Lost in space
There’s a moment in Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus—and I won’t say when, because I can already hear complaints being lobbied about wandering into spoiler territory within the very first sentence of a review—during which the titular heroes make their way through a museum. Inside, there’s a wing dedicated to their heroic exploits. Lining the walls are statues of Chairman Drek, Gleeman Vox, and Doctor Nefarious, to name a few—all baddies brought down (some repeatedly) by one Lombax and his diminutive robotic companion.
As I wandered through this museum wing, it occurred to me that it more or less embodied what Into the Nexus represents as an epilogue to Ratchet & Clank’s Future series. Across nine full installments, three spin-offs, and a pair of mobile adventures, there’s not much in the way of new turf to tread. It’s all rather familiar territory. Welcomingly familiar territory—digital comfort food for fans of the franchise such as myself—but awfully familiar territory.
Not unlike 2008’s Quest for Booty, this Future epilogue feels very “downloadable”—more so than warrants the $30 price tag attached to its retail release. Gone are the production values and pacing of a proper entry. Into the Nexus instead is a collection of Greatest Hits moments pieced together—effectively, I admit—across an arc arranged by-the-numbers. And that’s not necessarily problematic. What has defined the series is a long streak of well-rounded, third-person action gameplay, and that continues in Into the Nexus. You have your battle-arena planet, your platforming moments, your run-and-gun situations, and your sense of exploration all present and accounted for. They’re pulled together through corner-cutting means, but they’re there.
And I’m glad for it. It took maybe 15 minutes before I was unquestionably super happy to be playing a Ratchet & Clank game again, and that persisted, unabated, until the very end. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say the whole experience felt a little hollow, and that there weren’t issues worth pointing out.
For the most part, Into the Nexus taps into established narrative seeds and elements of prior games in all the right ways, while also introducing something new itself. In this case, gravity-based platforming (3D if you’re Ratchet, 2D if Clank). It’s nothing new or terribly inspired, but it’s neat. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly prevalent throughout the five- or six-hour adventure Insomniac Games had laid out with this Future series swan song. For Ratchet, this new mechanic appears only at the beginning and end of the game and largely involves him jumping from one gravity-plated platform to the next across three-dimensional space, brought to life through a slow-moving flip animation meant to convey a sense of zero gravity.
For Clank, gravity is given a more interesting twist in the form of a 2D minigame in which players must navigate through labyrinths in which up is down, left is right, and gravity pulls in whatever direction you demand it should. These, at least, happen with a bit more frequency, but they never embed themselves within the narrative in a way that feels natural or organic. Mostly, it feels like a really good idea never given room to breathe. Good game design relies on repetition to train players and manage comprehension, but by the time I reached Clank’s final 2D gravity sequence, I still felt inadequately trained for it.
The rest of Into the Nexus is, well, pretty rote. There are five planets to grace in this last outing within the Future storyline. One of those planets is purely battle arena, à la the Battleplex Arena from the previous mainline entry (slash Future series conclusion A Crack in Time). Another is a more open, explorable environment that plays host to a slew of side missions. The rest are more standard fare, a mix of linear, guided navigation with equal parts platforming and full-on firefights with Ratchet’s bananacakes arsenal including, but not limited to, a weapon that turns enemies into snowmen. Grab bolts, grab gold bolts, collect schematic pieces for another RYNO weapon, upgrade that zany arsenal you’ve amassed—all the very best R&C jams are in attendance.
I know it might seem like I’m harshing on Ratchet & Clank for remaining faithfully familiar, but I’m not. It’s good fun. It’s just not the kind of good fun that’s particularly noteworthy or calls for recognition. For anyone suffering R&C withdraw, just jonesing for a fix, Into the Nexus delivers just that—a fix. Manage your expectations, because like all fixes, this one lacks the levels of satisfaction you’re truly after.
|Developer: Insomniac Games • Publisher: Sony • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.12.13|
Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus represents a decent—though overpriced—sendoff for the second generation of R&C action-adventure titles. Into the Nexus mostly plays it safe by remaining largely familiar, introducing only a few new mechanics that, while not overtly bad, seem underdeveloped and are definitely underused.
|The Good||Any excuse for more Ratchet & Clank is welcome.|
|The Bad||Any excuse for more Ratchet & Clank being welcome.|
|The Ugly||Twice the price that it ought to be.|
|Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus is a PS3 exclusive.|