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Film

‘Ratchet and Clank’ – a surprisingly great movie tie-in game

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The Ratchet and Clank series is known for its creative weapons, creative characters, creative locations, and just being all around creative. The first game in the series set an unbreakable precedent. The next buffed out much of the stains present in the first while throwing in a lot of new mechanics. The third game followed its example and advanced the series as much as possible, introducing sweet new weapons, great set pieces, and an ambitious story. After this, the series spiraled into a direction that everybody wanted and moved onto the PS3. It started to take itself a little more seriously, delving into Ratchet and Clank’s history and upgrading the visuals immensely. These games have been seen as the pinnacle of Ratchet and Clank (Ignoring All 4 One, of course). The series had reached a plateau that seemed impossible to breach. Yet, here we are. 14 years after the release of the original Ratchet and Clank, and Insomniac has decided to start over. Maybe they wrote themselves into a ditch? Maybe they think there’s nothing else they can do with the series as it currently stands? Who knows? All that matters is that this game kicks ass.

Yes, Ratchet and Clank for PS4 is a remake/reboot/reimagining of the original game released back in 2002. As such, the story is a little similar. Though, not all of it is quite like the original’s quirky, lighthearted tale. Chairman Drek is still attempting to build a new home for his race (the Blarg) by removing chunks of other planets and piecing them together to create a new one. But, this time, he is assisted by Dr. Nefarious in the flesh (literally, as Dr. Nefarious was originally introduced in his robotic form two entries later in the series). Ratchet and Clank are still here to save to galaxy, but now they have the galactic rangers to help them (also first introduced in the third game). Captain Qwark is still a great adversary, only here, he seems to learn his lesson at the end of the story.

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Ratchet and Clank’s gameplay is extremely advanced when compared to that of its PS2 predecessor. Though, just like before, Ratchet and Clank is a shooter/platformer with a “get from A to B” mission frame. At first, the player will find themselves either locked in an intense, action-packed firefight or joyfully hopping from space to space. Later players will find themselves doing both at the same time. This is how the series has been since day one, but tweaks to the system have greatly deepened the overall experience. There’s strafing, there are weapon upgrades, and there’s even a competent lock on system, all of which were absent from the original. Instead of sharing the same arsenal of weapons with the first game, Ratchet and Clank’s selection is a mix of guns from all around the series. Using all of these tools of destruction again is a surreal trip down nostalgia lane and it’s a great way for Insomniac to celebrate their own creativity. They all feel great to use, and that’s half in part to their wackiness and half in part to the controls being the best the series has ever seen. Never was a bullet too fast to dodge, nor a ledge too hidden away to avoid. Running and gunning feels natural and the platforming is fluid and quick. 

Another big contributor to this game’s addicting gameplay is the upgrade system. Much like a skill tree, the player can use a collectible called Raritanium to give their weapons certain upgrades in a chain pattern. They can even chain in a certain way to get extra perks. In an RPG-like fashion, each weapon levels up to 5 and the higher their level, the more upgrade chains become available.  It’s a system that keeps the player clamoring for that next level up, and it’ll be a while until players run out of stuff to upgrade — especially since, after beating the main game, a challenge mode is unlocked, which allows the player to keep all of their weapons from previous playthroughs, but now players can all be upgraded to level 10 (if they buy the omega versions, of course).

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Ratchet and Clank is absolutely, dumbfoundedly, incomprehensibly gorgeous. Everything sparkles with a level of polish never seen in a Ratchet game. No matter how many bullets, bolts, or just general effects are flying through the air, the frame rate stays at an unbreakable 30 frames per second. The environments are interesting, the animations are fluid, the character models are stable (which can’t be said about the original games), every detail sticks out with vibrant color (there are a few instances of environmental clipping, but they are rare). The only real problems with Ratchet and Clank’s engine are the sizable amount of glitches (the game crashed three times while I played, and each time I had to completely restart my PS4). Other than that, Ratchet and Clank is one of the most gorgeous games in recent memory. 

Unfortunately, this reboot all but destroys one of the best parts of the series. Sometimes dramatic, sometimes heartwarming, and always hilarious, Ratchet and Clank’s stories have consistently kept the games speeding along at a satisfactory pace. But this new iteration’s is extremely lackluster. It’s not even close to as well written as the previous games. In fact, it’s missing huge chunks of plot. This game is a movie tie-in, so it’s understandable that Insomniac would want the two to share the same stories, but, it comes at the sacrifice of an actually compelling (or even complete) tale. This is the only aspect of Ratchet and Clank that has actually downgraded when compared to the original. It’s interesting that Dr. Nefarious is here this early in the series (and that he’s in his squishy form), but he feels completely forced in. As proved by the first game, Drek is an adequate main antagonist, so why replace him?

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Having Ratchet and Clank join the galactic rangers allows for the introduction of some new characters. But, none of them are interesting, nor are they unique. They feel more like personalities for the sake of having personalities. It also takes the spotlight off the main duo for a lot of the story, which is a shame, as Ratchet and Clank’s “hardheaded glory hound vs. calculating hero” dynamic was really endearing in the original. The two constantly butted heads but learned to appreciate one another in the end, which gave a reason to actually empathize with them and grow attached to them. Now, Ratchet is stereotypical ambitious farm boy who wants to join the big leagues and save the galaxy. He’s as generic as it gets, much like the story itself. It’s so disappointing to see such an unsightly blemish on an otherwise perfect gaming experience.

  • Ricardo Rodriguez

Ricardo Rodriguez may have a near crippling addiction to video games, but at least he can pull himself away long enough to write something about them. His slowly deteriorating corneas won’t stop him from following his passion, and he’s got a semi-adequate haircut to boot! If you can’t find him withering away in front of a game store at five in the morning, he’s either writing for Goomba Stomp or on his blog flipsidegamereviews.com

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mitchell Ryan

    May 15, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    I completely agree with the unfortunate short-changing of the story side of things, but the visuals almost make up for it. Great review!

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Sam Mendes Creates a Rare Cinematic Experience with ‘1917’

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1917 Review

War movies have been a constant trend in cinema since the beginning of film. From black and white propaganda pieces during World War I and II to grand, ultra-realistic, modern dramas like Saving Private Ryan, war films have intrigued filmmakers and audiences alike for over 100 years. There’s a long list of films that have succeeded in recreating the horrors of fighting on the frontlines while telling a captivating story of heroism. Telling an emotionally gripping tale combined with some visually stunning filmmaking, 1917 can now be added to that list, and is nothing short of an incredible achievement.

Directed and co-written by Sam Mendes, and starring Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, 1917 tells the story of two British soldiers during World War I that are given orders to personally deliver a message to a battalion off in the far distance. The message: to call off an attack that will result in the death of thousands, including one of the soldier’s brothers, should they fail to make it in time. Early on the two soldiers walk swiftly through crowded trenches; one of them, dragging behind yells, “Shouldn’t we think about this?” The other doesn’t reply. There’s no time to think about it. He carries on forward without looking back. The two had just been given orders, and time is now their worst enemy.

It’s this sense of urgency and persistence that drives 1917. Every minute is critical, and every moment feels dire. The two soldiers constantly push forward despite the overwhelming odds, as the life of thousands are in the lone hands of these two young men. The threat of failure is real, and 1917 never allows the audience to forget that.

Chapman and MacKay give wonderfully human performances as the main protagonists, Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield. The audience gets to know the two men through little bits of conversation amid all the tension of getting closer to enemy lines. Their deepest and darkest secrets are never revealed, yet their actions provide reasons to care about them. The two men have their differences, but it’s clear that they want to help each other see the mission to its end. Their loyalty to one another and to the mission relentlessly drives them forward, and ultimately makes it easy for the audience to hope these characters succeed.

What really sets 1917 apart from other war epics is the masterful directing by Sam Mendes. The film creates the illusion throughout that the audience is watching a single continuous shot. From the first shot until the last, the focus never strays from its protagonists, allowing the audience to experience every step as it’s taken. Aside from the characters moving into a dark trench or behind a tall structure, it can be really tough to tell just how long each take is; where the director says “action” and “cut” is blurred to a point of fascination here, and though audiences have seen prolonged shots of war in past films, this is on another level. Combined with some brilliant pacing and jaw-dropping action sequences, 1917 never loses grip of its audience, as everything is seen without pause.

It’s also worth noting that every shot is elevated by a phenomenal score by Thomas Newman (who has worked with Mendes before on Skyfall). It seems that the goal here was not only to increase the intensity and drama of each scene, but also to allow the audience to feel exactly what the characters are feeling at all times. Whether the soldiers are walking through crowded trenches, cautiously cornering buildings, or taking a brief moment to catch their breath, every bit of what they’re feeling and just how their fast their hearts are pumping is translated. The music always feels natural, even in its most dramatic moments, and it deserves high praise for complimenting Mendes’ story so well.

1917 is one of the most unique movie-going experiences in recent memory. It takes the war movie genre and does something no one has ever seen before, which is extremely difficult with so many memorable war films in cinematic history. With 1917 Sam Mendes has created an unforgettable experience that needs to be seen on the biggest screen, and it deserves to be ranked among the greatest war films of all time.

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With ‘Road to Perdition,’ Sam Mendes showed another side of Tom Hanks

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In his long, distinguished career, one thing Tom Hanks hasn’t done a lot of on screen is dispassionately shoot people. Sure, in Bonfire of the Vanities he hit a kid with his car, and in Cloud Atlas he threw someone off the roof of the building. And yes, he played a soldier in both Saving Private Ryan and the Vietnam part of Forrest Gump, and there was a third-act gunfight in his 1989 cop/dog comedy Turner & Hooch. But the one and only time Hanks has played a full-on murderer was in Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes’ 2002 meditation on fathers, sons, crime, and the legacies of violence.

Naturally, Hanks being Hanks, Mendes’ film positions his Michael Sullivan not as an irredeemable monster, but rather a humanized character who may not be beyond redemption (the film’s poster tagline was “Pray for Michael Sullivan.”) 

Set in the 1930s and adapted from a first-rate screenplay by David Self, Road to Perdition tells the story of Sullivan, a mob enforcer in Rock Island, Ill., who works for local crime boss Rooney (Paul Newman), the man who raised him. Frequently dispatched to bump off Rooney’s rivals, Michael is committed to not allow his young son, Michael Jr. (future Arrowverse actor Tyler Hoechlin), to go down the same path in life he did. 

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When the young Michael witnesses his father committing a murder, it leads to a chain of tragic events that has the two Michaels on the road to Chicago to make a deal with Al Capone’s crew (in the person of his henchman, played in one scene by Stanley Tucci), and eventually on the run from a rival hitman (Jude Law.) Meanwhile, Rooney’s jealous son, Connor (a pre-Bond Daniel Craig), schemes against him. 

Road to Perdition attaches a violent crime plot to considerations of sin and specific references to Catholicism, which is something that directors from Martin Scorsese to Abel Ferrera have done for decades. But Mendes’ film finds a new way to tell that particular story by focusing it on the gangster’s young son. 

Road to Perdition, which came out in the summer of 2003, was Mendes’ second film, and his first after 1999’s Best Picture-winning American Beauty. It’s the better film, thanks to a strong script and the work of a great cast, but more than that, it’s absolutely visually stunning in a counter-intuitive 1:33 to 1 aspect ratio. The film’s final sequences, of both the rain-drenched gunfight and the denouement on the beach, are among the most beautiful cinema of the 2000s. 

The film won the Best Cinematography Oscar for Conrad L. Hall, the third of his career, although sadly Hall passed away before the Oscar was awarded; it was accepted on his behalf by his son, Conrad W. Hall.  Hall’s Oscar was the only one the film won after it was nominated for six, although not including Best Picture or Best Actor. 

Road to Perdition came at the front end of Hanks’ nearly 20-year Oscar nomination drought, between Cast Away and this year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor. But Road to Perdition is an underrated Hanks performance. Even beyond all the murder, it’s very understated, and much more strong/silent than is typical of Hanks’ work. He also wears a hat most of the time, which Hanks doesn’t often do. 

Road to Perdition

Paul Newman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for what would be his final on-screen role, although his voice continued to be used in Pixar’s Cars movies, even after his death. As for Daniel Craig as Connor, he’s playing a character who in today’s parlance would be called a “failson,” and it’s a role that he undoubtedly has been too big a star for just a few years later. 

Sam Mendes has had something of an uneven career. His first film, American Beauty, won Best Picture, but its reputation has somewhat suffered over time for reasons fair and unfair. He’s directed great James Bond movies (Skyfall), and not-so-great ones (Spectre.) He’s made small films that were decent (Away We Go) and big ones that were disastrous (Revolutionary Road). But while he’s getting some of his best attention for 1917, which has emerged as an Oscar frontrunner, Road to Perdition stands as his most complete and satisfying work. 

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema

‘Color Out of Space’ is Pure Cosmic Horror

Festival de Nouveau Cinema 2019

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Color Out of Space Review

Color Out of Space stands out as one the best direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s work.

Even before a meteor streaks out of the sky, Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space firmly establishes an atmosphere of alien, otherworldly dread. Opening on a fog-shrouded forest dripping with foreboding atmosphere, Stanley evokes the spirit of the controversial author in a way few filmmakers have, and the use of direct quotes from the short story further cements this as a love-letter to Lovecraft and his work. But Color isn’t just a slavish ode to the influential writer and his cosmic horror creations; the South African director also injects just enough of himself into the film to create something that builds upon the core of Lovecraft’s story, maintaining that kernel of pulp horror while introducing elements that feel wholly personal to the filmmaker. For this and many other reasons, Color Out of Space stands out as one the best direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, and one of the most engrossing genre movies this year.

The film by and large maintains the narrative core of the original, recombining elements to suit the change in medium, but staying quite faithful otherwise. Nic Cage stars as Nathan Gardner, who has moved his wife and two children to a secluded country home to get away from urban life. The Gardner family’s pastoral bliss is interrupted by a meteor that strikes their farm in the dead of night, and both their home and their very bodies begin to change soon after.

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Unsurprisingly for a film with the hands of Lovecraft, Stanley, and Cage on the wheel, Color is often quite a strange experience, rife with disparate influences and odd touches. Nathan’s daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch, which is a story element that could only have come from Stanley, a magician himself. The Gardner family are also trying their hand at Alpaca farming — a bewildering plot element that feels like it could have been one of Cage’s notoriously eccentric fancies, right down to the brief lesson in Alpaca milking. Of course, Lovecraft’s passion for unknowable cosmic terrors is draped over all of this. There’s a wonderful atmosphere of dread and the unknown, about as pure an expression of Lovecraft as one could hope for in a contemporary setting. You’d think it would all make for a disjointed mishmash, but it all gels quite nicely, with the quirky family coming off as endearing more often than not. 

Color Out of Space is one of the most engrossing genre movies this year.

There are a few distracting, odd moments, like Lavinia’s turn to self-scarring in a desperate ritual to avert disaster. It largely isn’t commented on, and her sudden appearance with arcane runes carved into her flesh doesn’t end up feeling like the important story or character beat it probably should have. Likewise, Cage’s performance is on the eccentric side, with odd mannerisms and a truly strange accent taking over as the Gardner patriarch begins to go off the deep end. But then, that’s half the fun when it’s Cage we’re talking about.

Color Out of Space

Like so much of Lovecraft’s work, Color Out of Space deals with the intrusion of the unknowable and alien into the mundane waking world. While other works have had this manifest in the form of eldritch space gods or croaking fish-people, Color instead uses an alien environment as the intruder. While Stanley clearly isn’t working with a massive budget, this idea is still used to create some stunning environments as the Gardner farm’s transformation progresses, with the climax offering some of the most engaging visuals in recent memory. There’s also some truly unsettling body horror, more gruesome and explicit than anything from the story, but an organic fit for the material. Color Out of Space is Stanley’s first feature-length fiction film in around fifteen years, and by all indications, he hasn’t lost his edge. For both fans of Lovecraft and the director’s own works, there’s much to see and love here. The visuals are breathtaking, the atmosphere sumptuous, and it’s Lovecraft to the core with just enough original madness thrown in.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

Color Out of Space Review
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