Right, let’s get this out of the way up front: fans of Ratchet & Clank, stop worrying right now, being the closing part of the Future series, Nexus is a return to form after the decidedly average All 4 One and Q-Force (Full Frontal Assault in the USA). It’s a return to the story-driven, nay, character-driven platforming-shoot-stuff-action-gameplay that we’ve all loved at some point, and thank God for that.
Though upon first glance, the story doesn’t appear to follow immediately from the events in A Crack in Time – though there are specific references to the clock of time that impact the events of the story for Nexus. Ratchet and Clank are transporting the highly dangerous space-witch, Vendra (twin sibling of Neftin), who is safely locked up in some sort of stasis field aboard their ship. Of course, it’s not long before Neftin is attacking the ship, freeing his sister, and Ratchet and Clank are off on a marauding adventure across the galaxy. This, of course, all happens in the opening section, and as you’d expect, the colourful nature of the game shines through in both its visuals, and its character. I’m not sure how they managed it, but somehow Insomniac manage to induce a strangely emotional cut-scene toward the end of this section, which comes as a bit of a surprise.
Awaking on the long abandoned (and supposedly haunted) planet Yerek, Ratchet is racked with guilt, and vows to capture Vendra and Neftin, no matter what it takes. Thus, we have the story set up for Nexus; gameplay mechanic memories refreshed, and a new-found energy and anticipation as to what Nexus can deliver – because, honestly, it’s been far too long since I’ve sat down and enjoyed a R&C game this much.
And it’s not long before it does deliver. Obviously we begin Nexus with the most basic of weaponry, reintroduced to the unbridled joy that is smashing everything that isn’t nailed down (and some things that are) to pieces with Ratchet’s wrench, but on this first planet, helping out a creature that is being bullied by Thugs 4 Less, we are given a brand new gadget that allows us to travel distances in a gravity-lifting-type-thing. Essentially, shoot a grav-burst at one of the (obviously usable) pink circles, then shoot at another, and you can travel back and forth, depending on which end you shot first. It’s a simple idea, and not one that really does much for combat, but it’s an early sign that Insomniac aren’t settling for re-tooling mechanics for Nexus, as they continue to come up with new ideas throughout. For example, the nightmare gun is ridiculous; just utterly daft. A gun that fires nightmares to scare enemies away.
New to Nexus, an early upgrade to Clank enables you to find portals to the nether. Once you find them (thanks to on-screen prompts and gentle prodding) you can hit triangle to allow Clank to go into these portals whereby you are playing a 2D side-scrolling platform mini game with a twist. Reminiscent of the Clank puzzles in A Crack in Time because they are as smart and fun, you control gravity with the right stick, allowing you to change whether Clank is upside down, right side up, or running up a wall. Once at the “end” of the puzzle, there’s a Nether enemy you must strike, then run away from. You simply have to re-navigate the 2D section back to the start, often by going a completely different way, quickly, so as not to get caught. Once the Nether enemy is lured back to the portal entrance, the gameplay shifts back to 3D Ratchet & Clank and the enemy smashes open a wall, enabling you to progress. They are, quite simply, brilliant to play. They aren’t always incredibly difficult early on, but you can unlock skill points for each and every 2D section by completing them under a certain time.
Even from this early version of the game (and it’s clearly not the finished article yet) there is just so much to love. There are returning characters (which I won’t spoil, but yes, of course he returns and is as stupid as ever), silly jokes, daft cut-scenes with even dafter voice-over – everything you associate with a Ratchet & Clank game is here and executed extremely well, like the swingshot, or the gravity boots. Even the weapon upgrade system is designed well, and ensures you don’t over-rely on a single weapon by simply rewarding the use of every weapon over time. Upgrade trees enable you to use Raritanium (found in hidden areas: some well hidden, some obvious) to both bolster your ammunition stockpile and even unlock hidden upgrades.
The platforming is tight, and the camera is responsive and easy to manoeuvre to where you want it. In fact, in many ways this is vintage Ratchet & Clank, and so easy to fall into and lose hours on end. In actual fact, when the preview build ended, I was desperate to play more, which isn’t something you can always say of an early build of a game. It’s just so addictive, familiar, and yet new. I cannot wait to play more.
Ratchet & Clank: Nexus (known as “Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus” in North America) will be released exclusively for PlayStation 3 on November 13th, 2013.