Ever since the hype campaigns began for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we’ve gotten apparent teases of real-time next-gen gameplay, enough to convince us that these systems are adequately powerful. But the full-blown execution of what “only on PlayStation 5” can look like finally crystallized for the first time on Thursday. It came in the form of six uninterrupted minutes of live gameplay from Insomniac Games’ Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which will debut on the PS5 during the console’s “launch window,” we learned today.
Sony couldn’t have rolled out a better, more convincing sense of what top-to-bottom next-gen gaming architecture can deliver than this shiny, explosive, SSD-powered sequence—and so far, it’s more stunning than anything we’ve seen from Xbox Series X-exclusive fare.
Portals far beyond Portal
The new Sony console’s first sales point is illustrated in the top gallery, though merely looking at the images misses a key part of the equation: miniscule load times between insanely complicated sequences.
We’d already seen teases of the game’s rift-jumping mechanic, where the series’ run-and-gun heroes warp from one dimension to the next on a regular basis. In action, this plays out with two types of portals. Yellow portals can be activated with an apparent lasso, which whips your character from one side of the room to the other—while rendering the nearby geometry in duplicate, as opposed to merely serving as a generic grappling hook. Comparatively, Valve’s classic puzzle series Portal was careful to not double-render its geometry through its warping portals, instead cleverly disguising the content you warped through.
This new lasso mechanic admittedly goes for visual overkill to achieve the same mechanical result as older Portal games, but hey, it looks sick in action.
But the other half of R&C:RA‘s warping mechanic, through purple portals, is an absolute jaw-dropper in action. The demo shows its player falling through purple portals and floating through a multi-dimensional rift for up to 1.5 seconds at a time, at which point an entirely new level appears, complete with ridiculous draw distances, insane amounts of geometry, and a dizzying amount of animated characters. This content hinges largely on PlayStation 5’s solid state drive technology, which Sony has previously championed in terms of high levels of bandwidth.
The effect isn’t lightning-instant, mind you, what with those 1- or 1.5-second pauses between dimensions, but compared to the previous generation’s emphasis on hiding techniques like waiting in elevators, going around corners, or ducking-and-crawling through tight spaces, the result is an absolute generational leap. No, wait, that doesn’t sound big enough. It’s a generational rocket forward. I’m absolutely floored by how it looks in action (which you can see in an embedded video at the end of the article).
Clank, your polish is lookin’ good, buddy
The other PS5 difference comes in the form of two particular visual effects: ray tracing and particle effects. Instead of describing everything at length here in this paragraph, I urge you to read the above captions, which break down how each scene is rich with the kind of visual detail that can only work by leveraging next-gen console architecture.
We’ll obviously have to go hands-on with the game and analyze various moments, particularly zooming in on characters outside of cut scenes, to see how often ray tracing is skipped in favor of cheaper tricks like screen-space reflections and cube maps. But in one indoor sequence in particular, we see that the PS5 delivers a solid albeit low-resolution version of apparent ray tracing, and it appears to pick up off-screen geometry to deliver a convincing reflection pipeline.
The obvious concession at this point is the demo’s inability to lock to a 30fps refresh rate; these kinds of effects, after all, are computationally expensive to render on high-end GPUs, even when they have ray tracing built into their architecture. (This likely means 60fps for Insomniac’s game is off the table.) We’ll have to wait and see how Insomniac gets this much visual quality to the finish line, or whether it offers fans options like resolution reduction or disabling ray tracing altogether. But if the developer can lock these effects to at least a 30fps refresh, I’m on board for accepting so much detail at the expense of animation speeds, given how gorgeous the results already look.
Quite honestly, the whole thing makes me pray even harder that my PS5 pre-order registration worked out. And while we know Xbox Series X is equipped to deliver similar effects (click here to learn about XSX’s Velocity Architecture, for starters), we’re eager to see similarly stunning results from that console’s upcoming games.
Listing image by Insomniac Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment