PAX13 Preview: A Return to Form with ‘Ratchet and Clank: Into The Nexus’

Featured PAX 2013 PS3 Ratchet and Clank

Ratchet & Clank are a force of nature. Ever since the heroic Lombax and his robotic companion debuted on the PlayStation 2, Insomniac’s dynamic duo has spawned a dozen games across multiple Sony platforms, becoming one of the most prolific exclusive franchises in the PlayStation family. Unfortunately, interest in the adventures of Ratchet and Clank has waned, with Insomniac’s efforts to experiment with different gameplay styles–including four-player co-op and tower defense–meeting some resistance (no pun intended) among faithful series stalwarts. Many hoped for a return to the height of the characters’ popularity, and Insomniac seems ready to deliver this holiday with Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus.

Coming to PlayStation 3, Into the Nexus is the final game in the “Future” series of Ratchet & Clank games that included Tools of DestructionQuest for Booty, and A Crack in Time. While eschewing the title of Ratchet & Clank FutureInto the Nexus plays and feels like the return to form fans had waited for. James Stevenson, marketing and community lead for Insomniac, walked me and other PAX goers through the demo, showing off just a sample of the new gadgets, worlds, and puzzles that Ratchet and Clank will encounter in their journey.

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It’s hard to deny that the team at work on Into the Nexus aren’t talented men and women, as the levels on display were gorgeously rendered. While cel-shading has been popular in similar genre games like Sly Cooper, Insomniac’s dedication to Pixar-quality animation in a full 3D environment continues to astound. The developer’s familiarity with the PS3′s architecture this late in the console cycle is evident in the over-saturated sunsets, seen above, and flash pyrotechnics and expressive character animations, seen below.

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One thing that Ratchet & Clank games shall never find lacking is the inclusion of creative and powerful weapons, and Into the Nexus is no exception. Our demo began with the most basic of tools: your Omniblaster, Fusion Grenades, and of course Ratchet’s trusty wrench. Very quickly a number of other weapons came into our possession, including the Winterizer–seen above turning enemies into non-threatening snowmen–and the Nightmare Box, which scared enemies into a stupor for you to put the hurt on up close or from afar. The notable inclusions to your arsenal are the gravity-based gadgets like the Repulsor and the Vortex Grenades. Stevenson mentioned in our playthrough that gravity was a key component to the game’s story and puzzles, and these weapons are a small part of that larger picture. The Repulsor suspends your enemies in mid-air, allowing you to pick them off more easily, while the Vortex Grenades create a powerful mini black hole to deal major damage to your enemies.

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Traversal is also tied to gravity-based devices, and the Grav Tether was the one prominently on display. Using the Grav Tether to connect two adjacent portals allows Ratchet to be transported from one point to another in moments, and Stevenson promised that full exploration of Into the Nexus‘s maps would require trying various combinations of tether points to find all of the game’s numerous collectibles and secret areas. Making the transition from hovering in a Grav Tether to jumping headlong into combat was a cinch, and led to a few quick and intense battles thanks to the element of surprise thanks to Ratchet’s sudden apperance.

By far my favorite section of the demo came at the very end. After defeating enemies, bounding around luscious landscapes, and blasting through a few caverns, Ratchet and Clank discover the game’s namesake: temporal nexus portals. These portals, once opened, bring Clank front and center in the gameplay. Within each nexus is a creature, one that Clank has to provoke before hightailing it back to the portal’s entrance. In order to get to them, and escape with all robotic limbs intact, Clank has to traverse a 2-dimensional platforming/puzzle room. Using the controller’s D-Pad, Clank can manipulate gravity to walk on ceilings, change direction and cling to walls, or restore gravity to fall quickly to the ‘ground.’ Clank can also affect the gravity of other objects, using this feature to move boxes onto switches and deactivate laser walls or open new areas. Once you’ve found the nexus creature, Clank has to haul out of the area, avoiding obstacles and racing the creature back to the area entrance. Should Clank succeed and close the portal before the creature can leap through, the nexus will seal and crack, giving he and Ratchet access to previously unavailable areas behind the walls the nexus portals were laid.

While I enjoyed my time with Insomniac’s latest, this was an early build of the game, and a bit more work will certainly be going into the game before its Holiday 2013 release window. In demonstrating just how rusty I was with the mechanics of a Ratchet & Clank game, I plummeted to my death more than once in the same area, and the second time resulted in a nearly demo-breaking clipping as Ratchet’s falling body became stuck in the cliff face. A minor bug to be sure, but an amusing one that even had Mr. Stevenson wondering if perhaps he should have reconsidered our playthrough.

Okay, maybe not. In any case, Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus looks and feels like the Ratchet and Clank games of old, and that’s a very welcome thing. Into the Nexus launches exclusively on PlayStation 3 this holiday season, expect more information on an exact release date in the weeks and months to come. Until then, keep it here at SonyRumors for all the latest.

Discuss:

Is this the Lombax you’re looking for, or should he go about his business? (Yes, a Star Wars reference. I’m @JamesTSkywalker, I have to throw one in from time to time.)

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