My favorite thought about playing the original Ratchet and Clank was, "Finally, an actually, honest to god mind numbing action title!" Thankfully, it turned out to be more than a hiccup. It turned into a semi-iconic video game series for the Playstation 2, and one of the last identifiable console mascots. (Although their being a console mascot has more to do with them being exclusives on Sony's machine than anything else. You don't see any ads for Sony equipment with Clank holding up a miniaturized television set.) Ratchet and Clank was a throwback to the good old days of video games, when challenge was presented through impossible-to-approach bad guys rather than uncovering every patch, hidden or not, to reach the number of whatever mystical item you're collecting.
Up Your Arsenal, the third Ratchet and Clank game, realizes the full potential of the series and corrects a bunch of glaring flaws from the first two games, Ratchet and Clank and Going Commando. It also expands on those two games in some very fun ways while removing some of the riffraff. Those hard as nails space dogfights and motorcycle races from Going Commando are gone.
Up Your Arsenal features the grand return of our two favorite characters from the first game who weren't named Ratchet and Clank. I'm talking about Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark. The story introduces us to our two titular heroes, Ratchet and Clank, living a pretty good life. They're still good friends, but all Clank's attention lately seems to be getting the better of Ratchet. It's Clank who's the face of the two by playing the James Bond wannabe on some camp show called Secret Agent Clank, while Ratchet gets the undignified role as Clank's limo driver. Clank is awesome and everything, but Ratchet is still feeling a little left behind, a justifiable thought considering he did all the dirty work in saving the universe while Clank pulled his weight as a backpack. In the meantime, Dr. Nefarious has returned and is now bankrolling an attack on Ratchet's home planet by some gullible warrior race called the Tyhrranoids. His ultimate object is to wipe out all organic life. The Tyhrranoids, by the way, are organic life forms, so in helping Nefarious out, they're also future winners of a Darwin Award. Long story short, it's up to Ratchet to play the universal hero again, gather an arsenal or weaponry which would make Mad Max plotz, and nuke Nefarious back to the age when the deadliest weapons were sticks and stones.
The weapons in Up Your Arsenal are bigger and more explosive (read: fun) than ever before. You want military assault guns? You can leave the M-16 and AK-47 at home for this one. Up Your Arsenal gives us BFG after BFG with names like the N60 Storm, Spitting Hydra, Lava Gun, Shock Blaster, and Annihilator! And yeah, they'll all be blowing stuff up REAL good, too! The Mine Glove attacks any enemy who gets too close. The Agents of Doom run around the battlefield dismantling anything they can get their tiny, scuzzy little hands on. The Spitting Hydra locks onto enemies before giving them a knockout dose of lightning, and the Annihilator launches rockets at whatever it's locked on. Provided you have one of the older Ratchet and Clank games on the same memory card you're using to save Up Your Arsenal to, you can also grab some of the older weapons from those games. Some of the weapons are better, more useful, and more powerful than others, and some are just plain obsolete by the end of the game. And when Slim Cognito offers Ratchet a deal on the Plasma Coil, you're best off picking it right up because without a powered-up plasma coil, the final battle against Dr. Nefarious is going to be a much longer and more drawn-out affair than it needs to be.
The weapons even gain experience and become more powerful the more often you use them, like in any standard RPG. While this is a nice little addition that adds a little bit of replay value, I don't think Insomniac (the developer) went far enough in developing it. The N60 Storm is a nice little basic blaster which packs a sizable wallop in the early goings. It also holds the most significant ammo reserve in the game, with 300 shots, making it a good fallback weapon when the bigger, fun guns are bereft of all projectiles. And, no matter how much you work to get that sucker juiced all the way up, it's still going to do nothing more than maybe tickle your enemies come the game's halfway mark. The effect gets magnified if you happen to really enjoy plugging bad guys with the Omniwrench - Ratchet's default weapon - and the Plasma Whip, which are the only weapons in the game suited more for melee combat than distance battles. They're also outdated early, which makes it a pain later if you get surrounded by little nuisance enemies because most of the guns in Up Your Arsenal are of the one-shot-per-enemy type.
The level designs…. Ah, who cares? We all know the weapons are why people love to play the Ratchet and Clank series. Some of the levels are slight retreads from the first game, like Blackwater City and Metropolis. Still, though, well, first you'll be glad to know there's no real water level. There's swimming in the game, but nothing in the way of water which can really be said to hamper the game. You'll be stopping by a lot of the planets more than once, and it's a good idea to keep dropping by other planets in order to make money. In one level, you can gather crystals which are worth a black market fortune. In others, you help the Galactic Rangers in one of their various missions in restoring peace and order to the galaxy.
The difficulty of Up Your Arsenal took me off guard, probably because I've spent many years now softening myself up through a million video game scavenger hunts in which the only challenge was finding every item. But as far as 3D games go, this ain't your kid's 3D video game. Levels are linear, and in the grand tradition of the old 16-bit era, you actually have to start at one end and you get stuck traversing the same path until you get to a designated end point. In your way are enemies. Not token road block creatures which happen to get in your way sometimes and can be knocked off in one shot, but ENEMIES. Bad guys who either charge you or start firing away on sight, knock off giant chunks of health, and are programmed to kill you in faster, better ways as the game goes on. Some of these guys are in inconvenient places, and they're not privy to just letting you by. You need to do some serious weapon cycling and experimenting to learn which weapons are best suited for those situations.
Up Your Arsenal even has bosses, and they're not tokens, either. They're big, they're bad, they have long and absorbent life bars, and they're not going to let you by until you've shot them enough times. The boss battles are unfortunately one of my problems with Up Your Arsenal. Remember what I said a few paragraphs ago about how outdated weapons won't do much more than tickle enemies in later levels? Well, that's the way it goes in EVERY boss fight. A lot of these boss battles are turned from simple fights into wars of attrition because of that. You walk up to them, avoid getting hit, and blast them as much as they can take being blasted. A powered-up gun can help, but even so, most bosses will be able to withstand the onslaught of nearly everything you can throw. I've fought boss battles in this game which ran over 20 minutes, and that's just inexcusable.
At least you get to start over at any boss you made it to after dying, and that's more than I can say for the rest of the game. Again, this was a 16-bit mainstay so I shouldn't be complaining, but it's still painful to fight your almost way almost to level's end, or at the very least the halfway checkpoint, then die just when you're close enough to smell it because you have to start the whole level all over again, with all the dead baddies resurrected, right in the same spots they were in last time they killed you. Up Your Arsenal could have used the less torturous system of letting you pick up right where you died, thus saving a lot of frustration. What's worse is that, terrible as it is being brought back all the way at the beginning of a level, all the ammo you expended that didn't find its way into robot steel isn't resurrected. You have to visit the vendor and buy a whole new stock. The sections with Clank don't give him any weapons other than a banana launcher which is there only for puzzle-solving. Clank has to walk up to every enemy and hit them with his fists. He only has a handful of hit points, and every time he dies, he has to start his section all the way from the beginning. Good luck with that.
At least the obstacles aren't overtly painful to navigate this time. There are no real tricky jumping puzzles or rushes to use a ledge-creating gadget however many times in a row before you get any time to collect your bearings.
Up Your Arsenal presents us with playable Captain Qwark comics, which are essential to the plot and which function as fun games within a game. The last comic you have to play, featuring a boss fight against Dr. Nefarious, is one of the most annoying scenes I've ever played out in a video game, but all in all the comics are a fun addition and a dash of uniqueness to the game and a welcome break from the action when it gets too hot.
The graphics and sounds in Up Your Arsenal are as perfect as in the rest of the series. Voices are loud and crystal clear, and the graphics perform smoothly while pushing the Playstation 2 to its limits. A lot of action is capable of happening onscreen at the same time, both in the background and foreground. There's nary a whiff of graphic slowdown which tends to infect the Playstation 2 normally when it tries to do the things Up Your Arsenal does; no pop-up problems, smooth camera, beautiful colors. The voice-over work is extremely well-done, and the cast includes veteran character actor Armin Shimerman. Geeks reading this will recognize him as the actor who played Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And no, while the names Quark and Qwark sound exactly the same, Shimerman doesn't portray the cowardly sellout Captain Qwark in Up Your Arsenal. He actually voices Dr. Nefarious.
The controls are as perfect as can be. There are parts where the game is reluctant to let you really get a good look around with the camera, mostly when you're leaning against walls and such. There are also points where it's a little bit too easy to misjudge the distance of a jump, but that's hardly Insomniac's fault. One feature I like is that at the weapon selection menu, you can press R1 to get an alternate selection of weapons, which makes life a little easier when deciding what to place into the quick select.
If you're the kind of gamer who likes to just toss in the cartridge (kids, a cartridge is what we dinosaurs used to play video games on. They didn't have any loading time, but when you played one often enough, you would have to blow on the data chips inside them to clear the dust off to get them to work) and start blowing up everything in sight, Ratchet and Clank is your series, and Up Your Arsenal is the best game in it.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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