Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal – PS2 – Review

In my opinion,
Mario 64 and subsequent followers like Banjo Kazooie set up the notion that all
3D platformers required a massive list of things to collect for no other reason
than, well, you had to collect them to open up the next level.  With a lot of
recurring tasks (how many times do we feel like searching for eight red coins,
really?) and really, the lack of much of a storyline or changes in the gameplay
with progression, the platforming genre had started to feel a little stale.  And
this is a recurring trend, indeed; very little experimentation outside of this
simple formula has been attempted.


Thankfully for us,
Insomniac seems to enjoy taking that collectivism formula, throwing it out the
window, replacing it with dozens of slick guns, a multitude of levels, and an
actual story.  Cool.


Let it be known
that I have never actually played a Ratchet and Clank title before this one.  To
be perfectly honest, before I could actually participate in the game I was a
little bit worried.  I wasn’t really digging the initial cutscenes or the
direction in which the plot seemed to be heading.  I didn’t really like the
voice acting, nor was I all too endeared by any of the characters.


But almost
immediately after I gained control of Ratchet, my opinion on the game took a
total U-turn.  Up Your Arsenal is really fun!  The controls are tight, with all
of the basic platforming expectancies here and done well.  Running is smooth and
there’s no trouble in changing directions or falling off of narrow walkways. 
Jumping is easy enough, with a double jump that lets you glide back down (by
default) if you hold in the button.  Nifty.  With different combinations of
jumps and a shoulder button depending on your movement, you can do a regular
jump, high jump, or long jump.  If you jump at a wall, you can do a wall-kick. 
Really, all of the basic 3D platformer prerequisites have been met.


However, the game
goes above and beyond that with its enormous selection of weapons and tools and
upgrades that you get to use throughout the course of the game.  You don’t even
start with a puny little handgun or anything like that; already in your
inventory is an impressive shotgun with a wide range that really shows off its
power when you see how enemies bounce back after the first shot and promptly
explode or fall over dead with the second or third.  This ain’t your daddy’s
firearm, son.  Also here is what is apparently the traditional melee weapon in
this franchise, Ratchet’s wrench, which doesn’t require ammo (of course) but
really isn’t that powerful.



And that’s just
the beginning.  There’s an enormous repertoire here.  A gun that uses whirlwinds
to suck up items or small enemies and shoot them out.  A weapon that works more
like a grenade launcher than anything except the ball it shoots causes some kind
of dimensional rift change with some nice splash damage, and is great for taking
out tough enemies in groups.  There’s a fairly rapid fire gun that you can
easily lock on to targets with.  There’s a gun that actually poisons the enemy
and causes them to attack their comrades like in an RPG!  There’s a gun that not
only protects you from laser beams, it allows you to redirect the laser and use
it to point at enemies or switches!  There’s a fiery whip to use instead of your
wrench for dispatching those tough enemies in close quarters.


What may be the
most powerful gun in the game simply converts enemies into sheep.


And that’s not
all, really.  In addition to the small sampling of weapons I just listed, there
are other non-weapon items to collect.  You can actually change the gliding
propeller that Ratchet uses by default, or hook him up with some Gravity Boots,
or upgrade your armor.  To make things even more interesting, each weapon has
four different levels, and the more you use each one, the faster it will
upgrade, becoming more powerful and gaining new abilities.  The shotgun that you
start with, for instance, can be charged up and gains an even wider range.


The level design
is really pretty good.  The game shuns large open areas in favor of more linear,
smaller areas with a single path and generally, a single objective.  I actually
prefer this to the meandering, open feel of many other platform games – it makes
the overall experience seem a little tighter and more polished.  What doesn’t
help, though, are the way some of the missions are executed.  I’ll give you a
“for instance.”  Early in the game you are told to help a small group of robots
out on the battlefield.  So you hop in a dropship, and when you get there a menu
pops up with this mission listed on it.  At first, I actually thought this whole
thing was optional, so I tried to avoid it before I realized I had to do it. 
Anyway, I hopped off the ship and helped the robots, earned some cash and then I
found myself back at the menu with a second mission listed.  So I selected it,
and all of a sudden I’m back on the dropship jumping off but there’s a turret in
the middle of the field!  And after this mission, I found myself jumping off the
dropship again to defend robots who are fixing the turret that apparently broke
in-between missions!  The lack of transitions between small missions like these
and the really sloppy interface does bring down the experience whenever things
like this show up.


Up Your Arsenal
also features an impressive multiplayer mode, with about ten maps, and can be
played either with split-screen or over the internet (assuming you have a
network adaptor).  The multiplayer game actually asks for strategy and teamwork
in its game modes rather than mindless deathmatch shooting, which makes the
whole experience that much more fun.  It supports the USB headset.


Graphically, Up
Your Arsenal has its high and low points, and the good does outweigh the bad. 
So let’s get the bad out of the way first: where are all the textures?! 
Honestly, while the game is bright and looks varied, there are many many
sections that use plain old solid colors.  Aside from that, cutscenes don’t look
all that great, either.  On the good side of things, though, is the rock solid
60-FPS framerate and the silky smooth animation.  Character models are also
pretty good, and you can even see that they attempted to have them lip synch to
the dialogue.


Sound’s not bad. 
The music is pretty good, and while it could potentially get annoying, it’s
usually catchy at first, and you never have to dwell in the same area with the
same music for all too long.  The voice acting is pretty hit or miss, in my
opinion.  I really like the announcer’s voice during TV game show-type deals
that arise throughout the game, and a few of the other characters’ voices are
quite good.  The sound effects are excellent, notably in each of the gun’s
distinct powerful sounds.


All things
considered, Ratchet and Clank is a really good game.  Sure, the cutscenes never
quite floated my boat, and the plot wasn’t overly impressive but at least
allowed for a wide variety of environments, most of which are fun to play
through.  The multiplayer mode is great, too; the production values are
satisfactory and at times impressive.  While the game may not raise the bar for
innovative gameplay, it is a polished platformer, most evident in the gargantuan
list of guns which all offer unique gameplay elements and are all fun to use and
continue using as they upgrade.  Check it out if you’re so inclined – you’re
sure to find something to like, and the kids are bound to love it.


Review Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.0

While it doesn’t
exactly offer up anything so great that it will wow you immediately, the game’s
fun lies in the sum of its parts.  Control is tight, level design is very good,
and best of all, all of the many guns are loads of fun to use and they all work
quite differently.


Graphics: 8.0

Hit or miss,
really, the graphics have their highs and lows.  On the bad side of things,
character models aren’t overly exciting and the majority of textures seem to be
solid colors.  On the good side, though, animation is excellent – and I’d take
great animation over great textures any day, personally.


Sound: 7.5

I can’t stand some
of the prominent voice acting, but some of the other voices are well done, so
it’s quite a mixed feeling of satisfaction.  Music is fine and sound effects are
good, though, so you only have to worry about ignoring the sound when there’s a
cutscene, for the most part.




Concept: 6.5

In all reality,
the game doesn’t offer much at all that’s new or intriguing.  But it is
extremely polished and quite deep, and that’s really what makes the game.


Mutliplayer: 9.0

Let’s just say
there’s a lot to do and it’s a lot of fun to do it.  You won’t be disappointed.


Overall: 8.7

Ratchet and Clank:
Up Your Arsenal is a very solid singleplayer game with an even better
multiplayer mode.  While the ingenuity level is a bit low, the way everything
comes together is great.  There are so many fun weapons to use, the control is
tight, levels are fun to tromp through, and everything else doesn’t hurt – for
the most part, anyway.  It’s got a definite appeal to youngsters but that
shouldn’t stop older folks from checking it out; if you’ve got a hankering for a
new platforming game, I heartily suggest it!