Following last year’s comparatively disappointing Ratchet & Clank spin-off Q-Force, Insomniac will this year return to and complete the series’ Future arc, last seen in 2009’s stellar A Crack in Time.
As the franchise has worn on, Ratchet and Clank games have slowly tackled more mature topics, and Nexus begins with something of a shock development that appears to set up a themes of coping with loss as well as the repercussions of past actions. However, it’s still a Ratchet & Clank game so most of this is an undercurrent: the series’ trademark humour and outsized characters return with full force.
A pair of new villains are included in the latter. The game begins with huge cyborg ape Neftin busting his altogether more human-looking and reasonably-sized twin sister Vendra out of maximum security jail on the Nebulox Prison Ship. Vendra is some manner of space witch with weird telekinetic powers, whereas her bulky brother oversees a particularly reptilian chapter of Thugs-4-Less hired goons.
Although unable to prevent the pair’s escape, Ratchet and Clank nonetheless pursue them to Yerek, a planet widely considered to be haunted. However, the ghosts dwelling therein are actually Nethers, strange shadowy creatures from another dimension. With the help of Pollyx – everyone’s favourite Terachnoid – the titular duo research this new threat, while also platforming, puzzling, and blasting their way through to the villains on the lam.
Insomniac is wise to continue its focus on story. Blasting aliens with the game’s assortment of weapons remains as satisfying as ever, but 12 games in the surprises in that department are likely to be few. That said, players have been promised new kit in the form of a Vortex Cannon which sucks enemies into a black hole, and the Winterizer, which creates a tornado that freezes enemies, turning them into snowmen.
The only new gun in this preview is the Nightmare Box, a device creates demons to distract or frighten enemies. However, there is also a device that creates a beam of light between two portals for Ratchet to float along, allowing him to cross chasms and reach otherwise inaccessible sections of a level. Many of the game’s puzzles consisted of aligning these portals to progress, but all were fairly simple.
Slightly more of a puzzle challenge is found in Rifts, small levels Clank must enter to awaken a Nether and lead it through to the real world. These fun wee levels play out as 2D Metroidvania-style platformers, except the right analogue stick controls the direction of gravity, allowing objects too heavy for Clank to drag to be levitated out of the way. Initially puzzle-focussed, these levels become an action-packed and frantic dash for the rift exit once the Nether within is roused, lest Clank become an interdimensional shadow-thing's dinner.
Elsewhere, Nexus is business as usual: swinging on tethers, double-jumping between floating islands, hitting dudes with a spanner, and upgrading amusingly-destructive weapons. These mechanics are strong as ever, although the ability to dodge roll and sprint would be nice. The quality of the cutscenes we saw is also high, and the voice acting uniformly good and suitably silly.
Although Nexus is the last of Ratchet & Clank’s four Future titles and in all likelihood the final game of the franchise for PlayStation 3, it is still very accessible. Newcomers won’t be lost plot-wise, they just won’t recognise some returning familiar faces, like the hapless Captain Qwark. In fact, they are to be envied – Nexus played great despite the clearly unfinished nature of the preview code, and is looking like yet another terrific entry in the celebrated platform-'em-up franchise.