(RATCHER & CLANK is out June 11. Distributor provided review copy.)

Those old enough to remember SUPER MARIO 64 will instantly recognize a special shiver upon starting RATCHET & CLANK. The kind that shoots down your spine and makes you sit up straight. Something special is on the way.

That’s because RATCHET & CLANK: RIFT APART is a genre-defining masterpiece, a unique tour-de-force that takes everything familiar in the genre and, using the latest cutting edge technology, infuses it with newfound life. Coupled with superb writing, a winning cast, and a blend of semi-open-world exploration and on-the-rails spectacle, Insomniac’s return to their iconic franchise is the first must-own console-seller of a generation.

For a new generation, this will be the game they talk about with reverence in the years to come.

Old friends

RIFT APART picks up years after the heroic duo’s last outing. The galaxy is safe, and both Ratchet and Clank are growing complacent in their status. During yet another yearly gala, their arch-nemesis, Dr. Nefarious, strikes once again. What should be a routine operation in stopping the madman goes unexpectedly wrong, as Clank’s newest invention, a dimension-hopping device ends up in the wrong hands. With all realities at risk, Ratchet and Clank must work alongside new friends to stop Nefarious once and for all.

The series has a pedigree for its terrific voice acting, and the latest installment is no exception. Led by returning stars James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye, RIFT APART also introduces Rivet, played by Jennifer Hale. Certain to become a massive fan-favorite, Rivet is Ratchet’s counterpart from another dimension. A witty, ingenious adventurer in her own right, she serves as one of the main protagonists for much of the game.

The decision to jump around with the main characters pays off. Both Ratchet and Rivet are distinct personalities, even as they essentially play the same. Thanks to smart writing, I found myself instinctively experiencing the game in different ways depending on who I was controlling. Ratchet is still the “do first, think later” rascal we’ve come to know and love. Rivet, on the other hand, while never shirking from a challenge or helping others, contemplates at least a few moments before leaping.

Brilliant design

The entire opening sequence to RIFT APART is a thing of beauty that effortlessly introduces the world to new players while allowing veterans to bask in the comforting waters of nostalgia. The smart design covers all the basics efficiently, disguising the essentials under a jaw-dropping spectacle. By the time you realize you’re learning the fundamentals, you’re already spellbound by the promise of what the next generation holds.

A lot of this is thanks to Insomniac Games growing and learning from the past. After the ambitious but flawed SUNSET OVERDRIVE and the superlative SPIDER-MAN, RIFT APART takes the next logical leap. Everything from platforming to combat is super smooth, and level design is better than ever. As the story develops, the levels grow grander in scope to staggering heights. While there’s not a true open-world to explore, each hub is so vast, and getting to them happens so quickly you barely notice loading screens.

Insomniac has been open about their love of the SSD technology in the PlayStation 5. Seeing the game in action, it no longer is a surprise why. None of this would be possible on any other generation. Loading screens are almost non-existent, and during my twenty hours plus with the game, I saw no stutters anywhere. RIFT APART journeys between time, space, and everything in between, and the result is flawless.

For example, I was hunting for the last few collectibles on a map and nonplussed how to get them. My usual efforts of double-jumping and gliding were all for naught. I soon realized that it is necessary to combine jumping, gliding, wall-running, and dimensional rifts and hook shots. All into one fluid movement that defies all laws of spacetime. It sounds daunting, but RIFT APART handles so precisely that even failure feels like a teachable moment.

An technical feast

It bears repeating; RIFT APART is stunningly gorgeous and features some of the best art direction ever seen in games. Every aspect shines, and not a single level goes by without a dozen “how did they do that?” moments. By the time the game broadens to encompass one of many open-worlds, RIFT APART raises the bar for all others that follow.

RIFT APART also runs hugely impressively. Despite a constant barrage of information on the screen, I experienced no frame-drops or skips at any point. Instead, the gorgeous animations and spectacular lighting effects never failed to make an impact. One level, in particular, involving a railway system best described as ‘elaborate,’ would probably leave the poor PS4 begging for mercy.

Then there’s the wonderful accessibility options, each designed to make the game enjoyable for everyone. From the high contrast backgrounds to skippable QTE’s, RIFT APART makes the experience a pleasure no matter who’s holding the controller.

Speaking of the controller, Insomniac follows RETURNAL in proving that the new DualSense really is the future. Every weapon behaves differently, and that difference is in every trigger pull. The massive arsenal, where everything is fun to use, consistently rewards experimentation. From traditional laser beams to bullets that keep returning to comically whack enemies around, each aspect is a joyous revelation.

Elsewhere, deft traversal mechanics and interesting level design keep the pace brisk. Rockets hum and rattle the controller; the ground crunches under your feet. Discovering items rewards players with happy little buzzes and sounds, which become second nature the longer you play.

A must-have title

More important than the impressive graphical capabilities is the well-written story. Spearheaded by lead writer Lauren Mee, RIFT APART stands out thanks to its wholesome and endearing tone. The characters maintain their established snark, but it’s so nice to find a game that’s inherently kind.

It’s the type of story that works for the whole family, but never talks down the youngest members while still providing content for adults. The humor is reminiscent of Pixar at their finest, and there are more than a handful of really touching scenes I didn’t expect.

RIFT APART is also a surprisingly long experience, yet it never feels stretched out. The halfway point could easily have wrapped things up and still delivered a fine ending. But upon realizing I still had a lot more to do, I found myself elated rather than dismayed. These are characters I want to spend time with, and a world so rich I didn’t want to leave.

Insomniac have created an instant masterwork of the genre. An adventure so captivating you want to see it to the end, and gameplay so diverse and inclusive that, finally, everyone can do so. It hits every beat just right, never missing a step in putting on a show. There’s so much technical wizardry going on behind the curtain, I can’t even begin to parse it.

Usually, the first games of a generation give faint indicators of what to expect. Rarely, if ever, do they define the direction which all others should follow. RIFT APART is the latter. It’s the highpoint of a genre and one of the finest games ever made.