Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

August 09, 2005

Review: Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) - Online and on fire!

VGP Score


9.8



Ushering in a new breed of platformers, Ratchet and Clank was the ultimate app for any platformer die-hard. It's mix of great platforming, whacky weapons, and clever puzzle solving, as well as a slew of hidden items which emphasized heavy exploration, made it one of the best games ever to be conceived. It's successor, Going Commando, reached even further, combining the winning formula of the first title, and mixing it with some simple, yet unique, RPG elements. The whole idea of an RPG-platformer was new, and it was by far one of the best ideas since sliced bread. Going commando featured all new worlds, expanding upon the axiom, bigger is better. With new concept weapons, and a new "upgrade" feature, Going Commando was something new, but something familiar at the same time. The combination of old and new worked so well together, that this reviewer personally, thought it was the best game of 2003.

With large shoes to fill, the third installment of the Ratchet and Clank series had it's work cut out for it. However, as daunting a task as it is to top Going Commando, Insomniac managed to up the ante with Up Your Arsenal. Without a shred of doubt, I can say this game is flat out the best platformer to date. As niche as the platforming genre is, this game manages to branch out into nearly every possible genre, while pioneering an entirely new type of gameplay, while still engaging that Ratchet and Clank nuance that's progressive from title to title. If there is one word for this game, it is golden.

Where Going Commando shined, Up Your Arsenal sparkles. With a steadier pace, and an overall fiercer nature, the gaming industry cowers in fear over the sheer ingenuity found in the details of this game. For starters, Ratchet and Clank exude a unique personality, which is matched only by the antics of their brethren, Jak and Daxter. The oozing character this game has is great, and it truly shows that quirks and qualms go a long way. From the raging hair band antics of the robot butlers, and the out of this world sense of humour, to the super villain Dr. Nefarious, who begins to air lost soap-opera episodes when his circuits short out; it's hard to imagine this franchise any more hilarious, but it's also hard to imagine someone thinking up these zaney ideas from scratch.

Ratchet is once again charged with the task of saving the universe from the mechanical and organic flood of friend and foe (suprised?), but this time Ratchet isn't a loner space cowboy. In fact, this game is almost a "family reunion" of sorts, as Ratchet's partners in crime (err...allies), the Q-Force join him on his misadventures. Comprised of Helga, Captain Qwark, Skid McMarx, Al, and Srunch, Qwarks monkey, the laughs are neverending. Contrary to the frenzied laughter this game causes, the game takes itself pretty serious when it comes to gameplay, and being aesthetically and aurally pleasing.

The Ratchet bread and butter, is as always, the weapons. In this game however, it's been taken to all new levels, so it's no longer just "weapons", it's mass-artillery. If you haven't already experienced it, havoc ensues around every corner and the sound of gun-fire in the distance is mesmerizing. MUST SHOOT! Admittedly, the game does reduce the amount of platforming from the previous games, but it is still there, and what is there (the bits and pieces), is striking, and more intellectually stimulating than other platformers.

In case this turns you away from the game, fear not as the mass platforming that was cut in favour of fantastical gunplay and battlefields, has been reinstated within a mini-game-ish part of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal. Old school platforming returns with style, as the outlandishly absurd tales of Captain Qwark are retold in Vid-comics, which are visual retellings of the adventures of the Q himself. With a very heavy emphasis on platforming (2-D platforming), the Qwark Vid-comics offer more challenge than any other part of the game, and there is no question that it feels refined and without flaw. An incredible pick-up, after you realize the platforming is somewhat scarce in this game.

Combat feels better than ever with the handy new upgrade system, which allows each weapon to upgrade a total of 5 times on the first playthrough, and for all of those familiar with "Challenge mode", 8 weapon variations are available. An aspect of Going Commando that stood out among all else, was the ability to mod your weapons, to somewhat personalize them, and give them cool after-effects. These mods have now been incorporated into the upgrade system, which actually improve the flow of the game, rather than stunting it with backtracking.

This explains why there are so many versions of each weapon, but don't fret, the weapons still upgrade into it's most powerful form at the very end. Many of the weapons you encounter will be familiar to you as they are staples of the Ratchet and Clank universe. The basic rifle: N60 Storm, the heavy hitter: Nitro Launcher, and the super powerful RYNO makes it's glorious return. Which ever way you look at it, Up Your Arsenal has more to offer in terms of, well arsenal, than any of the previous games. Though, if theres one thing that tops the sheer quantity of weapons it's the maniacal brain behind their creation.

The weapons again range in usefulness dependant on your style of gameplay, and their effects are varied, and once again all useful at some point or another. Some weapons make a return in the form of similar-but-new weapons, like the Disc Blade Gun, reminiscent of the Multi-Star and Charge Cannon, a duplicate of the Blitz Cannon but twice as effective. Also, with a save file from Going Commando the Lava Gun, Bouncer, Shield Charger, Mini-Turret Glove, and Plasma Coil are added to your inventory at no cost and suped up to match the strength of the beefy opposition. Ranging from a firey whip which slices and dices enemies with an eviscerating inferno, to a liquid-nitrogen streaming water-gun that freezes enemies on contact, to the return of barn yard playmates with the Qwack-O-Ray, it isn't hard to see this games jovial, yet wide appeal.

The gunplay is what will really test your metal though. With new weapons come new strategies, and this time you aren't just fighting a corporation, you're fighting an army. This game is a war between you and the Thyrranoids and it gets messy. It will become common place to be enveloped in a blitzkrieg of enemy fire, only to be countered by a swipe of the Plasma Whip (Yes, there are even new melee weapons), or vaporization via the Rift Inducer, which literally dematerializes enemies into small black holes which when upgraded, can fire multiple miniature rifts to create monstrous ones which easily annihilate any of the larger brutes that just so happen to cross your path. And the rush of adrenaline you get from it is breath-taking. It's back to the basics with Ratchet's run and gun formula, but is tossed up a bit for variety during the rescue missions, the vehicular combat, and a deluge of mini-games and slew of brain-teasing puzzles.

With a meager amount of health crates and ammo, the game ramps up the challenge ten fold, also giving enemies the ability to do anywhere from one to 50 damage to your health. In order to turn the tables ever so slightly the maximum amount of health upgrades maxes out at 200 health points now, and they're all requisite for those tough skill point challenges that require the dukes of hazard rather than the lock, shock, and two smoking barrels.

As if the gameplay wasn't already the most refined product to hit the platforming (and RPG) market, the addition of multiplayer battles and online gameplay magnify quality, longevity, fun and overall impressiveness by an immeasurable margin. It's befuddling to see that such a deep, polished single player game (the best I've come across), can be paired with an online/offline multiplayer mode, that is just as deep, and just as polished and at times more polished than the single player experience. Multiplayer, though done before, has never been done online. As impossible as it is to imagine having Ratchet's free-roaming, run and gun mechanic applied to online, it's been done, and it's eons beyond anything we've seen before.

This is no doubt where online gamers will widdle away countless hours of their lives in the name of good clean fun. The online mode houses 10 different playing arenas (locations from all 3 Ratchet games, slightly modified of course), 12+ weapons and gadgets, aerial and vehicular combat, as well as Clans, online rosters, buddy lists, "Challenges", and rankings on nearly anything you could possibly imagine (including how many times you've squatted on top of someone's charred corpse). If online gaming is your schtick, and you consider yourself a Ratchet and Clank pro, test your might online. You may be suprised at how challenging it can be.

In due time, you'll be having just as much fun fragging and being fragged as just about anyone else who tampers with the controller for even a brief moment online. It's undeniable that Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal offers plenty of single player and multiplayer gametime, and to add the cherry to the heap, challenge mode makes a comeback with more unlockables, and more hidden items than any platformer before it.

More challenge, more weapons, more RPG elements, and more qwack. This game has it all, and I'd be hard pressed to offer any other game for 2004, save for maybe Jak 3, which would accompany Ratchet well this platforming season. I could go on for hours about how great Ratchet is, and go into much more detail about the how well rounded the graphics are with new impressive water effects, an even greater variety of planetary exploration, or the tight control and fitting soundtrack, but if my previous words are of any indication, there is no need to go into such things. Prepare to stay inside for a few weeks. Lock your doors, open a window, and get ready for one hell of a ride. In a time where originality is scarce in videogames, Ratchet and Clank comes to a harmonious conclusion with this impressive title.

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