Ratchet & Clank: Analysis across the galaxies and generations

Publisher Sony
Developer Insomniac
Platforms tested PS4 PS3 PS2
The returning 2 heroes ( some may say the 3rd true hero also) of our story have had a very long life with Playstation and many, many titles across generations. And this is by no means the first remake for them or even the original title.

It does not take a scientific approach to realise that it is clearly a looker and why I placed it on my best graphics list from last year. Insomniac have not only reworked the game to update and tie in with the new Movie and this includes big changes to the levels at times even bigger ones to the story and controls that makes it feel as fresh as the pixels. Coming in with a native 1920 x 1080 display and a 30Hz/30fps target rate it may leave some frowning, but turn those frowns upside down as for your fears will be quickly put to rest once you watch or better yet play it. After being able to appreciate the updates and beauty for longer along with its original PS2 release and PS3 HD update. To quickly sum up the game it is a reboot of the first game based on the movie of the characters from both in a new tale, sort of. The game delves more into certain areas the original game skipped over or never even mentioned. This is clear from the opening sections of the game feeling very different indeed.

Back to our Roots

As an example when the emperor appears in the PS2 version he lands into the zone and then all enemies attack you before he pops out for a chat. On the remake the ship has crashed here and is under attack from them as you arrive to save the day. Far more coherent and in keeping with the story. Again the opening section on the original sees Crank introduced from a simple short cut scene from his factory, and spaceship escape. Here you control and play as crank through a longer opening as you play this sequence rather than watch it. These changes are throughout the game and make everything feel as new as the presentation. Mixed in with movie sections as the game is tied in with the new file hitting cinemas this month.

Returning to play the original PS2 version with its 576i sceen (mostly giving way to borders here in the UK) and targeting a 50hz rate it has aged very well. Running on a PS3 is not advised as the forcing of a progressive scan output (the game never supported this but did support a 60Hz option) can really affect the framerate as seen in the above video. Happily this can be easily rectified using the original PS2 hardware compared in the video or even playing the 60Hz PS3 HD releases.So the UK version here runs at 50Hz rather than the 60Hz of the American version, meaning when you see 50fps or 25fps this would equate to 60/30 respectively for that release. Handled simply and cheaply holding every 6th frame as duplicate. But the difference between the HD update the PS2 release is much smaller than between the HD release and the new Reboot.

Comparing this to the old PS2 release you can see the benefits from the update are clearer visuals but not much else has changed. Animation, effects, layout and action are all carbon copies of the originals. But both games run at a smooth and fast framerate and even the 50Hz pal version does not feel that different to the 60Hz PS3 release so the normal increase in resolution and framerate is only one sided here. And in fairness the PS2 title still holds up well today with its fluid animation, large levels and choice of weapons it was a great base for the HD update and now complete reboot. You can watch the videos and the comparison image gallery of shots to get a good view of the leap each release makes and decide for yourself how big it really is.

As you can see with the 3 versions compared the changes this time are far more drastic and far reaching across the new game. Even if you have played the original the game has enough story changes, new sections and level reconstructions to feel as new and fresh as the presentation.

The future's bright

Even though the engine is the same one that powered the PS3 releases after Insomniacs hard work to bring this up to now generation standards after its first Sunset Overdrive release they have surpassed themselves here. Helped by the shift from a 60Hz rate to the 30Hz that the team have targeted since Into the Nexus but the smooth control and action never feels anywhere like half the rate and in many ways the new game actually feels better to play with the camera immediately working with you more a sign of the times.

Asset quality is of a very high level using PBR to give the game worlds, characters and scenery a mixture of sandy planets, dank sewers and metallic tones a natural look and feel. This is obviously what you see in more and more games and of course in the pre-rendered CGi movies this has in its sights. And the target was locked, loaded and destroyed best appreciated in the realtime cutscenes that even though are mixed with the movie pre-renders you have to look for the signs. This can vary at times but polygon count and aliasing are the only obvious signs that they are not part of the movie. As models are shared and the animation in the game is of an equally high level they all allow you to play through the game and its movie looking visuals never really knowing which is which and most likely not caring, aside some lower animation on less key characters during your play.

To enter into the nit picking area (this is a technical review) it uses around 2 or maybe 4x Texture filtering on floors and walls and as such with the PBR implementation and as such many reflective surfaces these can blur slightly in the near distance. But the sheer qty of foes and effects thrown at you even more on hard in the footage this is a understandable bandwidth saving and most of the time is not an issue and noticed even less. One area that is more noticed is the games choice of Anti Aliasing which is the easiest sign to spot in the story sections but is even more visible during gameplay. Ever so slightly letting down the games sky high asset quality and 1080 display with a much more standard Post processing solution of the FXAA variety. Meaning as the metallic world and bouncing light is a large part of the visual make-up along with high contrast sections and shader specular it can give sub-pixel edging and shimmering noise within near to distant objects. Again it rarely gets in the way or offends but with such great work with the assets it is a shame a temporal option or MSAA addition could not have been added just to alleviate this minor blight, as I say a very minor slight on a visually stunning title.

The great impression continue from here on in, as the particle system the team have is a work of art. The screen is swamped with debris, explosions, nut and bolts all spinning and bouncing around. Good to see that these are also collision detecting as boxes are broken , armour removed but still can be pushed and moved. As you work into the game further the action ramps up leaving you overpowered and swamped in enemies (I play on Hard so this may be more than on normal) with the great performance never an issue the only one to blame for your deaths is your own cacky skills. Special mention must to the weapons as the disco ball introduces a disco ball and contagious dancing or the pixelater to recreate the old skool look in action!

It can drop a frame here and there at times but nothing of any great concern and is nearly always followed with a buffer flip and the rare 16ms times you see on the graph. Aside my frame-rate application you would never notice any dips and it really is a solid as the visual treats the game offers up.

Post effects and other treats are also in the game from high resolution screen space reflections, cubmaps, a gorgoues Bokeh Depth of Field used in cutscenes and in gamplay that really adds to the sense of depth and scale in the game.Per Object motion blur that would be fitting of a movie adds to the smooth movement and not swamping the screen it handles velocity from movement and camera and foreground and background occlusion incredibly well, up with the Advanced Warfare implementation. Seen in the video and the image gallery, I am a fan of POMB when used right and few examples get as good or less so better than what we see here.

In the End

Paired with the games incredible animation really maximising that memory improvement, Cut-scenes show off the facial movement and expressions that are interchangeable with the movie rigs (aside some as mentioned) including all the hand keyed frames. Exaggerated expressions, fluid movement and those ears what is not to love. But gameplay is equally as well endowed with all characters having high framecount as you shoot, swing and jump through the action. Nice touches like the stretching of Ratchet as you jump or fall to emphasise the motion in true looney toons fashion are appreciated. And this collection of effort from animation, sound, voice over, physics, particles and the games impeccable lighting model working alongside its PBR material shader system delivers some of the best looking visuals this side of Pixar movie. All wrapped up within a retro centric, action platformer that never loses sight of its roots but still offers up huge improvements and changes and a great price of £28 or $40.

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