When you’ve achieved perfection it’s tough to consistently perform at that level. Don’t tell that to the boys at Insomniac though, they’ve already taken the world by storm two times and they’re prone to do it for a third time with the release of Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
, the pinnacle of third person destruction adventure gaming.
Ratchet & Clank tells the story of a loveable young mechanic and his wisecracking sidekick. It’s the standard formula for a buddy flick but the developers do so much with the characters so that they don’t fall into the one dimensional category. It’s as if each character has a life of its own and thus a real purpose that you can get behind. For two installments Ratchet has done the bulk of the work only to watch Clank gain the admiration of the galaxy. Everyone sees Clank as a Secret Agent while Ratchet is often seen as his chauffeur. In this installment Ratchet’s as pissed as he’s ever been; luckily a new foe is stirring up trouble in the galaxy, serving as the perfect outlet for his rage.
Not one to be satisfied with something crazy like universal peace, the evil Dr. Nefarious is hell bent on ridding the galaxy of squishes. It’d be great if Squishes were vermin except in this case they’re all living and breathing things. To accomplish his goal he has enlisted an especially inane group of morons to do his bidding. What they don’t realize is that they are pawns in his scheme and that he plans to destroy them after they’ve followed through with his plans. Sadly enough, it turns out that the heroes’ only hope of stopping the evil Dr. revolves around Captain Quark, the fixture from the first game. There’s a problem though, something has messed with his head and he now behaves like a giant ape. Some old characters make a return appearance but for the most part the adventure is filled with new and interesting faces who inject more life into the series.
Up Your Arsenal provides the biggest explosions in the franchise to-date. Objects don’t simply blow up and dissipate into the environment. They disintegrate at the seams and rain down chaos and destruction upon the landscape. There’s a real sense of satisfaction that accompanies the destruction you leave in your wake. It’s not like you just blow something up and move up, you get this real sense that you’re a destructive force that needs to be reckoned with. While the game is rated T for Teen it’s done so only because of the implications of perceived violence, not the actual violence produced in the game. Humans are never harmed and there are no bloodied limbs to speak of. For the most part you’ll be destroying robots and although the action teeters on excessive, it never even touches the idea of indecency. This makes the game perfect for children and an excellent choice for kids who have passed the point of Saturday morning cartoons and are on the brink of adolescence. For this we say that the game is available for players of all ages as children and adults will find something to love in this title.
What really sets this franchise apart from the others is the insane arsenal that the designers have created. Perhaps the biggest appeal of the franchise revolves around its weapons and this third entry delivers the goods. From the onset of the game you can tell that the game is serious about handing you some ferocious firepower. About five minutes into the game you’re given a shotgun and a grenade launcher to work with, the weapons just keep getting better from there. As was the case in Ratchet 2, weapons can level up through extensive amounts of use which will provide you with even more devastating firepower. A new addition allows you to test each one of the game’s weapons in a VR simulator before you buy them. In the past it was a crapshoot as you only had the weapon descriptions to go off of. Here you can actually try out the weapons in a practical setting before wasting your hard-earned wickets. One of the new pickups is the inferno mode which seems to be a take on the Jak’s
Dark Eco aspect. When activated Ratchet can take more physical damage while dealing more damage with his wrench.Part of what makes this game so fun is its controls. For some reason or another, developers have had problems developing an effective control scheme for console platformers. Insomniac perfected the formula with the second Ratchet and the controls translate well into this edition as well. As you’re blowing apart baddies you’ll have a wide arrange of controls at your fingertips. Everything is mapped so well that the action eventually becomes an extension of your body, leading to some real instinct-based twitch gameplay.
An aspect of the game that’s really been polished is the mission structure. Both of the earlier Ratchets had some fun levels but it was really easy to get lost in the gigantic worlds. In this adventure there are more in-game cutscenes that help inform the gamer of exactly what it is that they should be doing. In addition to being funny, the dialogue is helpful and ensures that you won’t get lost in the mission. The missions are also more action-packed and have more structure to them than ever before. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to run around the planets and destroy everything in your path, but there are more situations where you’ll be placed in the traditional setting with objects and whatnot. Squad-based missions were all the rage in 2004 and they make an appearance in this game as well, albeit in a limited capacity. In the previous games it seemed like Ratchet & Clank were waging a two-man crusade to save the galaxy. This time around you’ll be fighting alongside NPCs as you try to retain the balance of the universe. You can’t delegate commands or control your allies but at least they’re there to help you fight the good fight. They’re pretty decent at combating foes to and will actually take out a few enemies instead of just firing blindly into the sky.
Even though Ratchet runs off of the same technology that was co-pioneered by Naughty Dog a few years ago, the game still looks great today. The environments are massive and can be explored without any loading times to hinder the action. Ratchet looks great and the game looks better than the previous entry thanks to some new lighting effects that give the characters more life. It looks impressive in widescreen too and the progressive scan support ensures that those with high-end sets are in for a real treat. For some strange reason this installment lacks Dolby Pro Logic II encoding for its audio, but the sound still holds up quite well. All of the explosions exhibit a satisfying rumble and the weapon effects are strong and powerful.
After you’ve finished the game’s bulky campaign you can take your skills online in a healthy amount of gameplay modes. Up to eight players can compete in a number of matches that essentially run the gamut from Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Siege Mode. These matches are extremely intense and benefit heavily from the game’s intuitive controls and the game’s breakneck pace. Surprisingly, the game features some seriously in-depth features that we only expect to see in hardcore online games. You can check stats of other players, form buddy lists and even create clans so that you can compete with your friends. Players who have yet to discover the online realm can still enjoy four-player action via single-console multiplayer. With all of this depth the multiplayer feels like an integral part of the game and not some cheap afterthought.
After spending 20+ hours with this game I have no qualms calling it the best action platformer of 2004. It’s just so insanely polished, beautifully designed and amazingly addictive that it’s a wonder that it took me this long to review it. If you’re like the rest of us, you probably have about $100 in gift cards left over from Christmas. Be smart, set aside $40 for this game and you’ll be set for the next few months.