Ratchet & Clank returned earlier this year to Sony’s PlayStation 4 console in the form of a remake of the original title, which simultaneously tied in with a film by the same name. However after playing through this adventure there is plenty that might be considered “off” about it, especially when stood next to the numerous Ratchet & Clank games before it. Yet this may well all be influenced by how the narrative is framed, for this isn’t a strict by the book retelling, this is a retelling courtesy of the infamous Captain Qwark! The game begins with an incarcerated Qwark meeting an enthusiastic prisoner who wishes to hear Qwark’s side of “the incident with you [Qwark] and that Lombax.” Of course given the narrator is a narcissistic and delusional individual, a lot embellishment on his behalf is to be expected. By discussing various aspects of the game, such as it’s gameplay, plot, characterisation and presentation, we can see how these “off” parts are in large part thanks to the man in charge of the narrative.
Thankfully, the gameplay of this remake is just as solid as Ratchet & Clank has ever been, yet a lack of advancement to the formula doesn’t do the game any favours. The typical tropes have all returned with Ratchet, his omniwrench and spectacular array of weaponry taking centrefold. The arsenal this time is a collection of favourite items from past games meaning there’s something for every fan to enjoy. All of the typical aspects and weapons play exactly as one would expect because generally there isn’t anything in this game to surprise us. This is because Captain Qwark need not embellish where gameplay is concerned; we all know this series by now and even the prisoner he’s telling the story to has pre-ordered the “holo-game” himself. For Qwark, all he need do is throw in a couple of Ratchet’s most famous weapons and we’ll be entertained regardless. Sadly other factors of the game aren’t so lucky…
For indeed this is Qwark’s story and thus parts are bound to suffer, namely the titular characters, Ratchet and Clank themselves. Two two seem to bond instantly, which most certainly contrasts with their relationship in the original game. Ratchet is far less cocky and much more willing to work with Clank than he was initially, and the entire episode of hostility between the two mid-way through the game is entirely absent from Qwark’s narrative. Clank too is much less integral to the plot as a whole, merely being a helping hand to Ratchet rather than the heroic driving force of the original. Their relationship is further blundered as there’s a huge lack of dialogue between the two within the gameplay. Conversation is almost entirely confined to them reminding one another of the current objective and occasionally encouraging the other between set pieces. Indeed both characters are almost entirely devoid of their well-known personalities, and actually there’s good reason why.
Qwark, even after all these years, quite likely knows nothing about Ratchet or Clank as individuals and besides, this isn’t even their story but his own. His delusions are very much intact in prison as he claims”I’ve been away from my adoring public in this forsaken place too long”. To Qwark he is still a hero, despite a quite extensive history of misdeeds (he was the main antagonist of Ratchet & Clank 2 after all). Due to this Qwark cannot give Ratchet or Clank true realisation as his version of the story only requires them to fill typical hero roles. Qwark even claims that this game titled ‘Ratchet & Clank’ is “a game based on a holo-film based on my life”. Thus Qwark does a poor job at giving them personalities, it is both unnecessary for him and beyond his capabilities.
Yet Qwark’s narcissism bleeds further into the overall plot, adjusting the very quality of the game’s presentation in the process. Cutscenes taken directly from the film are some of the most luscious seen in video gaming, with many reviewers comparing the quality to the like of Pixar animation studios. These of course involve the major plot points of the narrative, and unsurprisingly most always involve Captain Qwark in some way. For instance it is his reaction the the destruction of the planet of Novalis that is focused on, (the destruction of which doesn’t even happen in the original game…) as it is his character development we are to be most invested in. Thus scenes such as Clank encouraging Ratchet to return to the Galactic Rangers feel altogether flat because Qwark is trying to conveniently and quickly move the plot forwards despite not really knowing how to develop them convincingly. This trickles into the game’s exclusive scenes as Ratchet’s exchanges with the supporting cast are very flat and rigid occasions. Gone are the exuberant character animations and replaced by two characters standing awkwardly in front of each other, an attempt at bringing them to life is made but largely unsuccessful. Thus big personalities from the series past such as a The Plumber and Big Al fall on the wayside with their roles diminished through the transition to this reboot. This is because these characters do not interact with Qwark, and again his inept storytelling fails to give them life. Thus while he himself is animated wonderfully in his cutscenes, no one else is afforded such treatment as ultimately he is the only character he can actually give any realisation toward.
This all culminates into what is perhaps the most sly narrative embellishment that Qwark works adds to his story. This revolves around the underwhelming inclusion of Dr. Nefarious (appearing pre-robotised), a character originally introduced in Ratchet & Clank 3. He feels misplaced in this title overall, and when he fires a sheepified Drek into space it’s clear he has taken over as the main villain of this remake. Thus Ratchet faces Nefarious aboard the De-Planetiser as the final boss rather than Drek on his home world of Veldin, drastically changing the conclusion of the game. Within this new finale, Qwark recognises Nefarious as the true threat and in many ways his redemption is conclusive, especially considering Ratchet and Clank decide to save him from selflessly sacrificing himself. Thus with Nefarious exploding in the dwarf star he created, Qwark has gained some ground in redeeming his name, something he didn’t accomplish until the end of Ratchet & Clank 3. In essence, Qwark has written the events of the second game, where he is revealed to be the main antagonist, and large portions of the third game out of history. Thus the ending perhaps wraps up too nicely with Qwark lacking a lot of the character development he received over the series. If he perhaps had not embellished so much of his past, he might have realised it actually makes him look stronger in the present.
Of course there’s no way of really proving when Qwark’s incarceration in this remake takes place in series’ chronology, or whether we really ought to consider this a new separate timeline. Ultimately though the latest Ratchet & Clank falls short of the quality of earlier instalments, as there is much that feels off about the game as a whole. The characters don’t seem to ring true as they once did and the plot is nowhere near as engaging as many of the duo’s past adventures. However once we indeed consider the narrative framework of the game we can explain these anomalies away. This is Captain Qwark’s story through and through, filled with shortcomings typical of the narrator’s character. The origins of Ratchet & Clank are ultimately much more interesting without the embellishments of this delusional hero, but then again, a remake is all the more worthwhile from a different perspective and the game is, if nothing else, an interesting insight into one of the series most beloved and infamous characters.
What did everyone else think of the latest Ratchet & Clank game? Is it easier to swallow its shortcomings by blaming the Qwark himself? Please share any thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!