I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the past generation already, even though it’s arguable that it hasn’t passed us by yet. One of the few constant franchises that has remained in my playlist throughout it is Ratchet and Clank, which began a generation prior. It’s always been more daring than its peers. At times, it has been to its detriment, but it is also something to be proud of. But for what might be the final installment for the PS3, the duo are going back to their platforming and shooting roots. Is it a good sendoff?
It’s a short party, but it’s pretty sweet.
After capturing highly dangerous criminal Vendra Prog, Ratchet and Clank are guarding the starship transferring her to prison when an intervention by her brother, Neftin, causes the ship to be destroyed and Vendra released. It’s obviously up to the duo to recapture her before she finalises her plan to release the Nethers, a race of psionic monsters.
Doing so is a pretty typical Ratchet and Clank affair this time around. After toying with a few different genres wholesale, Insomniac has seen fit to see if they have what it takes to deliver an experience the series was built on. With a few myriad segments for variety, of course. If you played any of the games up to A Crack In Time, you’ll roughly know what to expect.
If you haven’t, I would recommend picking up another entry before trying this one. Into The Nexus is surprisingly one of the harder games in the mainline franchise, because of one subtle change: enemies will now lead their shots. It sounds like a small change, but it completely changes the dynamic of fights, as you now have to watch precisely where you strafe and jump. After over ten years, it’s a weird, but much needed, evolution to the enemy AI. This certainly doesn’t take away from the cathartic thrill of the action, as each gun still packs a huge punch and feels it.
The worlds you visit are all varied enough, although don’t have a superb luster this late into the year. They’re distinctly alien, but not exotic. Each planet has different paths that lead to different objectives which you might not be able to access based on the equipment on have, just like the first game. This design works in keeping things varied while not rushing you along, as do the sporadic, yet somewhat consistent, minigames and distractions that appear.
Into The Nexus’ theme is gravity, and the manipulation of it. The opening level sees Ratchet thrust into space with the ship’s gravity generators in disarray, so he must jump from specialised floor to floor to get around, a mechanic which sees little use, which I am glad for, as it’s little more than a glorified grapple mechanic. A much better addition is Clank’s jetpack upgrade, which is used for some cracking dogfights and, because of how much you can use it on a single tank, allows for some freedom in the sections you can use it.
Also a consistent part of the journey is Clank’s ability to hop into dimensional rifts, which translate into small puzzle rooms where you can manually manipulate gravity. Your goal in these sections is to lead a Nether back to the entrance so it can destroy a physical barricade in the real world. The rules determining what gravity manipulation affects is sometimes frustrating, as distance and speed of falling objects can be hard to gauge, but it’s ultimately consistent enough to be fun.
All three of these new features appear sporadically throughout the campaign, and true to the series, there are also dedicated planets for gladiatorial fights and hunting, scavenging and exploration for money. Nexus feels like a “greatest hits” collection of moments and motifs from the series up to this point, including a full-on retrospective museum integrated into the story and a montage of cutscene stills from past games in the credits. Because it evokes a feel of deliberate nostalgia on the developer’s part, you can’t help but share the sentiment if you’ve followed the series for as long as they have.
The only true flaw of Into The Nexus outside of some of its puzzles is its length. Whilst we’re all moving away from the idea that short games are inherently not worth the money, as we should be, Nexus’ length hurts the game beyond the shallow concept of “bang for your buck”. It’s disappointing in this case to find that the game doesn’t quite pick up the pace before it’s all over, and echoing the feel of a “best of” game leads to the secondary reading that Insomniac don’t have as much to be proud of as they thought. While Full-Frontal Assault’s brevity suited its genre, Nexus’ brevity only feels very lacking, especially considering its legacy.
The brevity of the campaign also leads to a lack of scale this time around. Post-game unlocks are limited to a New Game Plus challenge mode, breaking previous health and weapon limits. It’s never not been fun, but has held less value as each game has become shorter. General secrets throughout the game are also thin on the ground, save for the obligatory open exploration planet, making 100% an easy task. It’s not that it feels lacking in content, but that it underplays the scale of the story and the concept of the franchise as a whole.
Even so, what is found in Into The Nexus is pleasing, if not quite spectacular. The shooting has received a minor but hearty boost, and most of the parts surrounding that core are good in their own right and make the brief experience a varied yet consistent one. It lives up to the Ratchet and Clank name as its atmosphere proclaims to. If you’ve liked the series up to this point, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like this one too.
Now, about that R&C spaceship combat game I proposed last year…
Ratchet and Clank: Into The Nexus is currently available for the PlayStation 3 and Vita.
A copy of this game was independently acquired by the reviewer.