Full Review: What do a furry alien and a tiny robot have in common? Cheese. They definitely both like cheese. Oh, and they've got a major jones for kicking ass too.
Fact: Insomniac Games, creators of Spyro the Dragon and Naughty Dog, creators of Crash Bandicoot are one in the same these two Sony-owned development house giants are. Fact: Both Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog have delved deeper into their latest venues to bring you last year's Ratchet and Clank and the year before that Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy platformer follow-ups within a month of each other this fall season. Fiction: You will loathe, and hate, and despise either game. That's right folks, believe it or not, Insomniac and Naughty Dog share a common bond. Using ideas from each other, each company has their own preference and style, and together by playing through either of their games, you might find something straight out of one of the games in the other. Despite their similarities and minor differences, though, Insomniac is the only one of the two developers that actually pulled off a full-on sequel in just one year's time span alone. Last fall was good to the fuzzy and metal-plated platforming duo Ratchet and Clank, but this year, it's gotten a heck of a lot better.
Bored out of their mind with nothing to do but to play as themselves in video games -- and to catch up on some literary works, Ratchet and Clank have saved the universe from total domination by a mad man known as Chairman Drek and now have nothing to show for it. What good's a pair of heroes if they've got no one to rescue, nothing to protect, and nobody to destroy? That's exactly why right after Ratchet (the hair covered "long-back with spunk") and Clank (the metal-headed, metal bodied, metal footed, and even metal-tooshed robot) were contacted by Abercrombie Fizzwidget (the CEO of Mega Corp. -- Bogon galaxy's largest known weapon manufacturer in the universe), explaining that his company's Proto Pet prototype has been stolen, that their anticipation level went through the roof. In wanting new adventure, new excitement, and new dangers to encounter, Ratchet and Clank eagerly agree to aid in the subject's finding. Now with only a sneaky, masked suspect fleeing from one planet to the next and about thousands of blaster-equipped enemy aliens standing in Ratchet and his buddy Clank's way to victory, what more could a once apathetic team want?
Platform games in the past never used to rely heavily on guns. Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando does. This franchise has gone from sterile to stink-filled. Stinking rich with destructive items and helpful gizmos galore, anyway. Through a means of fixed vendors put inside levels like in the first entry, Ratchet is able to purchase a bevy of goods and services -- be it ammo for shooting things or the shooting things that the ammo is used for. These weapons aren't your usual blaster toys, though. They're many and they each have a unique reason to be put to use. From a short ranged but widespread shotgun-type Blitz Gun, a long ranged sniper rifle-type Pulse Rifle, a mid ranged fast blasting Lancer, or a multiple targeting bouncing boomerang device called the Chopper, every weapon in Ratchet and Clank 2's goodie bag has its own distance and its own abilities for removing specific targets out of your way. Going Commando has so many of these devices in fact (41 in all), a huge percentage of the replay factor relies on just this aspect alone.
In actuality, Ratchet and Clank 2 only features 18 new weapons. But when you compare the 35 attainable weapons from the first game (which all can be uploaded into Ratchet and Clank 2 if you have a save available, or five leftovers of those can be purchased a second time through a special vendor), you may be wondering how Insomniac went from minute to many. Upgrades are the answer to just about everything. Upgrades help RPG characters ascend levels where they'll learn new powers, so in borrowing the attributes of an RPG here, upgrades also solve at least one inventive element platform games have always been missing. Just as beating up monsters in RPG battles improves the status for your team of characters, Ratchet himself can attain a heightened bar of health increased by wiping out enemies and locating rare health upgrade pickups. Weapons in a similar manner literally build up a stamina bar that allows each tool used to the bar's fullest efficiency then to transform into a wholly new performer once the piece's belly is bloated. That old Miniturret Glove that plants tiny sized laser blasters on the ground to zap anything that gets close enough to its position for example -- you want it to just shoot mini laser beams forever? Get real! Continue dropping the bombs with this thing, and soon enough the laser beams will turn from miniature to a bigger, better fixed missile launcher that deals more damage to its moving targets than it could have before.
How you obtain weapons of any kind is a different story all together, though. Ratchet and Clank find themselves together on most missions, hopping around (not literally) one planet to another entering a stage filled with enemies and you guessed it, bolts to acquire. Bolts can be found in the area a fallen enemy has been defeated, or inside one of the many lamp posts or wooden crate types of breakable objects laid down throughout the course of each level. The levels however, are separated usually into two distinct paths to follow -- making exploration longer, but better for the chance to collect on more bolts as needed. And you will need a heck of a lot of bolts too, for at the start of each level also is presented the vendor where guns don't cost a dime anymore; now they want an arm and a leg too. Prices varying from a 5,000 bolt range and all the way up to 150,000 bolts don't exactly make things easy for anyone, when there's just so many cool new items to buy for every new planet surface you'll say hello to, and not nearly enough bolts for everything in an instant.
But that's why there's Maxigames. Basically, Maxigames is the choice "minigame" of Ratchet and Clank 2. By way of the RPG phenomenon Ratchet and Clank 2 is basing itself on, if you know RPGs, you know that they have their own small assortments of optional content. So why not represent the little as a large part in Ratchet and Clank 2? Maxigames take place outside regular combat and exploration, although at first each one is essential toward completion of a game's stage. Take for instance the battle arena. Inside a gladiatorial spherical arena with revolving floor panels that spout fire and others that feature spinning fans which harm Ratchet's body, Ratchet and Clank must face a set number of enemies (made up of arachnid robots with flamethrowers to shielded, spiked club wielding aliens) coming at them from all sides. Defeat them all, and you'll win a new gadget that becomes a regular part of Ratchet's livelihood. Jetbike powered race modes (right out of Jak II), space battles pitting Ratchet and Clank's ship against an entire fleet of monotonous smaller ships, and crystal collecting treks across a vast desert and snowy tundra terrain is namely a few of the other side quests that indulge in lengthy feats, which provided the tediousness of some of them at the cost of you losing health or ammo a lot, should only be performed more than necessary for those hardcore item picker uppers.
Gadgets are the "other" kind of weapon, if you will, in Ratchet and Clank 2. Not necessarily devices used to obliterate foes, gadgets weigh on a lesser scale being pulled out only when a level may require their purpose. Amongst these conceptions are neat items like the Tractor Beam that can latch onto certain objects with its twirling magnetic ray like large cylinders prompted for jumping onto higher levels or to block out harmful laser barriers from barring Ratchet's path; the Dynamo, which can activate invisible jumping platforms for a limited time or machinery that can grant a conveyor belt power for mobilizing a crate for Ratchet to jump off of down the line; and even a Thermonator, which can freeze or melt water with its temperature power, making it so that you can easily glide across frozen ponds with a carnivorous fish in the water, or melt away the ice elsewhere to dive into a liquidy tunnel and come out the other end. Tools like these do make the platform challenges interesting, although focus on Ratchet and Clank 2's platform aspect is lightly coated when compared to its bomberiffic, lastertastic, gunning action.
As many guns as there are in Ratchet and Clank's newest adventure, there's even more enemies to defeat -- thus the surplus in weaponry. Enemies on the whole appear in small, medium, large, and sometimes even extra large sizes. From blaster toting, sword swinging alien thugs, to attack droids, robot dogs, hover tanks, and other miscellaneous robot or alien creatures that are all programmed to destroy the duo each with their own method, you'll find the odds of fighting and jumping is overwhelmingly massed in favor of the former. Bad idea, no, but a little uneventful for those interested in getting more oomph out of the meaning behind what a run and jump game actually is. Aside from the gadgets though, Ratchet will also receive new gear such as boots that come in three different types. There's the Grind Boots for grinding on spiraling steel, the Gravity Boots for traversing vertical surfaces, and the Charge Boots that can speed Ratchet from one section to another quicker than...well, quicker than his normal steady running pace. These boots add to the appeal of platforming somewhat, just not by much. Eventually into the later portions of the game, Ratchet and Clank will even have access to new vendor types that distribute armor wear, giving Ratchet a lesser reason to worry about being hit all the time. Unfortunately however, the four armor upgrades in total are even more expensive than weapons, which cost mostly in a 100,000 to a 200,000-price point. Just be careful on when and how to empty Ratchet's wallet -- even 100,000 bolts aren't made easy.
Those who have followed Ratchet and Clank's previous exploits will find that getting adjusted to the control setup is the same as before for the most part. From the face button commands, Ratchet can jump up, down, sideways, and backwards. He can shoot with weapons or try his gadgets out on at the right position. He can even bust up objects or enemies with his trusty (and also upgradable) melee weapon, the wrench, or choose from a host of up to eight different weapons from his interchangeable quick select screen. Ratchet can also strafe left or right, look around or zoom into a first person view, and crouch in order to jump higher with the back buttons. Add the running and the camera turning analog sticks in, and becoming Ratchet isn't a very difficult task at all, even when the directions change slightly when he's floating in the air through a glider course or hovering in flight with Clank's fuel-powered Leviator upgrade.
What about Clank? As for Ratchet's little buddy, throughout most of the game Clank is permanently adjusted to Ratchet's backside like an all-in-one backpack of sorts (transforming into a helicopter or rocket mode when Ratchet needs to float through the air a good distance occasionally). Only, Clank isn't always with Ratchet. When they're apart, Clank will find himself paired up with accessible and expendable bot friends he'll use to progress in certain levels. Clank doesn't have as many moves as Ratchet does, but what he can do is give order to these specific bots to make a bridge so that everyone, including his followers, is able to traverse gaps, or he can tell a hammer bot to boost him up a level on a seesaw device. While the Clank levels are thoroughly enjoyable with the variable robot types and commands Clank has at his disposal, there just aren't enough of them damn't.
When I see Ratchet and Clank 2 in action, I see a lot of good. Or at least good enough to a certain point. Let me tell you that in the interest of that same bond between Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter, on the graphics side Ratchet and Clank falls a little short. In no way, no how, no nothing is Ratchet and Clank 2 ugly filth in the graphical department. All it is, is it's not up to snuff on the high quality level its former brother (or maybe sister?) bear had going for it this year in the area where looks take the cake. Ratchet and Clank are of course in an entirely different environment with levels that are all terrific to reflect upon, like a factory with pumping machinery along the walls, a cavern with lava pools all around, and even a hi-tech cityscape with mist covering the distance, vehicles hovering arbitrarily and trafficking themselves all around the sky, and buildings peeking out in the thick air.
Provided that every level is very large and that they carry their own quality, there isn't a whole lot of texture to be found on the sort of plainness in each. Characters on the other hand more than make up for these minor deficiencies in the surroundings. Enemies in any of the alien lizard (some armored, some not), alien critter (from flying insects to raccoon-like things), or alien slug categories and droid types (spider bots, metal dogs, and humanoid sized) all appear good in form, but Ratchet and Clank look best. Now with changeable commando suits to wear, Ratchet is like a human military combatant right out of one of those fictional space movies, only he's not human. Especially the weapons themselves...with detail in the curves and lining, the bigger ones (like the Bouncer that bolsters bouncing bombs) differentiate from the smaller ones (such as the Minirocket Tube that launches powerful homing missiles from a distance) proportionally enough and with a new demeanor each time that you'll become familiar with which gun you're holding quickly. Clank, unlike Ratchet, is mostly just the same Clank, except for when he's shifting into flight forms while stuck to Ratchet. Together their models are melded nicely enough that you'll never get tired of staring at these two in their adventure onward.
Just as there is much action, so much, going on all at the same time on the screen, the animations are many in Ratchet and Clank 2, and also pleasing to breathe them all in. Special effects play heavily into the animating part. As there are tons and tons of enemies attempting to blast Ratchet and Clank into dead meat, Ratchet will be able to flip backwards, sideways, spring toward the sky, or run around in circles like the man-cat thing he is. In return, Ratchet can fire back at units with electricity beams, bombs, lasers, and just so many different items to trigger some kind of explosion that the effects and enemies moving into place are simply gorgeous. To even more subtle but dazzling effects, there's the way in which smoke streams out fluidly behind Clank's metal can as Ratchet floats to the ground, swirling like a butterfly from the air, or how the glow of green or yellow lights bright the pathways along an outdoor setting in outer space. Even when Clank's not with Ratchet, you'll witness some cute animations from how Clank places his tiny metal arms atop his head in signaling his alike chums to literally stretch their selves across an open plane or wobble off in an enemy's direction with red lit antennas as certain droids can only perform the beating of certain enemies for Mr. Sidekick.
Either game companies want their characters to sound epic, less than epic, and sometimes it doesn't really matter. While Ratchet and Clank and every other speaking voice in the game aren't quite close to the tier on that unbelievable scale, they're decent enough at what they're used for: story. If you think you'll find a deep plot in a platform game, at least on the level of what Sony's other genre definer did this fall in Jak II, you're not going to get that. You will however find some merit to the humor involved in the commercial advertisements and story segments between Ratchet, Clank, and a weird item provider or one of the goof-ball enemies. That is if you're one for wholesome comedy, as opposed to the adult approach taken by Jak II. Music can be found to share a likeness with the game's voice overs, as the aspect is merely good instead of fantastic. Blending in an electronic rhythm into the backdrop that changes slightly into each level, the music is just another something you won't find annoyance by, but wouldn't want to buy a CD of the same filler-in soundtrack either. But sound effects though really steal the show in this game. Ratchet running on different surfaces brings the clinks or the clanks, or even something such as snow to life, as when he plods across it, a remembrance to that crunchy noise rings in. Within guns blazing too, each weapon in Going Commando takes its own toll and displays it through a distinctive array of cool blasting noises or otherwise you'll want to listen to again and again.