A report on the Xbox Live Games with Gold titles available for November 2014.
Ratchet and Clank – Into the Nexus Review: Big Fun, Short-lived
It’s been four years since we last saw the cat-like Lombax and his robotic sidekick in a new Ratchet and Clank title, and die-hard platformer fans have only been teased ever since with lackluster spin-offs and HD remakes. With the PS3 soon finishing its seven year cycle, it was safe to assume we’d never see the duo back in an original title. Thankfully, developers at Insomniac Games heard our pleas for an old-school Ratchet and Clank feature and offered us an epilogue to the PS3 Future series with Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus.
Those of you who were wondering why the new title doesn’t have a sexual innuendo like its predecessors can rest assured that its working title was Into the Nether Regions; play on words referring to the in-game dimension with ghostly purple creatures known as Nethers.
Into the Nexus begins with the galactic duo on board the Polaris Defence Force ship Nebulox Seven, escorting the petite but dangerous criminal Vendra Prog to the Vartax Detention Centre. Her Ape-like polar twin brother, Neftin, busts her out by blowing up Ratchet’s ship, which crash lands the heroes on the haunted planet Yerek. The orphaned Prog twins team up with a Nether they know as Mr. Eye and plan to cause as much havoc and mayhem as possible by unleashing the rest of the powerful ghostly species. It’s up to Ratchet and Clank, and maybe even the bumbling pseudo hero Captain Qwark, to stop their plans and blow up every narrow-browed, scaly skinned villain with creatively bad-arse weapons.
If you’ve stuck with the Ratchet and Clank series since the days of CRT screens and bulky PlayStation 2s, then you’ll no doubt feel right at home smashing crates and making alien races extinct. The controls are solid, as found in previous titles, the gameplay is smooth with only minor frame-rate issues, and the camera is mostly accurate and pleasant. The only time I found myself slightly nauseated by the camera was during a planet-hopping scenario toward the end of the game. The game’s gameplay and cutscenes look very polished, which really makes the environments lush and beautiful. However not all of its visuals reach the same eye-popping effect like its predecessors. The explosions look like paper firecrackers and are overshadowed by graphics from pre-2009.
The regular Ratchet and Clank formula is fairly untouched in this game. There’s plenty of puzzle solving, platforming, humorous characters, and of course a large pocketful of weapons. The Omniblaster makes a triumphant return as your sidearm, and you’ll still be able to upgrade weapons by using them, albeit a much faster rate than its predecessors.
Into the Nexus takes full advantage of your trigger-happy finger with bizarre new weapons. Chill out your enemies with the Winterizer, which turns vicious cockney thugs into plump white snowmen while playing a very tongue-in-cheek Christmas jingle. If that’s not your weapon of choice, then pick up the Nether Blades to fling dozens of purple-blades into a group of creatures and watch as they chip away at their health. My favourite weapon will always be the disturbingly cute Mr. Zurkon, who flies around your shoulders, shooting at anything that moves. I’ve grown a troubling affection for Mr Zurkon ever since Tools of Destruction. In this game, he brings out his wife and son when he hits level 3, and the robotic family with a thirst for carnage chimes in with some entertaining dialogue.
Accompanying the classic weapons are some familiar faces such as the part-time ally, part-time villain Captain Qwark, the thieving Smuggler with useful items for Ratchet and Clank’s adventure, the Markazian heroine Talwyn Apogee, and the old odd couple warbots Cronk and Zephyr.
A few of the better items from previous titles return to welcome you back into the Lombax’s shoes. My favourite of the few were the Hover Boots, which still gives me a rush of enjoyment when I’m zooming into crates and flying off speed ramps. The Hover Boots have been upgraded to let you jump and fall between metal surfaces, providing fast-thinking action and awesome wall walking.
What separates Into the Nexus from previous titles is the introduction of Interdimensional Rifts and Grav Link puzzles. The Interdimensional Rifts give you a break from the Lombax and allows you to control Clank in a 2D black and purple neon environment full of explosive crystals and dangerous Nethers. In here, Clank controls gravity, which acts as the catalyst for ingenious puzzle solving. He must maneuver through lethal crystals and burning lasers to lead a Nether back to the beginning of the world to solve the brainteaser. They’re fairly basic, but they can still contain doses of ingenuity upon completion.
The other additions, Grav Links, are also welcomed to this puzzle-platformer. Purple portals are walled to most environments and Ratchet uses the Gravity Tether to shoot gravitational links between two which lands him on out of reach ledges.
While the new features are a bonus to the incredible series, it’s stripped of some minor details which helped make A Crack in Time so great. The cinematics, which pop-up when purchasing a new weapon, gave the game some light-hearted humour and playful insight towards these tools of destruction, but the brief cartoon cinematics showing off a weapon’s abilities are sorely missed. Into the Nexus replaces this by offering a try-before-you-buy motive. The gun’s customization has also altered into a skill tree rather than the direct upgrade system seen in earlier titles. The skill tree branches out into a pattern of conjoining hexagons, similar to that of a honeycomb, and players use Raritanium found throughout the game to give their weapons that extra shot of power. These skill points range from clip size to fire rate for the more basic arms and other weapons are given unique modifiers for their exclusive abilities. Mystery abilities are unlocked when a string of skill points encircle selective green hexagons which whets the curiosity of players wanting to collect enough Raritanium for whatever’s behind the mystery green boxes.
These powerful weapons help make the game an explosive fun-fest, but it isn’t very challenging, which ultimately makes its short length very noticeable. Most of my checkpoint restarts would be due to clumsily over-jumping a ledge. I finished the game on Normal within a few hours. You could start this in the afternoon and be done by the time you go to bed. I’d recommend playing on the hardest difficulty for your first play through if you want a decent challenge, or if you need to push the game out longer and take advantage of its $30 USD price tag. However, all copies of Into the Nexus receive a copy of Quest for Booty, which is a huge bonus for fans looking to revisit the sequel to Tools of Destruction.
While the game’s not difficult, the incentive to keep playing once the credits fade away is strong. There’s still Ryno schematics, skill points and Gold Bolts to collect, as well as a challenge mode which carries over your weapons and upgraded health bar to a new game, and you won’t be able to get all the PS3 trophies in one play through. I’ll be going back to grab those last remaining Gold Bolts and trying to maximise all of my weapons to see their peak potential not long after I write this review.
To me, a Crack in Time is the The Last of Us of PlayStation platformers, and really set the bar high for future additions to the series. As such, I expected great things from Into the Nexus. However, I was only left wanting more after I fired my last shot. I was hoping it’d be more than just a downloadable title. The game’s a solid addition to the series with light-hearted humour and wonderful gameplay, but it’s only half the length of Tools of Destruction or A Crack in Time. The story, while charming, is overall lackluster and doesn’t offer the climactic conclusion of A Crack in Time. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to spend a Friday night, and it’s a very welcome return to the galactic duo’s old-school adventures.