The delayed – and still ongoing – transition to a new console generation has not been kind to some established series. Both God Of War and Gears Of War wrapped up their trilogies before fourth entries were deemed necessary, the law of diminishing returns applying in both instances. In Ratchet And Clank’s case, we’ve witnessed two lacklustre spin-offs in the form of the multiplayer-focused All 4 One and the MOBA-inspired Q-Force (née Full Frontal Assault) before this coda to the Future story, which seemed to have come to a natural conclusion in 2009 PS3 release A Crack In Time. Given the lukewarm response to Insomniac’s tinkering, it’s little surprise to see the developer return to safer territory, but as solid as its foundations are, these are nuts and bolts that were established in the PS2 era. The sense of familiarity is stifling.
Indeed, if it wasn’t clear that Nexus is one for the fans, it’s soon apparent from the opening scenes, which assume a fairly extensive knowledge of the universe and its inhabitants. It quickly introduces a new antagonist in the form of a space witch named Vendra Prog and her hulking sibling Neftin, whose arc you can predict from the moment he’s introduced. Part-time love interest Talwyn Apogee pops up to warn Ratchet that she “isn’t like the other criminals we’ve faced”, only for her to turn out almost exactly like the other criminals the duo have faced, albeit with a more interesting motivation behind her nefarious activities. She releases a powerful extraterrestrial force called the Nethers – a rather tired, tame gag in a series that has historically leant on sniggering double-entendre – and it’s up to our heroes to once again save the galaxy from a malevolent evil.
Two terrific early gags aside, this is an alarmingly humourless tale for a series known for the quality of its scripts. The plot moves at a decent pace, but even the lead pair’s odd-couple banter feels tired, the dialogue troublingly short of the witty comebacks and wry asides for which it’s usually known. Insomniac’s knack of touching upon serious themes while maintaining the feel of a family-friendly action romp seems to have deserted it in all but a handful of moments. Nexus is a buddy comedy with two straight men.
If the plot appears to be going through the motions, the same isn’t entirely true of the game itself. A new Grav Tether allows for some gentle Portal-esque environmental puzzles as Ratchet creates gravity streams between two targets, often leaping between two or more in mid-flight, blasting foes and retrieving battery bots along the way. All 4 One’s jetpack is a welcome inclusion, though its use is disappointingly sporadic; still, the inevitable arena combat aside benefits from its presence, and it’s pleasingly responsive to control.
The weapons, too, are reliably inventive. The Nightmare Box brings forth robotic decoys from metallic clowns to grim reapers, while the Winterizer is a festive treat, transforming enemies large and small into snowmen while a refrain of Jingle Bells chimes merrily away in the background. The Temporal Disruptor, meanwhile, is a shotgun that generates a temporary stasis field around enemies it connects with, and is every bit as wonderful – if overpowered – as it sounds. Find enough Raritanium crystals to upgrade it with and it even functions at a decent range, making short work of what might otherwise be rather arduous boss encounters. You won’t find glowing weak spots here, but the most basic unloading, jumping and strafing tactics are enough to deal with just about anything Insomniac throws at you.
Still, as shallow as the combat may be, it’s preferable to Clank’s interludes. After A Crack in Time managed to give Ratchet’s diminutive sidekick a worthwhile aside, the 2D sections he’s used in here recall Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. The object here is to guide a Nether creature through a rift to the real world to drill through obstructive walls, an idea that has promise but is squandered by its entirely prescriptive use. Moreover, the gravity-flipping puzzles themselves are insultingly simple; little wonder Clank seems reluctant to be a part of them.
As if wary of the limitations of its individual elements, Insomniac brings the adventure to a close fairly quickly – and yet, with a runtime closer to A Quest For Booty than A Crack In Time, this is an expensive epilogue. A much tougher Challenge mode unlocks when you’re done, but it’s hard to imagine anyone having the heart to play through it again. It’s a perfectly serviceable adventure that you’ll play through with few frustrations, but will likely have forgotten by the following morning. Ratchet and Clank’s story ends, then, not with a bang, but with a half-hearted shrug.