Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus Review
A Hero's Welcome, A Hero's Goodbye
All good things have to end...Into the Nexus is an ambitious title that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Unlike Full Frontal Assault, this is an entry that ends on just the right note. Everything here has been polished to a mirror sheen, with more fanservice than you can wave an omniwrench at. The art aesthetic is at its most vibrant, and the music is some of the year’s best if not this generation’s. The controls are fluid and maximize the Dualshock 3 to handle all the shooting and platforming on display. When it comes to perfectionism, Insomniac has given their all here to provide the best experience possible.
At the story’s opening we learn that Ratchet & Clank are transporting a dangerous space witch, Vendra Prog. Ratchet is still very disconnected and stoic about his failed search to find his fellow Lombaxes, but remains resolute in helping Talwyn keep the Polaris sector running. Events go awry as Vendra’s brother Neftin assaults with a fleet of Thugs-4-Less ships. Not only does the heroic duo fail to stop the villains from escaping, but two close allies die in the battle. Ratchet barely gets himself and Clank out of harms way before they are sent rattling in a crate to a quarantined planet. Things are changing, and Into the Nexus makes that very clear.
While the plot itself is not very surprising, it compensates with a fantastic cast. Both Vendra and Neftin are great foils to Ratchet & Clank, with Neftin being one of the most refreshing villains I’ve fought in a while. Instead of being a hulking idiot, he’s a tragic figure who has endured and done awful things in the service of someone he cares about. He reminds you of Joel from The Last of Us, but with a far better emotional range. Vendra is a good villain, cutting through with the type of cold psychotic edge that the Joker would approve of. Her contemptuous attitude towards Ratchet is tempered by her consistent mocking of your attempts at reasoning with her. Thugs-4-Less enemies provides plenty of laughs too with their staff memos and ironic advertisements.
Talwyn, Qwark, Cronk, Janitor, and Zephyr all make returning appearances, but are often short on screen time due to the pace of the narrative. It makes senses for a finale, and due to Ratchet’s quiet turn of mind. It gives the world a feeling of being in motion beyond just your adventure. Most of the cast simply communicate by transmitter, so the lack of facetime with series favorites is disappointing. That said, there’s a neat bit of cameoing for the various old villains and a few heroes from the PS2 era that couldn’t make it into the Future saga’s main storyline.
Poot thaat candee-cane doooown!
In addition to mixing up the plot with old favorites, the shooting is a bunch of old and new. The arsenal of toys to shoot in Nexus are mainly returning favorites, but they’ve all certainly received an upgrade. Most notably, the flamethrower and Groovitron have had some serious improvements. The former now literally fires Christmas cheer, which slows down foes and turns them into snow men who can explode into presents holding additional bolts. The later now is a Halloween jack in the box that terrifies enemies and stuns them while spewing acid. The frog cannon from A Crack in Time is now a fully artificial cannon that can slow down time for enemies with every shot and knock them back. Mr. Zurgon brings his whole family along now, and they even talk to each other while helping you blast away enemies. There’s even a brand new weapon that can only be described as a ranged melee ghost firing fist of death that is way too fun to use.
The new guns and gadgets work great, and the tune ups have made some of my favorite weapons better than ever. Listening to Christmas carols freeze enemies into snowmen while Mr. Zurgon’s family blasts then apart while talking about Little Zurgon’s allowance (“an allowance of CARNAGE”) is an experience you can’t really find anywhere else. The guns are all fun to use, save for the sniper rifle that remained relatively useless for most of the campaign. Upgrading your favorite guns is satisfying as well, featuring branching paths bought with raritanium to increase various stats and unlock hidden features like acid spray or bombs that produce more bombs with every enemy they make contact with. There are even a bunch of overcharged versions of your guns you can get with gold bolts in new game plus.
The low starting ammo for some guns makes upgrading them harder (you gain experience per-kill faster than per-shot). Still, sometimes you have to use everything in your power to survive regardless, especially one section in the late part of the first act. You’re to the third planet and have to let Clank hack a node. This results in an onslaught of enemies coming at you from down a long tunnel and then with a very tough gunship coming the other way with air support from jetpack enemies. They have plenty of ammo dispensers around but there’s a mere single health cannister and it doesn’t regenerate after you use it. What’s worse is that for this section, and only this section, dying sends you back to the beginning before you arrived at the node. If they at least had a mid-wave checkpoint, I could let this go, but this is really dumb thing to miss considering how on top of things Insomniac is about everything else. Still, that’s five to seven minutes of frustration, and you can always turn down the difficulty your first time through this part, and right after you’re rewarded with a great jetpack sequence at least. Yes, you read that right -- they’ve added a jetpack!
I ain’t ‘fraid of no Nethers!
In addition to the return of the fan favorite hoverboots, you get one of the most intuitive jetpacks I’ve ever used in a game. It’s a single button press to control, and it works great. It adds some real verticality to the game’s later levels, although it feels like it could have used an earlier introduction. Instead the far less impressive Portal Gun-like device that creates flowing energy tunnels between predetermined points gets first bat. Far from the fluid puzzles you’d expert in Aperture, this feels far more like the half-baked idea games like Inversion would try to build themselves around. The rest of the platforming plays out better though, with grav boots being used especially well. I do wish it wasn’t until the fourth planet that you get the hoverboots back.
The game has a mix of linear and non-linear missions, both of which play to their strengths. Two planets are relatively single minded treks focused on the narrative, but three other levels are presented in a more open fashion. One features an entire swamp for you to explore with the jetpack and hoverboots. Another has you in a major city during siege with multiple targets to deal with at your leisure. The last is a challenge mode style arena where you can unlock additional bolts and raritarium for upgrades, in addition to bonus gear that can help you find collectibles on your map. They’re all worth exploring, whether they have branching paths or not. Unfortunately backtracking linear levels is made awkward by some routes being permanently blocked from your first run through. You’ll definitely want to make return runs to collect the remaining gold bolts and blueprints for the latest Ryno gun. If that’s not enough, new game plus (labelled “Challenge Mode”) is another run through the campaign with all your gear, but also with beefed up enemies and challenges. It adds some much needed difficulty for once you have more than two guns maxed out, although some longer lasting battles or some form of multiplayer for the gladiator arena world would have been nice too.
Insomniac ups the visuals and aesthetics to new heights.
What’s good about the way Into the Nexus carries itself not as just an epilogue to explain what happened between the PS3 and PS4, but instead works as a send off to the entire series as it has been. Save for Resistance, Ratchet & Clank is the main IP Insomniac’s ever been known for, and you can tell they are sad to say goodbye even if it means simply to a new console. Despite a relatively positive resolution to the story, you can feel some yearning that they wished they had had more time. It’s the bittersweetness so few games have, a willingness to say “okay, our time is up here, let’s pack it up and go home”. As much as there’s still plenty of life in this franchise, Insomniac has given themselves a way out, much like they did with Resistance 3. They don’t want to milk their series until it’s dry; and as was shown with Fuse and Sunset Overdrive, they’ve got more ideas they are ready to play around with. It’s a graceful goodbye to the Future saga games; Clank’s even waving on the front of the box. That’s more than we can ask for in an era of post-release DLC retcons and drawn out finales. Insomniac's still got it!
- Fantastic, challenging shooting
- Stunning visuals that bring the worlds to life
- A jetpack that’s actually fun to use!
- One unpleasantly hard section with a badly placed checkpoint?
- A platforming mechanic that’s been done better before in Portal 2?
- It ends?