Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 7: Into the Nexus
There is a reason I’ve only been covering the large flagship releases in the Ratchet & Clank series during this retrospective; they show a clear progression from game to game, and whilst some of them might be a step sideways — like Deadlocked/Gladiator — none of the games can be said to be a step backwards. That was until the 2013 release of Into the Nexus, which is the first game in the series to be a clear regression in almost every aspect.
I’d held off playing through Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus (or just Ratchet & Clank: Nexus in Europe) until recently even though I already owned it. The first time I played the game I got a sense of foreboding right off the bat that this wasn’t a Ratchet & Clank game I was going to enjoy.
The biggest problem hit me straight away: the lower FPS. It’s easy to tell the game is running below 30fps in some sections, and this makes the game a misery to play compared to the mostly rock-solid 60fps the rest of the games on the PS3 sport. The visuals are flashier, and there is a nice dynamic lighting system this time, but why a stylized game like Ratchet & Clank would you sacrifice fluidity of gameplay for graphical bells and whistles baffles me. This also gives the platforming, combat, and animations a much choppier feel. It’s hard to articulate, but after playing all of the Ratchet & Clank games in sequence this one really messed with my timing. It makes the game less fun, and can make combat a scramble when the framerate stutters making it difficult to do the rapid flips and dodging the series relies upon.
Insomniac even released a post on their website trying to hand-wave away this framerate change. They cited no sales difference between 60fps and 30fps games, even though Into the Nexus was the poorest received game of the series by far, and I suspect by the lack of availability I experienced it also sold very poorly also (Editor’s note: This is backed up by VGChartz sales numbers). The objective here was obviously to dangle flashier graphics in front of the consumer, even though in terms of visual design the game is a downgrade overall. The lighting system introduces noticeable shimmering and aliasing that can make distant objects indistinct.
A big problem with the intro to the game is the almost immediate death of Cronk and Zephyr — two minor characters from Tools of Destruction. You are meant to feel really sad about the death these two characters that have about 10 minutes of screen-time in this game, and who you didn’t see at all in A Crack in Time. The game does not earn this supposed emotional gut-punch, and it feels like a lazy way to make you dislike the new villains who only get the barest amount of fleshing out through audio-logs.
I’m sorry, I just don’t care about Cronk and Zephyr. Their “old man robot” shtick from Tools of Destruction was never that funny or endearing. It was irritating.
The story premise this time is Vendra Prog, a criminal you are transporting, is broken out of your vessel by her brother Neftin Prog. They then attempt to bring creatures called The Nethers from a parallel universe — and they are totally not the Cragmites — by using a home-made version of the Dimensionator from Tools of Destruction.
This game is much shorter than previous entries, featuring only four full planets and one battle arena. Gone is the space-flight and optional planets that made A Crack in Time have such a wealth of content. Also gone are the time mechanics, and lengthy Clank sections. This time all we have for Clank to do are 2D platforming sessions which are almost a straight rip-off of the game VVVVVV with its orientation flipping mechanics. There is no hacking and puzzle mini-game for the first time in Ratchet & Clank history, and I think you only use the Swingshot a couple of times.
The main new gadget on show here is the Grav-Tether, which is just a pink Excursion Funnel from Portal 2. They even look and function exactly the same as the Excursion Funnel; they’re just pink and you can place them between A and B targets. There are no difficult puzzles with this gadget. You just set up the tethers in the right order and ride to the next part of the level.
The weapons are one saving grace of the game as there is at least a half decent selection on show here. Even though with a shorter game you are bound to get less weapons as well. Mostly, we get the same type of fare as we did in A Crack in Time. The “Transform enemies into a thing” weapon this time is the Winterizer, but bafflingly it uses ammo and so defeats the purpose that category of weapon has had since the original Ratchet & Clank title. The Nethers, the thugs, and a few crab-like enemies you see is all the enemy variety Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus has to offer. Even within the short play time of this game you will get sick of fighting the same things over and over again.
Ratchet has been slightly re-designed in Into the Nexus, and they have him looking more like a young cartoon mascot. Captain Quark also looks really weird, deformed, and frankly creepy. How do you fuck up this badly in only four years? The Gadets system is re-worked; removing the ability for the circle button to fire weapons, and instead becomes a purely content sensitive gadget button. This means if you are in mid-air, and the game decides you are slightly the wrong angle to register one of these context sensitive commands, you’re out of luck.
We’re given a jetpack similar to the Levitator in Ratchet & Clank 2, but not a huge amount to do with it besides awkwardly fly around the map and a few Thugs for Less courses. Combat with the jetpack is miserable; you are better at landing if you aim upwards. The hover boots also make a comeback late in the game, but there isn’t anywhere near as much to do with them as in A Crack in Time. And they are also implemented poorly, now having a dedicated button press. The problem is it’s the same button you need to press to do the boost-jump move, and if you have any momentum at all you will deploy the hover-boots and sail off the edge of a platform — a needlessly frustrating design. Why can’t we just use the D-pad to select Gadgets like in the previous game? That was a great system, and now the D-pad does sweet fuck all. I don’t understand how the series can regress like this.
Another main problem with the game is that is doesn’t seem to grasp the lore and character of the call-backs it is making to the other games. When A Crack in Time brought back Dr. Nefarious, it did so perfectly and seamlessly. When Into the Nexus brings back Thugs for Less they might as well be any other generic enemy. There are admirable attempts to bring some personality to them during their battle arena sections, but we don’t have a Thug leader this time to bring them any unique character as an organization. They are just kind of there. I swear to god I also heard one character talk about “The Explosion of the Great Clock” which makes absolutely zero sense.
Into the Nexus feels more like a rushed sequel to Tools of Destruction, and fails to builds upon the continuous story arc in A Crack in Time. There was so much potential, and so many unfollowed threads in that game, and none of them are revisited here.
What happened to Orvis? Are people just going to leave the Great Clock alone now its secret is out? If there is temporal instability caused by the Progs? Why hasn’t the Great Clock picked it up?
You can’t introduce an all-powerful device like the Great Clock in a supposedly continuous series that has been building on the logic of the previous games for the past two and a half entries and expect people to forget it exists. If you’re a fan of the game like I am, then Into the Nexus has many niggling frustrations like this. It feels like it was developed by a team that didn’t have the same grasp of the series as the previous games. It’s depressing to have such a wide universe set up just to go off on some 5 hour side-quest against foes you don’t really care about.
I can’t in all good conscience recommend Into the Nexus because of its uneven framerate alone. When a die-hard fan like me has trouble making it past the intro because the lens-flare and stuttering is giving me headache then I dread to think what someone used to the butter smoothness of a modern Mario game would think. I can’t stress just how dramatic the change of gameplay feels in this game. You can adjust to it given some time, but why should you have to play around a poor and lazy design choice? It’s not a horrible game otherwise aside from that — just a short and disappointing one. The game goes through the motions of being Ratchet & Clank, but squander’s the opportunities hard won by its predecessors.
Favorited Weapon: The Zurkon Family
Favourite Gadget: The Excursion Funnel- I mean Grav-Tether, since it’s the only gadget you really use.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for future retrospectives!
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