Ratchet and Clank for PlayStation 4 was originally revealed at E3 2014 as a "reimagined" version of the first Ratchet and Clank, a game released for the PlayStation 2 way back in 2002. At the time it was difficult to tell how much of the game would be copied over from the PS2 version and how much would be new. But after a recent hands-on session, we have word directly from developer Insomniac.
"Ratchet and Clank is a new game that takes elements from the original," explains production director Shaun McCabe. "What we imagined when we started was a curated first Ratchet experience."
Insomniac's initial vision was to mix the core story and world progression of the original Ratchet and Clank with some of the more modern aspects of PlayStation 3's Ratchet & Clank Future games. But before they knew it, their vision shifted into something greater, which was part of the reason for the recent delay to a spring 2016 release timeframe.
"As we developed this, it grew, as things do at Insomniac," McCabe says. "Nothing we make ever stays small. We ended up adding a ton of stuff."
"a new game and what we think is a new beginning for Ratchet and Clank"
Additions to Ratchet and Clank include new planets to explore, new weapons, Clank-focused gameplay that wasn't in the original title, a fresh weapon upgrading system and more.
"What we ended up with was a new game and what we think is a new beginning for Ratchet and Clank," says McCabe.
Despite the constant reiteration that Ratchet and Clank is a new thing, our hands-on demo begins with a dose of nostalgia: a level set in Metropolis, a bustling futuristic city that the series has visited many times beginning with the first game.
The level includes fighting robot dogs and beefy alien henchmen while admiring a cityscape full of flying cars and floating buildings. It culminates in a fast-paced chase across a train that's rocketing through the city. These are all things that will sound familiar to anyone who played the original Ratchet and Clank back in 2002. They're building blocks used in the same level from that game, but they're laid out in a completely different way that ends up being much more elegant.
"This version of Metropolis is really a realization of this dream that we've had since the series started," McCabe says. "We wanted to provide people with the opportunity to play a feature animated film. We wanted to be able to match the fidelity and sophistication of an animated film visually."
And as Insomniac comes closer to that goal than ever before, the game will itself be released alongside a film. You can watch the trailer for that below. We're shown a teaser for the game that playfully boasts: "Play the game based on the movie based on the game."
Insomniac is poking fun at itself with that tagline, but the developer is also embracing the connection between Ratchet and Clank the movie and Ratchet and Clank the game. McCabe says the game has "the same bones" as the film, but it will add lots more story and background to help fill out the 10 to 12 hours of expected gameplay.
The game will also be told from the perspective of Captain Qwark, a dimwitted superhero idol of Ratchet's who bounces between helping the titular duo and (often inadvertently) sabotaging their best efforts. His point of view will often change events from the film, embellishing them to provide longer, more action-packed scenarios for our heroes to fight through.
"More than half of the weapons in this game were not in the PlayStation 2 Ratchet and Clank"
Of course the most important element of any Ratchet and Clank game is its arsenal of off-the-wall weapons. Where the original Ratchet and Clank had a relatively tiny selection compared to how the variety expanded in later games, the PlayStation 4 version will have tons of new weapons to choose between.
"More than half of the weapons in this game were not in the PlayStation 2 Ratchet and Clank," says Insomniac community lead James Stevenson. "They're either new weapons or weapons from the movie or weapons from the Future series."
Some fan-favorites being added from later games include the Groovitron, a disco ball that forces enemies to dance when thrown. Every enemy in the game will have unique dance animations to go along with this weapon, including bosses. The ever-popular deadly robot companion Mr. Zurkon will also return.
We weren't shown many new weapons in the demo, but one stood out: the Pixelizer. This gun demakes any enemies it hits into a pile of NES-style pixels. If they require more than one hit to kill, it will only transform them momentarily, but if you get a killing shot with the gun, they'll dissolve into a pile of blocks. As with the Groovitron, this will work on bosses as well.
One of the biggest changes between the guns in Ratchet and Clank on the PlayStation 4 and the original is just how much easier it is to shoot them.
"The original Ratchet and Clank was not modern," Stevenson says. "You couldn't aim. You couldn't strafe. We did not want to just remake Ratchet and Clank. This was about creating a whole new beginning, the ultimate beginning."
"The original Ratchet and Clank was not modern"
That new beginning will implement all the expected moves and improvements from across 15 years and a dozen or so games of development iteration. If you go back to the original Ratchet and Clank, it's easy to see how it was a first draft, created before there were certain standards about how third-person action games control. The PS4 Ratchet and Clank controls nearly identical to the PS3 games, with strafing, side-to-side jumping, free aiming and so on.
While long-time fans of the series may be put off by the idea of what sounds like essentially a reboot, Stevenson is hopeful for the future.
"I don't think this invalidates anything that's happened in later Ratchet and Clank games," he says. "The rough outline is still the same. Ratchet meets Clank, and they go on this adventure, and Chairman Drek is still the bad guy. It just gives people a new entry point, and the film also acts as a new entry point for the series. They really complement each other. We're so focused on this part of it, but I'm not too worried about what happens next.
"There probably will always be more Ratchet adventures down the line."