I'll admit, I was a little surprised when Insomniac Games announced that yet another Ratchet & Clank title would be heading to the PlayStation 3. 2009's A Crack In Time wrapped a satisfactory bow around the storyline. With Sony focusing on the PlayStation 4, it seemed strange that the publisher would release a big-name sequel for an old school console.
However, Into the Nexus isn't really a sequel, and referring to it as such is unfair to the previous games. It's more like a postlude or some kind of strange summary. In fact, one section in particular is literally a summation of the previous titles in the Ratchet & Clank series. Sony and Insomniac are obviously trying to put a nostalgic exclamation point at the end of the franchise's PS3 era, but there's something unusually masturbatory about the whole experience.
Part of the problem is that Nexus was created entirely for the fans. Newcomers to the series won't be able to follow the overly referential backstory, and will probably be confused by the cast of characters that come and go without any explanation whatsoever. The whole thing plays like a piece of DLC that probably should have been released in 2010.
Luckily, the storyline is so simplistic and cliché that anyone who's played a videogame, any videogame, should have no problem following along. The game begins with our heroes chauffeuring a space witch named Vendra Prog to a prison colony on the other side of the galaxy when her gargantuan brother, Neftin, crashes the party. The siblings escape, but not before doing some major damage to the supporting cast.
This jailbreak sequence is actually one of the most well-constructed opening scenes that I've ever encountered. Not only does it set the tone for the rest of the title, it gives you a step-by-step introduction to the game's unconventional controls. After you've polished off the first act, you should be accustomed to dodging debris in zero gravy, and controlling Ratchet's gravity boots--a skill that will become very handy toward the end of the game.
The controls will feel familiar to anyone who's played an R&C title within the last ten years, but Ratchet's newfound gadgetry adds another layer to the gameplay. Like most Ratchet & Clank titles, the weaponry grows increasingly massive as you progress, but weapons aren't the only contraptions that you'll need to worry about.
Every time you unlock a new level, you'll inevitably discover a piece of machinery that's conveniently placed just before an otherwise impassable area. After getting reacquainted with Ratchet's hover boots and heli-pack, I landed a shiny, new jetpack, which has been long overdue for the franchise.
Jetpacks are awesome. Everyone knows that.
Despite the game's abbreviated length (only about five hours), it doesn't actually feel short. Each level contains enough variability to keep things interesting, but the game ends long before it gets repetitive, which is good.
However, there was one element that never quite lived up to its potential. Throughout the game, Clank will detach himself from Ratchet, squeeze through an inter-dimensional portal, and wind up in a classically styled, 2D platformer. The player then uses a thumb stick to alter gravity, which allows Clank to walk on ceilings and walls (If you've ever played VVVVVV, you're familiar with the concept).
These platforming sequences are a welcome vacation from the standard third-person tedium, but they climax in the most uninteresting of ways. Perhaps Insomniac plans to flush them out in the next sequel, but for now, they seemed a bit wasted.
After their escape, Neftin and Vendra hatch a boilerplate scheme for world domination that involves importing a collection of hyper-evil monsters, called Nethers, through one of those inter-dimensional portals. However, even though the storyline isn't exactly clever, Insomniac's writers do have a knack for conjuring sincerity. In that respect, Nexus is right at home in the Insomniac catalog.
Lets be honest here. Ratchet & Clank isn't one of those franchises that inspires frantic fanboyism. In fact, every time a sequel hits the market, it arrives practically undetected, but that's part of its power. Whenever I actually sit down to play an R&C title, I'm always pleasantly surprised by how entertaining they are (of course, I'm not talking about All 4 One or Full Frontal Assault. Those games were disappointing on almost every level).
Ratchet & Clank titles are a distraction from games like Call of Duty or something to play when a toddler is in the room. I know that this might not sound a shining endorsement, but nitpicking the game's shortcomings or comparing the character development to a titles like The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite is a little silly.
Into the Nexus is good. Not great. Not bad. Just good. And anyone who tries to take a heavy-handed position is being ridiculous.