Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Is Too Afraid To Explore Loneliness
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game about loneliness. It’s a game about robot monsters, dimensional disasters, and turning your enemies into hedges as well, but at its core, it’s a game about loneliness. As Ratchet & Clank games go, Rift Apart commits to the story. The platformer is not traditionally a narrative-rich genre – even if Jak 2 is responsible for Naughty Dog’s darker storytelling that led to The Last of Us – and with the exception of A Crack in Time, Ratchet has traditionally downplayed narrative. There’s still a consistent story across all three games, but for the most part it has ticked away in the background. Rift Apart brings it to centre stage.
This article contains major spoilers for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
While Rift Apart tries to give the story a greater focus, it doesn’t quite stick the landing. It follows the traditional PlayStation narrative in some ways, giving us an emotional story driven by action sequences and a tale that relies on moments that resonate over complex tapestries or sudden twists. Ratchet takes itself less seriously and has more fun than most other Sony blockbusters – a smart choice given its cartoonish aesthetic – but it clearly comes from the same school of thought. However, while the story is the most cohesive and layered Ratchet has ever had, it still feels a little off-pace. Being cartoonish explains the change in tone, but as Up, Wall-E, Toy Story, Big Hero 6, and Spider-Verse show us, that look doesn’t mean you’re incapable of telling stories that impact people on the deepest level.
The main reason Rift Apart falls slightly short is because it leans out when it should lean in. There are four central characters in the game – the titular Ratchet and Clank and their dimensional alternates, Rivet and Kit. Unlike their male counterparts, Rivet and Kit are not a partnership. Both are missing something important in their lives, and try to cope with this in different ways – Rivet throws herself into adventure, while Kit casts herself out to go and live with monks. There’s a clear, likely unintentional trans reading of how Kit’s story is constructed, and she’s also the best example of the game following through on its themes of loneliness.
Kit is easily the game’s loneliest character. Built by Nefarious for destruction, she flees to a far off planet to study with the monks after maiming a civilian. It later turns out this civilian was Rivet, which is a crucial part of Kit’s arc. With the monks, Kit finds something of a purpose. However, it’s clear her primary reason for being there is to keep everyone else away. When Ratchet suggests they team up, she repeatedly turns him down – not because she doesn’t like Ratchet, but because she doesn’t like herself. She thinks people around her get hurt, that nobody likes her, and that she only brings misery. It’s a self-inflicted loneliness in some ways, but make no mistake – Kit is a deeply lonely character.
With Rivet, it’s not so simple. She’s a Ratchet without a Clank, right? But what does that actually mean in practise? We’re told Rivet is lonely, and that she’s slow to trust, but that doesn’t seem like it’s particularly true. Rivet is a key part of the Resistance and is warm, bubbly, and sociable. There’s an inner, existential loneliness that comes with being the last one of her species, but despite what the game tries to tell us, she never seems that lonely on an individual level. If Rivet is a Ratchet without a Clank, it seems all Clank does for Ratchet is make him less witty, less brave, and less fun to be around. She might need Clank, Ratchet, and Kit in order to defeat Nefarious, but that’s not really loneliness so much as it is a necessity. Rivet never resists working together, nor does she seem unsuited to it, because she never seems like a character who is or ever has been lonely.
It’s difficult to criticise Rivet too much – she’s the star of the game, outshining Ratchet despite him having decades of lore to back him up. She’s not just a new character there to freshen things up, she’s a joy to be around and is a huge part of why the game is so special – but that’s a problem, at least thematically. Unlike Kit, we see no transformation from Rivet as the game goes on. She’s such a brilliant character that not much evolution is needed. She learns to work together a little bit more, maybe? But even then, one quick look at Clank’s memories and she’s all in. Even when she discovers it was Kit that injured her, Rivet is the bigger person, trying to convince Kit to continue working with the gang.
If we’re to believe Rivet is a Ratchet without a Clank, she needs to be less likeable, at least in the beginning. We need to see how time with Clank, or with a partnership of any sort, changes her. Rivet is a brilliant character, but she’s consistently brilliant, never mean or bitter or defensive. It makes her popular in her own right but undercuts the game’s ability to explore loneliness as a theme.
With Ratchet and Clank themselves, the loneliness is even less clear – but it’s still frequently mentioned, with the game being eager to establish it as crucial without having enough foundation to back it up. Ratchet is lonely because he’s the only lombax, and he’s worried that if he meets the rest, he’ll fall short of their expectations. Unlike with Kit though, this isn’t a driving factor in Ratchet’s motivations. He can be talked into and out of pretty much every viewpoint he has in the space of a cutscene, which keeps the story moving but makes it difficult to pin down exactly who Ratchet is in this game. Meanwhile, Clank’s loneliness is immediate. He’s not a lonely character, he just misses Ratchet as they’re separated, and quickly bonds with Rivet anyway
Kit is a great example of the self sabotage and self loathing that often comes from loneliness, but as a wider theme, it’s let down by the rest of the cast. Each of them purport to be lonely in slightly different ways, but the game is more concerned with keeping the tone light than examining these feelings in depth.
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