Ratchet & Clank has always been a technically accomplished series.
Before my career in the media, I worked in video games QA and that included several months on the PS3 game Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. We had tested a number of early PS3 titles at the time, including Warhawk, Resistance: Fall of Man, Snakeball (don't pretend you don't remember it) and the first Uncharted. But Ratchet & Clank was the surprise favourite, the game that we felt was the most technically accomplished, satisfying and the best reason why anyone should consider spending money on a PlayStation 3. It wasn't purely the visual splendour, but how satisfying it was to just move around and hit things. This is a series fine-tuned to feel as good as it looks, there's even a document within Insomniac on how many crates should exist in a given area, how they should be stacked and how many explosive crates should be used.
"Sony 'believes in generations', which is the fundamental philosophical difference between itself and Xbox"
Considering that, it perhaps shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the Lombax and his robot friend have emerged as the best evidence yet for what a PlayStation 5 can do above what we've seen in the past. And not purely from a visual perspective (although it's clearly a step up from what was achieved with the PS4 Ratchet & Clank remake), but in terms of gameplay. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's opening trailer during the initial PS5 reveal showed a game where players can jump to entirely different areas instantly and without a loading screen. There was no need to squint to see any evidence of ray-tracing here, it was immediately apparent that this was a game that could indeed only be done on PlayStation 5.
Last week, a longer version of that demo was the grand finale to Gamescom's Opening Night Live. It was the closing act opposite the Call of Duty opener, and received top billing over all those Star Wars trailers. Medal of Honor and that fancy Mafia remake. Its position in the running order had nothing to do with Ratchet & Clank's commercial popularity -- it has its fans but it's no Star Wars -- but because of what it represents: this is what a new console generation will offer consumers.
Granted, it's not had the same impact as that stunning Unreal 5 demo that Epic got running on PS5. But this is about what games can do and how they feel. In fact, how games feel is a big part of the PS5 campaign, and last night Insomniac detailed how it's been using the DualSense controller. The developer detailed the way in which the haptic feedback will allow all of the game's bizarre armoury to feel different, while the adaptive triggers enabled the firm to add in secondary functions for the weapons. You can also imagine what sort of experience you'd get from the 3D audio, with trains whizzing past and civilians running into the distance. Just like Nintendo uses Mario to highlight the functionality of its new devices, Sony is using a familiar (almost elderly by games industry standards) franchise to show us precisely what its new machine will do.
Ratchet & Clank is not going to be PS5's biggest game. Of course not. Insomniac's own Spider-Man series is a significantly bigger beast in terms of popularity. Nevertheless, Rift Apart has become a poster child for Sony's argument around the importance of console generations. Check out any recent PlayStation exec interview, and you'll likely stumble upon the phrase 'we believe in generations'. This has become the almost unofficial PlayStation slogan, and represents the fundamental philosophical difference between Sony and its competitor.
Xbox is breaking down the walls between generations and platforms. It feels the idea of getting consumers to buy an expensive new device to play the latest titles is 'completely counter to what gaming is about'. It's a strong argument in the current climate, where gaming has become a powerful tool in which to connect people. The idea that Xbox One, Series X and PC gamers can play Halo: Infinite together is a compelling prospect; couple that with the Game Pass value proposition and the current economic climate, then PlayStation's pitch that users should spend hundreds of dollars on a new machine, in order to play $60 - $70 sequels to games that were perfectly great on their current device... well that feels like a big ask, at least for anyone outside of the core fanbase.
Yet Sony 'believes in generations'. It believes that new consoles should enable developers to do more than just create prettier, faster and busier versions of what came before. It believes creators should be given the encouragement to build with the latest hardware in mind, and not worry about satisfying those still gaming in the past. And it has to make that argument in a world where customers can't easily touch the new machine or experience how different these games really are.
There's only so much a clever TV ad can do to make that case. Sony will need to highlight the games that can't be done anywhere else other than PlayStation 5, and in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, it has at least one title in which to do it.