With the release of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, the next generation of gaming is truly here. Despite the fact that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X were released last November, we hadn’t really seen the extent of either console’s capability until now.
While games like Returnal have shown us the unique joys of the DualSense controller, Rift Apart takes greater advantage of the PS5’s techier side. Most notably, it utilizes the system’s hyperfast SSD to virtually eliminate load times as Ratchet jumps between dimensions. It’s an absolute spectacle that turns the game into a surprising technical powerhouse.
I sat down with Mike Fitzgerald, Insomniac’s director of core technology, to get a peek under the hood. Fitzgerald shed some light on the little tricks that make Rift Apart work and why walking through a door is the most difficult feat of all.
The most immediately impressive part of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is its dimension-hopping gameplay. At several points, the game sends players into alternate realities. In one especially impressive early gameplay sequence, Ratchet falls through several portals, instantly teleporting from world to world without a single loading screen. That moment might leave some fans frantically searching for the seams, but Fitzgerald says there are no real illusions at play; the PS5 is just that fast.
“We’re not secretly loading the level in the background and just swapping to it,” Fitzgerald tells Digital Trends. “In the sequence where you’re falling through portals, we don’t start loading the next location until you’re in the middle space. We transition you into it and then unload the old one and load the new one. It’s all happening in that .7 seconds you’re in there.”
Any little tricks that Insomniac uses are so miniscule, players could blink and miss them. For example, when a player smacks a crystal to switch a world to its alternate version, there’s a split-second white flash that overtakes the screen. The entire swapped level loads in the instant when the screen is whited out.
Perhaps most surprising are the transitions between planets. Any time Ratchet or Rivet travels to a new planet, a cutscene shows their spaceship departing one dock and arriving at another. Players might assume that it’s an elaborate way to load an entirely new planet, but Fitzgerald notes that those moments are strictly there for storytelling purposes, not as authored loading sequences.
“There’s nothing technically stopping us from having a hole open up beneath you and you fall through to a different planet,” says Fitzgerald. “We use it in the game in some carefully structured way for gameplay reasons. From a technical point of view, we can pretty much go anywhere to any of those worlds at any time.”
That concept is what makes Rift Apart particularly special. Players are able to fluidly bounce between locations without a moment’s pause. That’s especially notable in the game’s pocket dimensions. At various points, Ratchet and Rivet can use their tether to open up a portal to a sort of bonus stage. They essentially rip a hole in the world and walk into an entirely different level.
It happens so fluidly that it’s easy to forget just how much of a headache something like that can be to develop. According to Fitzgerald, just having a character walk through that hole is the game’s most impressive technical feat.
“Walking through a hole to get to the other side of a pocket dimension is incredibly complicated,” says Fitzgerald. “That pocket space in the world coordinate of the engine is miles and miles away. When you walk through a portal, we’re teleporting your character thousands of miles away in an instant. If you do it naively, all the motion blur gets screwed up, every physics-based element would get confused. Even if you can massage that to make it look smooth, then you have the camera, which is miles away from the character and still needs to behave correctly.”
The PS5’s power is most apparent in those moments, but it manifests in much subtler ways, too. One of Fitzgerald’s proudest accomplishments is something that doesn’t necessarily read as a technical feat. Rift Apart’s cutscenes feature several editing tricks, from Star Wars-style wipes to split-screens that show both Ratchet and Rivet.
“That’s really not something we ever could do before,” says Fitzgerald. “We’re rendering two full, quality scenes at the same time. We’re playing two cinematics at the same time. I think it’s a nice cinematic touch that you’d see in movies. It feels like watching a sci-fi movie when you see wipes like that, and being able to assemble all the tech to do that was really fun.”
It’s a small reminder that a generational console shift isn’t just about better visuals. With a machine as powerful as the PS5, creators just have more options when it comes to how they tell a story or pace a game. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is full of flashy effects that are sure to wow PS5 owners, but it’s the little touches that make it shine.
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