Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando Review Rewind
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On 10/14/2011 at 12:00 PM by Chessa DiMola
A mix of improvements from the first elevate the mechanics, but changes to the core gameplay harm the overall experience.
For those looking for more shooting and less platforming. This is a decent game, but a mediocre Ratchet & Clank game.
I know I'm going to be in the overwhelming minority here, but I have seriously mixed feelings about Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. On one hand, the game drastically improved upon some of my gameplay complaints from the original title, on the other, it went ahead and created a whole new set of problems. Lenghty fetch quests and far too many required mini-games made the game feel drawn out and the overwhelming combat drastically overshadowed the platforming. This hurt an important core element of the game leaving it unbalanced, unfocused, and devoid of an element of character it once had before.
Starting out, I was happy with many of the changes implemented to help alleviate some of the issues I complained about in the original Ratchet & Clank. First and foremost, I could finally level up my weapons, allowing me to become more powerful without having to purchase new weaponry. Unlike newer games, the weapons can only level up once, but I was happy just to get a one time power boost.
Secondly, the health system was retooled for Going Commando, giving players up to eighty small units of health - made up of squares seperated into four sections - which is depleted according to how powerful the enemy is. Leveling up ones health works exactly the same way it did in the first game, however Going Commando added nanotech upgrades, which will automatically increase a players health by one unit when found. Unlike the first game, a player's health increases relatively quickly in Going Commando, so along with leveling up at a good rate and being able to find the nonotech upgrades, players can arm themselves with a decent amount of life - which is good because they're really going to need it.
The first hour or so I played Going Commando I continued to ride the excitement that fixing some of the gameplay issues from the first brought me. But after a little while I noticed that certain things just felt a bit off. For one, there was a drastic shift in the amount of platforming compared with the amount of combat. This game was supposed to be a platformer, right? So...where was all the intricate jumping and climbing? Sure, I was climbing ladders and wall jumping and leaping from one landing to another, but it all felt a bit too easy and not really what I would call platformer material.
Then there was the combat, which was clearly intended to be the main focus of this Ratchet & Clank title. Every location I visited was jam packed with enemies, and at times I couldn't go anywhere without a dozen enemies popping up and assaulting me from every angle. I just felt like the entire game was a non-stop barrage of enemies that would either pop out of nowhere or respawn instantly. At some point all I could think was, "Alright, enough is enough." All I wanted was a little bit of balance in gameplay like the original, but Going Commando decided to create balance in a much different way.
While the original Ratchet & Clank had its share of requiring players to complete mini-game challenges, Going Commando took it to a whole new level. In order to continue onward in the game, players are frequently forced to successfully complete four types of mini-games: arena battles, aerial battles, hover bike races, and spherical planets.
Of the four, only two really felt as though they weren't merely tacked on to artificially elongate a players experience: visiting the spherical planets and fighting in the arenas. Since combat is an established core element of the series, being forced to fight off waves of enemies was actually quite fun, and encouraged me to ration my ammo and carefully select the weapons I was using against all of the different types of enemies. The arena Battles first appeared in Going Commando and, not surprisingly at all, went on to become a staple of future Ratchet & Clank titles.
Visiting the spherical planets was the only other mini-game that was both well done and incredibly entertaining. It was easy for me to forget, after playing the newer Ratchet & Clank titles, as well as Super Mario Galaxy, that walking around a planet in 3D space was a really big deal back in the day. For a game element that was new, Going Commando did an excellent job with it. Though the camera was still as slow and occasionally finicky (as it was in the first game), I never had difficulty seeing where my characters were on screen or judging depth; even when they were launched hundreds of feet into the air and I had to land them on a far off platform.
So that about sums of the good side missions in Going Commando, now let's cover my "favorites": hover bike racing and the aerial battles. Racing is a feature that started in the last game and was carried over to Going Commando, though I really would have preferred if they had just left it where it started. It's not that I dislike racing altogether, it's just that I didn't buy Going Commando to race, I bought it to platform and kill lots of enemies with really cool weapons. That being said, the problem with the racing is that it demands perfection from the player, so for those like me who aren't fans of the racing genre and just aren't good at it, it winds up detracting from the experience and being nothing more than a nuisance. Had the game not required me to beat the challenges, or at least allowed me to place in the top 3, it would have made the experience much more enjoyable and much less frustrating.
Finally, there's the aerial combat, and to make a long story short, it just isn't that good. After experiencing the space combat in A Crack in Time, the aerial encounters in Going Commando just do not hold up well at all. First, it's incredibly difficult to get any sense of where you are in terms of your surroundings, which makes attacking, finding, and dodging enemies difficult. I'm glad to see that as the series has grown this particular element has been improved, but it's just not that easy to play it in its original form.
Unlike the very brief aerial combat featured in the first title, Going Commando does at least allow players to upgrade their ships by spending raritanium. This allows for better thrusters and weaponry, which is great for killing enemies, but it doesn't really alleviate the bigger issues I discussed.
As I stated previously, my experience with Going Commando was really scattered and incredibly uneven and all of the constant mini-games and fetch quests just brings the game down. In the original title, I felt as though whenever I had a new quest, or had to go from from one planet to another, it all fit well into the overall plot. In Going Commando, most of the times that I had to endure silly mini-games or an unending enemy assault, it felt meaningless. I spent hours completing a continuing fetch quest that eventually allowed me to possess an item that would allow me to open locked doors by solving an incredibly stupid puzzle. Why did this bother me so much? Because I already had an item to open doors via a puzzle and that was boring enough. Did the game really need another door opener? It's not Resident Evil for goodness sakes.
Worse than anything else was the combat, which was made miserable since I was constantly underpowered. I don't have anything against combat intensive games, but Ratchet & Clank didn't start out as that type of game, so when I tackle the sequel to an action PLATFORMER, I guess I don't expect one of the genres to be so unbelievably watered down. I'll call this getting the “Jak and Daxter” treatment.
Alright, so I'll give the game credit for letting me level up my weapons, giving me more life, and even allowing me to bring over select weapons from my original Ratchet & Clank save file, but none of that really helped the major issues. The weapon selection is one of the worst in the series (thank goodness for my nuclear bomb and lava gun), the enemies spawn relentlessly, ammo constantly has to be purchased rather than being easily found, and any good weapons cost way too much. Sure, I could waste time doing mini-games or searching for crystals in a desert to earn money, but I refuse; the game should have been more balanced. The first one was.
It feels like Insomniac tried really hard to move Going Commando in an entirely new direction. Going Commando released around the time when platformers were starting to fade and games that were more shooter intensive were starting to take over. It's clear that Insomniac was trying to shift with the market, but taking a core element from the series was not a good idea. I've said it several times already, but it's the best way to describe Going Commando: unbalanced and unfocused. It's a decent title that has good mechanics and tries to stay true to its roots, but without giving equal attention to detail for every aspect of the game, Going Commando loses the charm and allure established by its predecessor.