Game Over Online ~ Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

GameOver Game Reviews - Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (c) Sony Computer Entertainment, Reviewed by - Thomas Wilde

Game & Publisher Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (c) Sony Computer Entertainment
System Requirements PlayStation 2
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Monday, December 8th, 2003 at 01:03 PM


Divider Left By: Thomas Wilde Divider Right

I think my biggest problem with Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is that it sends sort of a mixed message.

Keep in mind that I've never played the original, so I was going into this pretty much fresh. Look at the cover of the game, and you see a bipedal thing that looks like a cross between a cat, a human, and perhaps a boll weevil; all I can tell you for sure is that he is furry and anthropomorphic. While he is, in fact, holding a large cannon, the boy is still a cartoon character, and so I was kind of expecting a cartoony action-platformer.

I was not expecting to control a one-man reenactment of the firebombing of Dresden.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is a game about firepower. There is no hop'n'bop here; the least violent alternative you have is to beat something to death with a monkey wrench that's bigger than you are. So far, I have employed high explosives, laser cannons, self-targeting laser drones, ricocheting throwing stars the size of dinner plates, self-guided machine-gun turrets, remote-controlled spider drones, a giant electrical claw, hand grenades, a sniper rifle, and some form of energy shotgun to messily and unexpectedly dismantle my opponents, and I've only scratched the surface of what promises to be an extraordinarily large game.

In the wake of the events of the first game, Ratchet and his robot sidekick Clank have gone for six months with remarkably little to do, and say as much in an interview on the popular television show "Behind the Heroes." What they don't know is that Abercrombie Fizzwidget, the CEO of Megacorp, is watching, and is in the market to hire people just like them.

He teleports them aboard a distant ship, which is headed for a still more distant galaxy, and explains the deal. Fizzwidget hires both Ratchet and Clank to track down a mysterious thief, who's made off with an experimental life form from one of Megacorp's labs. Over the two weeks it takes them to reach Fizzwidget's galaxy, Ratchet retrains himself as a Megacorp Commando, and emerges from the ship a leaner, meaner fighting machine. It's a good thing, too, because the thief has chosen to employ the mercenary Thugs-4-Less to track down and eliminate Ratchet.

The storyline's not quite so cut-and-dried as that, of course; any time a huge, megalolithic corporation appears in a modern video game, they might as well just come right out and say that they've got some evil scheme cooking behind the scenes. Because they do. They always do.

The point is that Ratchet, initially alone and later accompanied by Clank, will be spending the next, oh, say, twenty hours zooming from planet to planet, exploring, getting into gunfights, using overpowered weaponry, racing hoverbikes, and defeating robots, mercenaries, aliens, and the occasional tank.

Going Commando concentrates pretty heavily on the "action" part of its action-platformer genre, as probably befits a game with this much gun. There's a fair amount of navigation, puzzle-solving, and jumping around, combining Ratchet's natural agility, Clank's special abilities as a backpack (i.e. his jump-extending helicopter rotor), and several of his better gadgets, but for the most part, this is a game that thrives on destroying all who oppose you, all who think about opposing you, and that guy over there who looked at you funny. Collateral damage is rewarded in this game with extra money, which is a delightful excuse to obliterate everything in sight.

The more you blow up, the better you'll get at it. Both Ratchet and most of his arsenal befit from a new experience system, based around nanotechnology. By defeating enemies, they release nanites, which are collected by both Ratchet and his weapons. When Ratchet gets enough nanites, his available life goes up a notch; he can max out at around eighty lifebars (!).

His weapons, when they "level up," turn into something more powerful, although it's generally either not as much of an improvement as I would've liked (larger clip sizes would've been nice, although that's probably a pretty minor complaint), or it's not different enough (the same thing as before only moreso). The Seeker Gun starts firing three homing missiles at one time, the Blitz Cannon's range and arc of fire increase, the Mini-Nuke... nukes things... yeah. You get the idea.

The basic plan here is, kill a lot of enemies, and you will receive the ability to kill a lot more enemies more efficiently. It's the circle of life.

The things in question are not particularly receptive to this. Going Commando has a large variety of monsters running around in it, from thugs with guns to desert monsters to Mousers Chickenbots to maniacal disposal bots. An individual monster is notable, usually, for a little quirk or attack routine that differentiates it from the rest of the pack, forcing your tactics to routinely adapt to the new creatures on each new world. The casino planet's Chickenbots and electricity-firing thugs are nothing like, say, the endlessly-respawning cleaner and incinerator robots you run into on Clank's new homeworld, and the same tactics will not work on both, if for no other reason than that the terrain's different. As a direct result--and this may be what I'm most impressed with, big-ass explosions notwithstanding--the game never degenerates into the "oh, this again" mentality that a lot of big, bold adventure games tend to reach.

As you progress and improve your hardware, so too will the monsters, upgrading their armor and weapons so they always pose a threat. They do not, however, upgrade their attack routines; thugs and robots on "civilized" worlds all always tend to be kind of stupid, and fall like bowling pins once you get your hands on something with decent range. (Might I recommend the Pulse Rifle? It satisfies!) I find it a little weird that I'm in a lot more danger from crude desert monsters than I am when I'm in a city with a bunch of people shooting at me, but maybe that's a quirk of my own.

Bosses, likewise, don't really tend to hold back. While beating them all does come down to the same thing--learn how to circle-strafe and dodge simultaneously--they're all pretty memorable. Chainblade, for example, is roughly six times your size and can dice you into bits, while the B-2 Brawler thrives on trying to sweep you out of the arena. Even the smaller bosses have a habit of throwing out so many weapons and beams that you'll be hard-pressed to dodge them all.

When you're not being shot at by very, very stupid mercenaries, there are a lot of other ways to endanger your life. Going Commando features a lot of minigames, which all get introduced as part of the main storyline, but which can then be returned to whenever you like. Hoverbike racing, giant robot slugfests, arena combat, and dogfights in space are all available, although they certainly all aren't equally entertaining.

Arena combat is really just more of the same run-and-gun you find in the main levels of the game, only this time, monsters come after you in big crowds from predetermined locations with big signs that say "Please Mini-Nuke Us, If You Don't Mind. Or Missiles, Those're Good Too." The space combat's remarkably frustrating, especially in the early game when you have no way to upgrade your incredibly weak, spit-and-baling-wire ship, and you're outnumbered twenty-five to one.

On the other hand, then you can go kick over buildings with Giant Clank. So what the hell; it's not all bad.

The hoverbike racing's pretty good, too, especially since you're allowed to blow up the other racers with weapon pickups. I've always been of the opinion that any racing game is improved by the simple addition of homing missiles. I wouldn't want to see this released on its own as a kart racer (which is, of course, an inevitable step in the life-cycle of a gaming franchise), but it's a good, utterly unforgiving little minigame.

Going Commando is also littered with secrets, like the hidden Skill Points and Platinum Bolts. The latter are simply a rare form of currency, which you can use to buy even rarer improvements, while the former are an interesting method by which you can unlock cheats. By performing up to thirty odd and unadvertised tasks over the course of the game, ranging from blowing up esoteric items to avoiding certain actions, you'll earn Skill Points. Earn enough of them, and you'll unlock the game's cheats, starting with silly stuff like Big Head codes. It's a great idea, and I enjoy the concept, but I can't shake the feeling that some of the Skill Points are there for no other reason than to sell a strategy guide. There's just no way that anyone would figure a few of them out, if left to their own devices. (No pun intended.)

So, yeah, there's a lot to do here. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is perched weirdly on the boundary between 3D platformer and third-person shooter; it's not entirely comfortable, but it's still a lot of fun. There are a few minor issues, but they can be overcome with practice; mostly, it comes down to the fact that the way the camera works is not the way you might expect it to work. I honestly can't think of a reason not to recommend the game, regardless of your individual preference in video games, as there really is something for everyone here.

 

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Rating
90%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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