doesn’t need to. An action-platformer of the most chaotic quality, Into the Nexus preserves the hectic run-and-gun combat that has kept the series alive for so long, with another arsenal of ludicrous weapons and kooky enemies upon which to use them. The regular grenade launchers and shotguns have been augmented with such weapons as the Netherbeast, which launches small demons from Vendra’s dimension, and the Winterizer, which transforms enemies into snowmen while “Jingle Bells” charmingly plays over the action. My particular favorite is the Nightmare Box, a selection of jack-in-box projectiles containing demented ghouls that terrify and distract opponents. As always, these weapons can be leveled up to gain power, while Raritanium may be used to further upgrade them and add special abilities.
As always, a great pleasure comes from taking a mildly effective weapon and enhancing it until it becomes something utterly devastating. Nightmare Box ghouls are cute little distractions until you turn them into acid-spewing turrets of terror. Nether Blades toss out cute purple sawblades, but with a little leveling, they can become swirling, ricocheting walls of death. It’s highly likely you won’t get to enhance half of what you want in one session, but you can replay the game on a harder setting while keeping all of your weapons and enhancements, extending the playtime and ensuring you get to play with everything you want.
The majority of the game is spent blasting Thugs4Less mercenaries and slavering monstrosities from the Netherworld, constantly switching up the weaponry to gain experience and deal with frequent ammo depletion. There are the usual platforming elements sprinkled throughout the combat, with Ratchet gliding, jumping, and jetpacking his way through the environment. There are also a handful of fairly simple boss battles, and an obligatory arena for added violence.
Naturally, Clank gets in on the action in his own playable sections, taking the form of sidescrolling platform levels. At various points in the campaign, Clank must enter the titular Nexus in order to locate a Netherbeast and draw it into Ratchet’s world. The gravity of these worlds can be changed, pulling Clank up down, left and right, and each level is an intricately designed environmental puzzle, taking advantage of the shifting gravitational pull. These sections are superbly designed, making players carefully navigate through passages and dangerous traps, before drawing the ire of a Netherbeast and rushing quickly back to the starting area.
It’s a shame there aren’t more of these Netherworld segments, as they showcase a genuine inventiveness that breaks up the combat smartly. The need to move carefully through a level, then rush carelessly back the way you came, makes for a neat dynamic, with the threat of a chasing Netherbeast providing a surprising amount of tension. Abrupt switches to new play styles usually feel invasive, but I felt no aggravation in undertaking Clank’s reality-hopping tasks.
At half the asking price of a retail game, you can expect about half a Ratchet & Clank game. It’s actually quite a fair trade, as Into the Nexus takes players on a swift but satisfying tour of the series’ best elements. A ton of fun weapons and clever challenges are packed tightly into a handful of hours, though the ending is somewhat abrupt and the final boss isn’t particularly challenging. Even at a brief running time, the combat too can sometimes grow fatiguing. It never gets boring, exactly, just a little tiring after an extended period of time.
Visually, you can expect the same brightness and contrast of color that makes Insomniac’s titles generally stand out from the crowd. Character designs brim with personality, and environments are varied and vigorous. The voice acting is, once again, top notch, while the use of sound – especially for the more exotic weapons – never fails to delight.
Ratchet & Clank is not only a charismatic ending to the series’ PlayStation 3 installments, it marks a most agreeable return to form for Insomniac Games as a developer. While the action can wear the player out, and the campaign itself isn’t particularly lengthy or deep, fans will get their money’s worth from this concentrated blast of Ratchet & Clank action.
Bottom Line: Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus takes everything there is to love about the series and packs it tightly into a brief – but suitably explosive – package.
Recommendation:It’s short, but it’s cheap, and it delivers exactly what one expects from a Ratchet & Clank game. Fans will have absolutely no problem leaping into the fray and gunning down space criminals, while newcomers may find the low cost of entry tantalizing enough to jump in. Whoever you are, there’s very little chance of you feeling like you wasted your cash here.[rating=4]