If you’ve been a fan of the Ratchet & Clank franchise since 2002, and its numerous cross-platform sequels, you’ll have your hopes up about the latest release, Nexus. You’ll be expecting humour, a crazy arsenal of weapons, an engaging story (involving classic characters such as Captain Quark), and enough fun to fill a space freighter.
And you’ll get it.
Nexus cracks along from the get-go. The story opens with heroes Ratchet (the last living Lombax) and his robotic buddy Clank charged with escorting the psychotic Vendra Prog to a maximum security prison. Unfortunately her equally psychotic - and absolutely gigantic - twin brother Neftin is still on the loose. Ratchet and Clank must keep their wits about them, as all the signs point to a rescue attempt.
Developers Insomniac didn’t become the success they are by accident: this latest release has poise, polish, humour, and a hint of drama too; everything required to really keep the player engaged. Despite multiple releases over the last decade, they have maintained a generally very consistent quality product for their eager audience, and Nexus is more of the same good old Lombax-and-three-veg fare we’ve come to expect.
The major appeal of playing a Ratchet & Clank title has always been the outlandish weaponry. The pleasure is in carefully upgrading your weapons by particular skill, and rationing out your ammo to suit the opponent - there’s nothing worse than being left to feebly smack a baddie of Bayonetta proportions with your wrench. But don’t let the fact that you can turn your enemies into snowmen fool you into thinking the game is going to be easy. The weapons have to be bought gradually, as you find enough bolts (the game's currency) along the way to afford bigger and better weapons. You can also gradually modify and improve all your weapons by upgrading them with collected raritanium, the mineral found sparingly in nooks and crannies on all the planets you visit.
Add to that the sheer comedy value of being able to turn your enemies into Christmas snowmen, terrify them with a screaming clown plant, or blast them backwards in slow motion like a scene from a John Woo film, and you’ve got hours of entertainment just from the weapons alone.
For the record: my favourite weapon of all time will always be Mr Zurkon. This time there are other Zurkons, too. I sometimes like to get Mr Zurkon out even when I’m not in a fight, just to keep Ratchet and Clank entertained while jogging around planets. I enjoy the way he smack talks enemies, tells Ratchet that his time shouldn’t be wasted on crates, or that “Mr Zurkon has no need for bolts . . . his currency is paaaaain.”
The controls stick firmly to the tried and true: use triangle to select from your weapon wheel, and use the shoulder button to fire. The automatic camera angle is generally pretty good, but you can control it manually using the right stick if needed. As you gather equipment you can rocket, hoverboot, and activate energy streams that you can use as bridges. The controls remain easy to operate, even with these multiple gadgets to manage.
New to this title is Clank’s ability to enter the Nexus (a darker, more scary, dimension). It’s a fun new side scrolling dynamic, where you move Clank around with the left stick, and use the right stick to shift the gravitational field. These mini levels are artistically very different, with a purple and black nightmare look about them, reminiscent of PlayStation classic Heart of Darkness.
Throughout the story, the script is laugh out loud funny, and the characters are as endearing as ever. Some examples of the brilliant in-game enemy quips include “I’m going to kill you, and it’s going to look really good on my resume”, “Hey! He hit me with his omniwrench!” and “Oooh, dibs on that omniwrench!”
Best of all: when you need to obtain the upgraded rocket pack to progress through the story, it naturally appears as the prize in the gladiatorial contest. The announcer says “This oddly specific prize will allow your robot to...”
The only disappointing factor is that Nexus isn’t especially long. The planets featured all have their own distinct look and beautifully crafted environments, but sady there just aren’t that many of them. The Planet Thrag is a particularly fun place that you can spend an extended amount of time exploring. There are numerous small islands and giant animals to hunt, items to collect, and quests to complete for another old friend. And, once you get all the gadgets, the world expands even more; it’s a real pleasure to explore the whole map and gather up every available bolt to buy more weapons and armour.
Nexus will delight new players and veterans alike with its humour, enjoyable gameplay, and captivating story. And if you’re disappointed with it being finished too soon, you can always play through again on a harder difficulty level, and see if your Lombax has the necessary skills to be known as Legend. Recommended.