Review: Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)

Platform: PlayStation 2
Category: Action – Platformer
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: SCEA
Release: 11/05/04

The big two. Well, actually we should call it the big three now that Sly2 stepped up the game, right? So we’ve got, Jak & Daxter. Sly Cooper. And Ratchet & Clank. It’s amazing that Nintendo used to define this genre. But with three quality franchises, if you’re among today’s platformer lovers the place to be as weird as it is to say, is the PlayStation2.

But Jak and Ratchet have always garnered the most attention. I’m a Jak & Daxter series guy myself. The charm and personality exuding from those games eclipses nearly everything I’ve seen in this generation of gaming. My beloved Sonic Team’s efforts included. Ratchet & Clank? A close second. But if you haven’t noticed, with third iterations for both series hitting this year there’s been in-staff debates for quite some time on which would end up better. Jak 3 or Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

I’ll tell you right now, I like Jak 3 more.

“Whoa whoa whoa, Bebito! You can’t say that at the beginning of a review! Doesn’t that mean you’re biased?”

Yup. But that’s the beauty of our review system here at Inside Pulse. It forces you to examine each and every part of a game and nitpick at every single piece of it to the point of insanity. Reviewers can’t get away with being biased, because if they try it becomes all too apparent to the reader. Better still, even if you disagree with the Final Score, whatever the reasons, it’s been explained in enough detail for you to come to your own informed decision.

So with that said, let’s see what one biased writer’s review has to say about his runner-up favorite franchise…

LET’S REVIEW



STORY:

Who’s the sidekick and who’s the hero, again? You’d think this’d be an easy one. Ratchet dives out of planes into heavy artillery fire, fights in gladiator style arena death-matches, and literally leads an entire war against an invading alien race along with the evil organic-life destroying dictator puppetting them, in order to save the galaxy.

And Clank? Well… Clank’s the backpack.

But who gets the star treatment? Not only is our robot “sidekick” considered the galaxy’s greatest hero, but he also stars in his own T.V. show, Secret Agent Clank, while Ratchet gets zilch credit and the shaft.

Making matters worse for poor Ratchet is the fact that Tyhrranoid raiders are attacking his home planet of Veldin! In a dastardly plot to eradicate all organic life from the universe, the robotic Dr. Nefarious has enlisted the help of these unwitting aliens (who incidentally are organic themselves… yeah, Tyhrranoids ain’t too smart) to take out all habitable planets; and Veldin is first on the hit list.

What’s a couple of heroes to do? Lock and load baby, what else? The good news is they’re not going it alone this time. An elite (pfftt…) team of space commandos comprised of series mainstays and led by a returning Captain Qwark is there to watch Ratchet & Clank’s back. Way waaaaay back. Add in their very own Galaxtic-class starship headquarters dubbed The Phoenix, and you’ve got quite the force to be reckoned with. So with tons of back up, a plethora of new weapons, and a newly developed robot inferiority complex, Ratchet straps on his robot sidekick partner and heads out to save the universe. Again.

The series has always been a laugh riot when it came to narrative. Sure the plot is nothing amazing or novel. But dialogue between characters is well written, witty, and incredibly funny. Part of the major reward of the experience is getting to the next wacky cut-scene. From watching a dead on parody of a robotic Britney Spears video, to taking delight in the snide comments of Dr. Nefarious’ sarcastic butler, Lawrence, to enjoying the narrator’s hilarious delivery for Captain Qwark’s back-history, every time a new part of the story played out I was glued to my TV. I wouldn’t enjoy Up Your Arsenal half as much as I did if it wasn’t for the story.

Again, it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s great for what it is and what it was intended to be: a fun-filled comedic excuse for continued play. Wonderful.

Story rating: 8/10



GRAPHICS:

Varied. Vivid. Attractive. Honestly this is probably as good as it gets on the PlayStation2. Tons of awesomely huge explosions. Particle effects out the wazoo. Detailed and diverse character models with slick animation. Some of the most stunning water effects I’ve ever seen on the system. Not one ounce of slowdown. And this installment features the richest assortment of environments of any game in the series. Simply put, it’s near technically flawless.

I say “near” because there are little graphical glitches here and there. Not very noticeable, but they tend to stand out when in First Person mode especially. Clipping and non-player related collision detection issues create some weird sights, such as an enemy floating right through a wall down towards me or gunfire seeping through solid objects and barriers. These faults are negligible however, and not distracting from the overall quality. The majority of non-anal players (i.e. gamers not working for Inside Pulse) won’t even notice them. I reiterate, this is the best looking platformer on the system…

Yet with that said still, it doesn’t wow me. It doesn’t exude that “OMG! How did they pull that off on the PlayStation2!?!?”, feeling. Perhaps Insomniac themselves are responsible for this; as Up Your Arsenal does look better than, but isn’t too far off from Going Commando in terms of graphical prowess. Since they got it right the firs… err, second time, it’s not such a shock things look to par now and thus lessens the impact of what’s on your screen.

But in reality, that may not be so much the case as much as the game lacks the visual creativity, the originality, the… oh let’s call it artistry, of say a Legend Of Zelda or even its cousin in the Jak & Daxter series. If there was a “soul” anywhere in all this, I couldn’t see it.

Yeah, I know, more complaining than praise. It truly is hard to find fault with this game’s graphics and I really want to be impressed with what I’m seeing since all signs point to excellence, but it’s just missing that special something that makes one stand up and take notice. Still it represents the graphic technological pinnacle for PS2 platformers up till now, with the only major nitpicking faults being that the former pinnacle isn’t too far off from this and that it’s the most “generically beautiful” game I’ve ever seen.

Graphics rating (for a PlayStation2 game): 9/10



SOUND:

Acoustics have always been a series strong point and that still holds true here. Both series familiar and brand new audio tracks meld together crafting a great, tension filled, and memorable musical score fitting of a space adventure epic. Even now, my mind’s ear resonates with The Phoenix’s grandiose, horn heavy theme. Not all the tunes are this catchy and it’s nothing that I’d put into my car and blast rolling down the street while sippin’ a Forty and honking at the shorties; but as it should be with all good soundtracks… when I play the game, I wanna hear that music.

Voice-overs are spot on and hilarious; contributing greatly to what charm the game exudes. Well-timed delivery and character appropriate renditions make the overall story that much better.

To top it off sound effects offer all the high quality mechanized zings, blurps, cranks, and of course the sweet sounds of destruction one would expect to match what’s coming across their many times hectic filled screen.

It’s all great; and if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the level specific music tracks sound similar and lack impact compared to others, I’d say approaching brilliance.

Sound rating: 8/10



CONTROL & GAMEPLAY:

Three control types are granted. First Person mode. Third Person mode. And a Lock Strafe mode, which controls exactly like First Person but within the third person perspective. The genre standard Third Person control set-up is the default and unsurprisingly the most intuitive, with the other control settings most likely to be ignored by majority of players as novelties. Expert players though, will eventually make good use of Lock Strafe mode, as it gives you very precise control over your shots and lets you fire and jump without taking your hands off the sticks. First Person mode is a little harder to utilize because the way gameplay is setup lends itself more sensible to actually seeing your character in action, especially during heavy platforming sequences or Spherical World levels. Still each control scheme has its merits and it’s nice of Insomniac to give us the alternatives, whether or not all are practical in every situation.

If you’ve never played the series before, know that the emphasis is on all-out crazed action and ludicrous destruction. Going Commando featured a plethora of weapons and gadgets for enemy extermination and Up Your Arsenal ups the ante with returning favorites and a brand new arsenal for your buying pleasure. And the best part? The more you use your armaments the more powerful they become, now four times over… some gaining lock-on features and some morphing into what seems like completely different beasts by their final form. Selection is swift and effortless for both weapons and gadgets with two Quick Select circles for inventory management, accessed with simple a press of the Triangle button.

It’s not just jumping and shooting, either. You’ll fly ships. You’ll solve gadget related puzzles. Swim. Ride in a small assortment of vehicles. Play mini-games. You even reprise the role of Clank–both in his Oddworld rip-off gameplay form and as also the popular returning Godzilla-like Giant Clank. Best of all and my personal favorite is the Captain Qwark Vid-Comics, featuring oldschool 2D side-scrolling platforming–brought a tear to my eye. None of these gameplay conventions are thrown in as afterthoughts, and are handled with the same care and finesse as the rest of the game.

Bottom line? Control is swift, easy, and accessible. Nearly everything about this game is streamlined and polished. It’s like Insomniac has been building up to this, tightening gameplay with each new addition until they’ve finally achieved near gaming nirvana. No camera problems. Tight and varied controls. Good, at times, great level design. I was trying so, so hard. But I couldn’t find anything substantially wrong, other than the fact no new ground was broken with this title. It’s the same stuff we’ve always seen in this genre, just polished to the nth degree. Truthfully that’s the only thing knocking this category’s rating down. That is, I need at least SOMETHING to jump out at me and make me say, “Whoever came up with that gameplay device was a freaking genius,” to score the almighty perfect 10. But barring that, I can almost confidently declare everything I’ve ever seen done in the genre, is done here. And done better than everyone else is doing it.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 9/10



BALANCE:

It’s not Billy Hatcher hard. It’s not Ninja Gaiden hard. It’s not playing Ikaruga with your eyes closed hard. But holy shmamolies, this thing will bring the most experienced platformer gamers to tears. In a good way.

Come on. You know it and I know it. Since the mainstream insurgence, games in general have gotten incredibly easy. The masses need to be accommodated, and to be honest… collectively the masses suck. So developers dummy it down a little bit to make their product widely accessible as possible. But where does that leave gamers who’ve been honing their skills for years? We need a challenge. We need something that won’t be beat on one life without using a continue.

Well here it is. It seems Insomniac took into account that this is the third game in the series. Figuring you’ve more than likely been through the trenches already, the difficulty is ramped up considerably making this the hardest game in the series, and possibly the hardest platformer on the PlayStation2. After the first few missions, things get hectic quick. And it caught me off guard. Once I knew what the deal was though, a smile stretched across my jaded face, and I buckled down for a war. And a war I got.

This game isn’t cheap. It doesn’t throw scenarios at you where it’s trial and error. You don’t have to die to figure out how to get past a certain area. If you’re good, you’ll win. It’s that simple. And the better you get, the harder the game gets. The more enemies you’ll fight. The stronger the enemies become. The tougher the platforming challenges become. This circle of life continues until the game is just BRUTAL, but it works out because you’ve grown as a player along the journey. It’ll be a trying and perilous experience, but it’s ultimately rewarding as you feel as though you’ve actually accomplished something with each victory scored.

Combine that with an equally useable weapon selection (for the most part), reasonable save markers within levels, and a fair and customizable online experience and you’ve got one of the most balanced platformers you’ll ever see. My only major gripe being that a couple of the boss battles are a little easy, at least compared with the pacing of the game. Then again, *cracks knuckles* maybe I’m just that good…

Balance rating: 9/10



REPLAYABILITY:

Um. No. I’d NEVER replay the entire game over again. You kidding me? Did you even read what I wrote above? This game is BRUTAL. And it’s not like a 2D shooter, where it’s short and quick brutality thus more palatable for replay. Oh no, this thing is long and brutal and there’s no way I’d subject myself to that ever again. No. No. No. Never. Never. Never…

That’s what I said to myself anyway, until I finished the game and realized just like Going Commando, right after the credits roll up pops Challenge Mode. And god help me, something sadistic or self-hating in me just kept on playing to see if I could handle it. In Challenge Mode you start a new, even harder game against more numerous and insanely tougher enemies, with all of your experience, weapons, armor, and money from the last game carried over. Not only is it a hardcore test of your abilities, but also if you want to get absolutely everything in the game you’ll need to complete it.

And it was right about here I realized how deep this thing was. Insomniac has added in an incredible amount of extra crap that you never even have to touch to finish this game: Earning Trophies, finding all the Titanium Bolts, VR Challenges, performing Skill Points, searching out the Omega Weapons, blah blah bladaddy blah… the list is staggering. While the official rewards are minimal (various cheats and extra character skins), completing all the challenges is a reward within itself, serving almost as a badge of honor for the player.

Oh yeah. And then there’s something about some Online or Multiplayer modes or something?

Right. This game is off the chains on the replay tip. Though I couldn’t see myself retrogaming this thing when the newer prettier version is released on PlayStation5 or even a few months down the road once I’ve found every single thing in it for that matter, you gotta admit this is one of the most potentially replayable platformers yet.

Replayability rating: 8/10



ORIGINALITY:

Ever get that feeling you’ve seen this all before? Insomniac’s been spitting this series out one game per year like a Taiwanese children’s sweatshop since its inception. It’s amazing that the Ratchet & Clank franchise development cycle is so short while at the same time continually increasing in quality with each new installment. However it’s easy to see where the series suffers as a result: Originality.

Honestly, there’s times where if you were to put the disc in without letting me see it and jumped me right into the single player campaign… I’d be hard pressed to tell you whether I was playing Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal. And no, this isn’t because I’m mentally retarded or somehow oblivious to the obvious. It’s because by and large the gameplay mechanics remain the same. The mission objectives (i.e. blowing stuff up) are essentially the same. Some of the new weapons–while yes cool and devastating for sure–were pretty much just remixed from previous games. Everything adds up to be one major dose of dejavu for anyone familiar with the series, or action platformers in general for that matter.

Sure. The Quark 2D Vid-Comics, while hardly innovative within themselves, are a nice touch helping to break things up. As are the new Multiplayer and Online components. Kudos to Insomniac for that. But none of that is truly new. In the end, even with those additions, I couldn’t shake the â┚¬Ëœbeen there done that’ feeling. The problem is so much content was crammed into Going Commando that Insomniac made it all but impossible to top themselves in a meaningful way in regards to innovations for gameplay this third time out, especially with such a tight development cycle. And yes, that was a compliment. I hate penalizing Up Your Arsenal on this because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? But sadly that lack of “newness” sapped an ever-so-small amount of the fun right out of the game.

Originality rating: 4/10



ADDICTIVENESS:

Welp, remember that “ever-so-small amount of fun” sapped away we were just talking about? That hits this category HARD. Knowing full well what the single player experience had in store for me, I wasn’t exactly eager to continue on. My mind kept saying, “Eh. I know what this is all about. I’ll finish at my leisure.” It really does feel like you’re going through nearly the exact same adventure for the third time in a row. I suppose this is what would happen even if Shigeru Miyamoto had released an updated version of Super Mario 64 every year. They would still be brilliant yes, but if the sequels were all so strikingly similar you’d honestly get kinda tired of it. We may have found why ole Miyamoto takes so long between games spending hordes of time thinking of new innovative ways to approach the genre. It’s to keep things fresh. Well things ain’t fresh here. Occasionally my main motivation for even plowing forward in Up Your Arsenal was just to finish this review.

With that said, I’m a big fan of the R&C series. I bought this game for that reason: because I knew it would be tough as nails, pack-in tons of content, and be laugh-out-loud funny during the game’s many hilarious story sequences. It was for these reasons that when I was able to get past the fact it’s the same ole same ole, I couldn’t put my controller down. And even when I did grow weary, I knew due to a strong want of quality platforming that sooner rather than later I’d be back.

So believe it or not, familiarity with the franchise may both hurt AND help you here. If you’ve never played an R&C adventure, go ahead and add three points to this category. But then again if you’ve never played an R&C game before, why start here when the original is sitting on shelves begging to be picked up at a Greatest Hits price of only $19.99? You see my point? By the time you’ll probably end up playing this title, the thrill may be nowhere near what it was last time you were “blown away” by the series.

Addictiveness rating: 4/10

Oh wait! Silly me. That’s only the single player campaign. It’s a whole other basket o’ eggs when Online & Mutliplayer modes factor into the equation. Correspondent Matt Yeager clocked in some heavy time with R&C3’s online modes to help provide a detailed assessment:

[Online Commentary Courtesy Of Matt Yeager:]
One of the benefits of having a smooth online interface with little load time between games is that it’s easy to fall into the ‘just one more game’ mentality. I haven’t had to wait much longer than a minute or two between games before getting immediately into another one. There is also the proven digital crack for online shooting fans… the ranking system. It’s hard not to get hooked into trying to move up the list or to try and improve your death/killed ratio. Up Your Arsenal pretty much provides all the tools needed to satisfy your online shooter junkie or provide a gateway experience for people who haven’t tried out an online shooter before.

The sine qua non? An infusion of Online and Multiplayer modes help keep a gamer’s attention when the single player campaign’s series redundancies become all too apparent. Thank goodness Insomniac added them in, because it impacts the overall game drastically… for the better.

Final Overall Addictiveness rating: 7/10



APPEAL FACTOR:

Longevity. That’s what this franchise has. Longevity. If a broad range of people weren’t buying these games in droves and loving them, then there wouldn’t even be a third one to speak of. Hardcore platformer gamers love it due to the challenge. Kids love it because it’s cute, funny and sports easy to learn controls. Teens and adults love it because despite the fact you’re playing as a giant cat with a sentient robot sidekick, the series has adult enough comedy and relatable subject matter to avoid the kiss o’ death stigma of appearing “too kiddie”. All this can be attributed to the remarkable quality dripping from every title in the series’ orifice, and Up Your Arsenal is no exception. It’s just a very, very good game all around. Crazy action. Great visuals. Finely tuned gameplay. What’s not to like?

Even Sony’s print ad and television campaign for it is ingenious and lovable, with some of the funniest TV spots ever seen for a videogame. Odds are you knew about Up Your Arsenal months before it hit. And even before you read this review you probably knew it was released. The Sony hype machine works, kids.

Alas, only major thing knocking appeal down is the difficulty. It’s so blasted hard that many may not have the patience for it. In Going Commando one who didn’t hit their gaming Zen every time they turned on the PS2 would still be able to survive well into later stages of the game. Not here. You’d better have your stuff together from the second you take the shrink-wrapping off the box because by the third hour you’ll have been put through the fire and back, baby. I love that. But it won’t sit well with players who just want to have some occasional thoughtless fun. You play this game, you well be prepared to stumble into an all out sensory warfare.

Still, it’s got the history. It’s got the marketing. It’s got the quality. Odds are high that if you’re reading this review you’ll want this game.

Appeal Factor rating: 8/10



MISCELLANEOUS:

One of the game’s most vaunted features is inclusion of the new online experience. We’d be remiss without exploring it intricately:

[Online Commentary Courtesy Of Matt Yeager:]
Before mentioning anything about the gameplay online there’s something I need to say first. I’ve run across some games that tout their online modes only to have crappy presentations and horrible online layouts that make it hard to effectively even find a game to join online and just kills the whole experience. Resident Evil: Outbreak and Champions of Norrath are good examples of this. Those developers need to grab ahold of this game right now and pay attention to how it is done in Ratchet and Clank 3. Setting up a profile is a breeze with several different skins to choose from, and finding or creating a game is a breeze. You are able to do a quick search for a game or do a more detailed search, or create a game of your own with a wide variety of options to choose from such as what weapons are allowed and whether vehicles are turned on or off. You can set up a buddy list, check your ranking stats from several different categories, etc. This is the type of layout I’m used to from Xbox Live games and from only a handful of PS2 online games.

After you have created a profile you can log right in. Then you can select to create or search for a game. There are three games styles to choose from Siege, Capture the Flag, and Deathmatch. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag play like similar modes found in other online games. Siege plays a little differently. Siege sort of reminds me of Starwars Battlefront, where your team has to capture specific points, from which your team will then be able to respawn from later. Fitting into the theme of the game these points look like giant screws that you will have to screw into the ground using your wrench. Though there are only three gametypes each are a blast to play and will keep you coming back for more.

In every game I have so far played has been as smooth as a baby’s ass with no noticable lag so far or any large graphical hitches. The weapons all seem to be mostly balanced though one or two do appear to be slightly more powerful than some of the others but you have the option when creating a game to including only the weapons you want; that means if you want and all morph-o-ray game you can have an all morph-o-ray game. There are three different control schemes to choose from, third person (default), first person, and lock-strafe control which is the scheme I felt was the most comfortable. The vehicles are easy to control and are not very overly powerful since they are not too difficult to destroy. The maps are great and mix in the Rachet and Clank world well with areas to climb and hang from with the magnetic boots and areas to swingshot across.

The online mode could have easily been a half assed add on to the single player game, but instead it is one of the better PS2 online games in terms of layout and design. If your a fan of the series or just a fan of online shooters, I would definitely recommend grabbing this title online and turning your friends into sheep as soon as possible.

Miscellaneous rating: 9/10



THE RATINGS:

Story rating: 8/10
Graphics rating: 9/10
Sound rating: 8/10
Control & Gameplay Rating: 9/10
Balance rating: 9/10
Replayability rating: 8/10
Originality rating: 4/10
Addictiveness rating: 7/10
Appeal Factor rating: 8/10
Miscellaneous rating: 9/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Online and Multiplayer additions save this game in a big way, although it never really needed saving. It just took something already very, very good and made it excellent. This is the best platformer on the system. Period. This is the measuring stick for everything released on the PlayStation2 in the genre from this day forward. Slick graphics. Slicker gameplay. A hilarious and compelling story. And an awesome online experience. You’ve seen it before, but never this well done. Insomniac has crafted a technical wizardry worthy of any fan of the genre’s attention. People, there’s nothing else left to say. Buy it. Play it. Love it. Now if you’ll excuse, I’m on my way to play me some Jak 3. ;)