What can you say about a franchise that consistently has provided solid gameplay, enjoyable humor and amusing characters? Classic is the term that comes to mind, which easily sums up the Ratchet and Clank series. Harking back to classic platforming titles, the game mechanics of Insomniac’s franchise have consistently been entertaining for PS2 owners, raising the bar for adventure titles. That is, until now, because their latest installment in the franchise practically obliterates the bar itself. Lace up your gravity boots and grab a shock cannon, because we’re going to blow away some aliens with Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal.
While you don’t need to have played the previous two titles, fans of the duo will definitely be amused at what’s happened to the galactic heroes since Going Commando. Now that Ratchet and Clank have saved the universe twice over, you’d expect some amount of fame and fortune to come to them. Well, you’re partially right. See, the duo have become stars of a cosmically popular holovid; much to Ratchet’s chagrin, the directors have relegated him to sidekick status (seems that he can’t act to save his soul). Instead, “Secret Agent Clank” has become immensely famous, propelling the robotic hero into stardom. However, shortly after the filming of the latest Clank adventure, Ratchet observes a news report which states that a race of creatures known as Tyrannoids are attacking his homeworld of Veldin. Taking off to prevent the destruction of everything he holds dear, Ratchet and Clank quickly find themselves embroiled in yet another vast adventure, this time to stop Dr. Nefarious, an evil robotic mastermind, from eliminating all organic life.
Up Your Arsenal varies from the previous two titles in the series in a few ways. Perhaps the most radical feature is the division of the title into a single player adventure and a multiplayer component. Yes, Up Your Arsenal is completely online, with the standard capture the flag and deathmatch modes found in most multiplayer titles. It also features Siege mode where teams try to defend their bases while acquiring new territory (known as nodes) and attempt to destroy the bases of their opponents. This mode, usually found in PC games, is a great addition to console multiplayer. Supporting the online action is USB headset support to talk to your teammates or talk smack to opponents, as well as an absurd level of detail thanks to the in-game stat tracking. This doesn’t take into effect buddy listings, clans and clan challenges, or experience level quickplay death matches. This level of detail has never been seen before in a PS2 game. Plus, unlike other games, the single player title provides a kind of “in-game tutorial” during play, with certain missions designed around multiplayer match mechanics. While you’re not forced to play multiplayer if you don’t want to, Up Your Arsenal goes a long way to making the online experience as painless as possible for newbies and veterans alike.
For gamers not interested in leaping directly into multiplayer, the Single Player experience will easily provide enough action and story to satisfy anyone. Ratchet still flies to wildly diverse worlds in pursuit of Nefarious and his minions, packing a number of weaponry that, as every commercial for the franchise has said, is “not for this world.” From portable nuclear rocket launchers to lava spewing “flamethrowers”, Ratchet has the ability to wreak a massive amount of damage on anything that comes near him. It’s incredibly useful, because the game will hurl dozens of opponents at you at a single time. There’s at least twenty separate weapons found within Up Your Arsenal, all of which can be “upgraded” five times. Much like an RPG, weapons gain experience with each and every single use, providing additional firepower, targeting features or higher damage. Even more impressive is the fact that these weapons can be further augmented upon replaying the game. Ratchet himself also gains experience with every enemy killed, which bolsters his health meter significantly. Ratchet won’t have to solely rely upon firearms either. He can smash open inferno power boxes, which provides invincibility and extreme damage to Ratchet’s axes to be used on enemies. Of course, each opponent defeated releases screws and bolts that can be used to purchase additional weapons or ammo. Now, however, Ratchet can break open jackpot boxes, which multiplies the number of bolts and experience he receives from each foe.
Clank also takes on a number of duties, including controlling smaller robots to open doors and turning into “Mega Clank” to fight off larger opponents. This isn’t any different than some of the previous games, as far as how the game action is handled. What is more pleasantly surprising is the return of Captain Qwark and the Q-Force to Up Your Arsenal. Yes, the fallen superhero makes a return in this game, although he’s in bad shape. Thanks to the number of dubious choices he’s made in the previous games, Qwark’s mind has literally snapped. However, since he’s the only person who can provide Ratchet with the information he needs to stop Nefarious’ plans, he’ll have to be restored to mental sanity to help the cause against the robots. This can only be done by acquiring a number of Qwark holovid comics, which takes on an old school 2D side scrolling platformer feel.
Graphically, Ratchet and Clank features a vibrant cartoon-like visual style, with sharp, highly detailed character models. Ratchet and Clank look sharper than they ever have before, with a lot more attention paid to their facial and body animations. In fact, you’ll notice that these characters actually move and respond much more smoothly than the previous titles. This includes many of the cutscenes between missions, which are packed with a ton of humor and sight gags to make anyone laugh. While there are a few moments where the game features a degree of slowdown, particularly during massive explosions, for the most part the game remains at a stable 60 frames a second.
On the other hand, the voice acting is exceptional. Delivered with expert skill, almost every single line is filled with humor or a bit of sarcasm that anyone can appreciate. There are political references, movie commentaries and even musical parodies. The Britney Spears knockoff and music video is perhaps one of the funniest things that you will see in quite some time. Furthermore, the sound effects and musical score combine together to produce the appropriate sense of scope.
There are a number of things that can be said about Up Your Arsenal, some of which may seem like minor issues. For instance, while the multiplayer is incredibly robust, many multiplayer veterans will probably want to see more than 10 maps to play across. Whether that meant isolating more of the single player worlds and turning some of them into mini-arenas or creating new levels, 10 maps may seem just a bit too light for continual multiplayer use. This can be somewhat lightened up by using the 20 or so multiplayer skins, or even trying to experience these maps with the vehicular combat, but after a while, you’ll know just about every single nuance of the maps. Other gamers may take exception to the fact that the single player game is somewhat short for an adventure title. Some players might be able to fly through the game in 10-15 hours, especially if they try not to focus on every single mini-game but solely focus upon taking out their objectives. It will be significantly harder to do so, but the challenge is nevertheless there and possible for those players so inclined.
While these comments are somewhat up for dispute, there is one thing that isn’t up in the air: Up Your Arsenal is a phenomenal game and a great addition to the Ratchet and Clank franchise. With an expanded number of weapons, a humorous plotline and a tribute to side scrolling platformers, Up Your Arsenal is impressive as a single player game. However, it’s the inclusion of a fully fleshed out multiplayer mode that truly sets this title apart from many of the other PS2 titles this year. Go out and blow up your friends this holiday season, thanks to Insomniac.