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Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal Review Rewind


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On 10/15/2011 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

Ratchet and Clank are back...again!
RECOMMENDATION:

Up Your Arsenal continues the high quality of the Ratchet & Clank series. Just don't expect a lot of wow moments here.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal was the third Ratchet game that Insomniac released in three years. The company had been on a roll, with three successful Spyro the Dragon games under their belt on the PlayStation, and a wildly popular follow-up franchise in Ratchet & Clank. Does Up Your Arsenal continue this grand tradition, and does it hold up today?

This time around, our dynamic duo is found relaxing once again after saving the galaxy. This time, however, it is Clank, and not Ratchet, that is the media darling. His popular show, Secret Agent Clank (which would go on to become a spinoff game for the PSP and PS2) has made him a superstar, much to Ratchet’s chagrin. Things get real fast, however, as Ratchet’s home planet of Veldin gets attacked by the dreaded Tyrhannoids. Before long, Ratchet & Clank are flying to the rescue.

I’ve always loved the way Insomniac presents the story elements for the Ratchet & Clank games. While there is always a cohesive and interesting plot, the game never gets bogged down in lengthy cutscenes, which were a hallmark of the PlayStation 2 era. Each cutscene gives you just enough story bits to move you forward, and you’re right back to the action. That shouldn’t suggest, however, that the story of Up Your Arsenal is throwaway or boring. As always, we are treated to an entertaining narrative. The dialogue is punchy and well-written, and the voice cast performs above and beyond the call of duty. While voice acting was getting better by Up Your Arsenal’s 2004 release, really great voice acting was still hard to come by. Even though I had played through Up Your Arsenal not too long ago, the game still managed to make me smile and laugh as if it was my first time playing.

A good story and funny voice acting will only get you so far in video games, however. You need solid gameplay and core mechanics to back it up, and Up Your Arsenal has that in spades. If you played the second game, Going Commando, there’s not a ton here that will surprise you, but the game just feels better. That’s a very important thing for me; if things don’t move quite right or the controls feel a bit off it can really impact my enjoyment of a game. Ratchet controls tighter here than in previous games, and the camera moves at a much quicker clip, which is a wonderful thing, indeed. Playing the beginning of Going Commando for comparison was a pretty rough proposition, as everything just felt slow and unresponsive next to Up Your Arsenal.

As far as major gameplay differences, you can see them, but you’ll have to look a little harder compared to the jump from the first to second game. You will still level up your nanotech (hit points) and weapons like you did in Going Commando, but the progression seems smoother this time around. Up Your Arsenal was almost ahead of its time with the way that it constantly hits the dopamine button in your brain the way that the Call of Duty games do now. It seems like every few minutes you’re leveling up something, and it makes it very easy to get into a situation where you just want to play long enough to get that next weapon upgrade. The weapons are pretty much entirely new this time around, and continue with Insomniac’s tradition of creating truly memorable weapons. The guns in Ratchet & Clank have weight and power behind them, and that’s something that I often find absent in games today. When you open fire with the Shock Blaster (read: shotgun) it feels like you’re unleashing waves of destruction on your enemies. There’s a new Inferno power-up which boosts Ratchet’s armor and gives him super powered dual wrenches for a limited time. It’s fun when you can get it, but it wears off way too quickly and doesn’t pop up very often. Having it as a special ability that you trigger, like the rage mode in God of War, would have been a much better way to go.

Beyond new weapons, many of the core elements seem geared towards the online multiplayer. This was the first Ratchet & Clank game to feature an online component, but obviously I can’t comment on it, and the servers are long since shut down. I’ve always felt that the weapons in the Ratchet series would be well-suited to a multiplayer mode, and large parts of the game feel like they are training for going head to head. There’s a first person mode that you can play this time around, but with all of the platforming required I wouldn’t recommend it. In many of the levels you can play optional missions that feel very much like mini multiplayer skirmishes, like controlling points on a map, holding off waves of enemies, and things of that nature. They are fun diversions, but I ended up skipping most of them, as they become repetitive as the game goes on. There’s also a series of 2D sections where you play as Captain Qwark in his past adventures. It sounds cool in concept, but in execution, these levels leave a lot to be desired. Floaty jumping and plenty of cheap hits result in the occasional “ragequit” phenomenon.

Up Your Arsenal, while never a boring game, tries its best to break up the normal platforming and shooting with some different gameplay elements, but whenever it does, my enjoyment of the game goes way down. The vehicular combat, and especially the bits where you’re controlling Ratchet’s ship, are simply not fun. Less than precise controls and time-sensitive mission objectives make for some frustrating sections. In fact, one particular flying level was annoying enough for me to put the game down for at least a month or two before finishing. Besides those minor quibbles, the game moves along at a much nicer pace than Going Commando, which was a little on the long side. I logged a good 18 hours in that game and was ready for it to end, but I finished this one in 12 and felt satisfied.

I’m a confessed graphics snob, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to look at older polygonal games and judge them based on their own merits. I played Up Your Arsenal on a tube television with an S-Video cable for my PS2, and the game still looks really nice. Insomniac has a very clean style and art direction that, besides giving their games a very recognizable look, also lets the graphics hold up over time. The characters are big and expressive, and the levels are full of life, detail, and animation. On my tube TV, it looked great, but if I plugged it into my HDTV I can’t say that it would have the same effect. While there is a lot to be enjoyed with Up Your Arsenal, this series is begging for the HD treatment.

As great as Up Your Arsenal is, it falls into the trap of the yearly sequel that was so prevalent in the PS2 generation. Three games in three years just isn’t enough time to bring anything totally fresh to the formula. Despite being a shining example of how to make a game, Up Your Arsenal just doesn’t do anything that I haven’t seen from this series before. It was so much like Going Commando that I have yet to play the PlayStation 3 games, simply because, after playing three Ratchet games pretty much in a row, I was pretty burned out on the series. If you never played Up Your Arsenal, it’s a fine addition to your library. If you recently went through Going Commando, however, I’d recommend waiting a good amount of time before taking this one on, lest you get a serious sense of déjà vu.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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