Ahead of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart's, release there was one marketing idea that you couldn’t escape hearing: that it was only doable on PlayStation 5. From June 2020 through its release, this was a consistent refrain from Insomniac and Sony, a line that its upcoming PC release would seem to confirm was made of hot air. Much like blast processing and the Sega Genesis, it’s not all lies, but there were some definite misrepresentations on tap.
Shortly after its initial reveal, Insomniac’s Creative Director Marcus Smith spoke in a video that set the tone for much of what was to follow. In that video he said,
“Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game that utilizes dimensions and dimensional rifts, and that would not have been possible without the solid state drive of the PlayStation 5. The SSD is screamingly fast. It allows us to build worlds and project players from one place to another in near instantaneous speeds. It is an unbelievable game changer in terms of, we can now do gameplay where you’re in one world, and the next moment you’re in another.
We’re loading up levels that happen so quickly and in the action that you don’t even imagine that this is something that we couldn’t do before because it feels so natural.”
Other comments from Insomniac often echoed this statement, stating how important the SSD was in enabling them to create Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. It was presented as an example of the generational leap in action and of what newer technologies could make possible. Even before the PC announcement though, others had challenged Sony’s narrative that it could be done only on PlayStation 5.
Perhaps most notable among those was the founder of Traveller’s Tales Jon Burton. While Traveller's Tales is known these days for pumping out Lego games, before they settled into that, they made technologically challenging games on 16bit and later hardware, often working with Disney and Sega. His channel, Coding Secrets, often demonstrates things that people didn't know systems could do. In this case, after beating Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, he broke down what their dimension-hopping was used for and how that could be accomplished on older hardware such as the PlayStation 3.
Running simultaneous areas was possible on the PlayStation 3 hardware, as we see from Burton, and it didn't need extra loading areas. The design that Insomniac shipped could have been done without an SSD in other ways, if possibly with some tradeoffs. Touting this line was to make the game seem more of a technological marvel. Even more, it was about selling how advanced the PlayStation 5 was and how it would offer changes to the way we played because of its "screaming fast" SSD, which let them do things they couldn't otherwise do, according to Smith.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart isn't even the first game to migrate off PS5 to PC. Returnal managed that jump earlier this year, and while Housemarque wasn't making outlandish claims about how important the SSD was, the port that was released doesn't even require an SSD -- it's just recommended.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart may put an SSD as a minimum spec, but it would be economically unfeasible to set the minimum spec to having one the same speed as the PlayStation 5. Even listing an SSD speed would be unique in modern PC gaming.
As we head into June and companies prepare to blast us with advertising, Rift Apart serves as a reminder to carry along a healthy dose of skepticism.
But you don't have to take my word, or even Burton's word, that you could do the rift-hopping action of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on older hardware. After release, once the need to sell the game as a technological marvel and give the PlayStation 5 some launch sparkle was gone, game director Mike Daly admitted it when he told Axios, “You could make a game like [the new] Ratchet & Clank on the PS4, but just visually speaking, you would have to dial back a ton in order to get it to run.”
The PC version promises to do the opposite of dialing back, at least presumably for those with solid specifications. Nixxes, who also handled the Spider-Man Remastered PC port (which also doesn't need an SSD), has been laying out all sorts of PC-specific options for Rift Apart. To capture most of the market on PC, you need settings that both go upwards, adding things like new ray-traced outdoor shadows, and downwards like lowering resolution.
Console makers pumping up their technology with deceptive marketing is nothing new. It was, perhaps, most famously done with the Sega Genesis’ blast processing, something that did actually exist but did almost nothing that was attributed to it. Sony’s SSD is very fast and does make it easier to do those hops without other technical tricks, but it isn't the only way to do dimension hopping, as even Insomniac's Mike Daly conceded, once that story was no longer a needed market advantage.
The situation as a whole is a reminder to remember that marketing is more than willing to bend the truth to sell a story or idea. Sony wanted to sell the idea of the PS5 as the fastest device out there, that it had a true next-gen exclusive, and leaned into it to the point that they overstated the case, as marketing often does. As we head into June and companies prepare to blast us with advertising, promises, and comments about why their games are The Next Big Thing, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart serves as a reminder to carry along a healthy dose of skepticism.