Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

Folks, I love me some platforming action, but I also like it when a game's elements compliment the design of a game. While I really enjoyed my time with the first Ratchet And Clank, there were a few things that could've used some work. Well, that's what a sequel is for, so meet Ratchet And Clank: Going Commando. It basically takes the first game, tweaks the engine and adds a fair few things to make things more interesting. Incidentally, it's a massive improvement over the original... so much so, that going back to the original won't be an easy task after all that's said and done here, and the first game was good! That, my friend, is the hallmark of a great sequel.

After their first adventure, Ratchet and Clank are getting interviewed about what they've done since defeating Chairman Drek. Once a faraway galaxy catches the interview on their airwaves, Abercrombie Fizzwidget teleports them from their galaxy to his, the Bogon (oh god) Galaxy. He gives them the task of retrieving an experimental creature known as the Protopet from a thief. Seems simple enough, but there's more to this experiment than meets the eye. Oh, and there's a group of mercenaries known as Thugs-4-Less that chase Ratchet and Clank down for most of the game. While it's easy to give this game shit for not having a central villain unlike the first and third (and vicariously, eighth) games, like with a lot of NES game sequels, there wasn't an established formula outside of the basics of the first game. That, and we're treated to a rather interesting story. That isn't the say that the first game's wasn't that interesting because the interaction between Ratchet and Clank, as well as the plot twist about a third into the game actually kept on making me want more. But this one went above and beyond with its new characters and plot twists. It's one of those stories that makes you wonder what way it can twist next while they're all being pieced together, making for a very interesting experience.

The first game was good, but it was rough around the edges. Thankfully, this game irons said edges out. Ratchet's movements, particularly his turning, is a lot smoother and more fluid, making him easier to control. But the big thing is strafing. Holding down either R2 or L2 allows Ratchet to strafe, which makes aiming in the third person while moving infinitely easier to do. Action is no longer stop-start so you can get the right aim or you relying on getting the right angle as you're running; now, it keeps going, dodging is a lot easier as flips have you holding those shoulder buttons and pressing X, and IF the enemy moves away from you, all it takes is moving the camera around so you can get a better aim. Let me just say that once this clicks into motion for you, you'll have a hard time going back to the first game.

Your arsenal of weapons this time around kick ass! You get a pretty good variety, like a machine gun, a bomb gun, a rocket launcher, a glove that lets you throw turrets and all sorts of weaponry that blows or at least shoots shit up. Each weapon has their use, like the turrets and four little robots being able to back you up and the rocket launcher does well in blowing enemies up. At least you won't be stressing out when the rocket launcher is out of ammo because you have heaps of other weapons to use, like a bomb launcher that splits up into smaller bombs once it blows up (best weapon in the game, by the way – does heaps of damage and the little bombs do that little bit more to take down survivors). It's not like the first game where there are only like three good guns in the entire game – indeed, every gun is useful if you know what you're doing with them. It's a good idea to save up on bolts – the universe's currency – because goddamn, these weapons get expensive! There are some opportunities to earn a metric fuckton via collecting crystals, destroying enemy ships in outer space and winning arena matches (either fighting a boss or killing gangs of enemies under conditions like only using a weapon or under a time limit), so when you need to, hit them up!

It gets better with the weapon upgrades, and I'm not just talking about some add-ons that you'll find on certain planets like poisonous shots or lock on mods (which cost Platinum Bolts that you'll find in worlds if you explore around a lot); I'm talking about evolution, which comes with killing a lot of enemies. As you kill enemies with a gun, said gun will gain experience points and after gaining enough, it'll evolve and be a lot more powerful. Oh, and the more enemies you kill period, the more experience points you'll get, and with enough of them, you'll gain an extra bit of health! Man, this just makes the game so much more exciting! 

Err, well, not all weapons benefit from evolution – meet the Lava Gun. In its base form, it squirts out a stream of boiling hot lava, but once you upgrade it, it shoots balls of fire. It may be more powerful, but it's not nearly as useful as it was the constant streaming that made the Lava Gun awesome! I'm giving it its own paragraph because the Lava Gun, although not as powerful as the more explosive weapons, can get you out of several jams against small and medium sized enemies, while its evolved form can't. That, and it teaches us a valuable lesson about evolution – sometimes, when a new trait is gained, something has to be given up to balance it out.

This game is surprisingly hard – not like Demon's Souls hard or anything, but certainly hard by Ratchet And Clank standards. Let me explain - the first game was easy and nowadays, the only difficulty would be getting used to the archaic controls; the later games are also pretty easy because the weapons upgrade more and more, becoming overpowered, and their arsenals are unbalanced to begin with! But this one gets it right if you want a challenge because enemies will either swarm you or fuck you up with strong attacks, especially as you get towards the end.

The final boss though, I regret to report, is a piece of piss. The level preceding it is a gauntlet of tanks and robots with high powered missiles that'll force you to conserve ammo for your stronger guns and flip around a lot to not get hit whilst using a gadget that lets you control certain robots so you can open up barriers (whilst praying to god it doesn't get blown up by enemies while it shoots them down), but the final boss is unbelievably easy to read and is easily destroyed if your aim is good. Actually, a lot of the bosses are like this, although they are a bit faster and sturdier, plus you wouldn't have half the weaponry you'd have against the final boss. Doesn't stop the fights from being fun and thankfully, it's not mind numbingly easy, but it can be a bit disappointing when the levels are harder than the bosses. Thankfully, when you play through the game again on the Challenge mode, it certainly lives up to that name – it is, indeed, challenging. But it's more rewarding as you'll get twice the bolts you'd normally earn (which is still a decent amount)... as long as you kill an enemy and don't get hit. It especially helps if you plan on getting everything, as there'll be even stronger forms of weapons for sale... for 200000+ bolts! Bloody fucking Jesus, it's a good thing you can earn heaps during the challenge mode!

Unfortunately, there are some flaws beyond the somewhat disappointingly easy bosses. Space combat is a great idea, but the execution isn't all that. It mainly comes down to the controls, which take more time to get used to than they should. It feels both fidgety and stiff, making movement trickier than it has any right to be. It especially makes the racing side missions a pain in the ass as you have to go through rings without missing them or crashing. Beyond that, it's fun blowing up ships. Hoverbike racing has a similar issue, but thankfully not to the same extent. Perhaps it's touchy and like any weapons based racer, luck plays into it quite a bit when dodging homing rockets, but they're pretty high octane and fun to go through. Small shit like that doesn't hurt the game, but it is noticeable enough to not be as fun as when you're controlling Ratchet on the ground.

A legitimately shit segment is anything involving Clank. Yep, he's back as a playable character, and like washing the dishes, it's all a chore. The idea is to find Gadgebots and have them unlock doors, though they can also attack enemies and it's actually a lot better because Clank can only take four hits. While there are additions like bridge bots, ground pound bots and hammer bots, nothing about these segments exactly shout awesome or anything. Just feels like it slows down the action, and not in a good way. But that's nothing compared to when he's giant! In these segments, you'll have to take down a giant robot, and while the idea sounds great, the execution blows, simply because it takes forever to destroy them. After a while, watching paint dry starts to sound like a better alternative, especially since they like to keep moving away from you whilst it sics its lackies onto you! Thank fuck for there only being three times that you have to do those sections.

The graphics are nice and colorful. To say that it's like a 3D cartoon is pretty damn accurate. There's plenty of movement to be found, and it's all pretty damn fluid. Maybe it moves a little too fast sometimes, but it's nice to know that there's a lot of movement to keep your eyes on the screen and the given the smoothness of the animation, it works pretty damn well. The textures are just as smooth. Not necessarily detailed or anything, but there's enough there to showcase detail whilst still looking cartoony. The colors are fucking good! Explosions are bright and beautiful.. actually, pretty much everything here is, but the explosions are the best. If there are any flaws, it'd have to be some occasional slowdown during combat, especially when you level your health up.

The sound design is also pretty damn good. James Arnold Taylor replaces Mikey Kelley as Ratchet from here on out, and as Ratchet had matured somewhat since the first game, James's more serious vocals are more fitting than Mikey's “whoa dude that's some bodacious pizza bro” vocals from the first game. Everybody else's voices work in that cartoony kind of way that works well with the visuals, plus it's technically good enough to get you into the story. I want to say the music is more ambient than melodic, especially given that there are symphonies that make boss fights big and explosive (a couple in particular really stand out as epic), but a lot of the soundtrack is just forgettable and exists for the sake of existing. 

Bottom line: It's funny when people say that it's more of the same, because that's about as far from the truth as it gets! Ratchet And Clank: Going Commando is a significant improvement of a game that really only needed smoother shooting controls and more interesting fights. Unfortunately, there are some problems to be found with the segments where you're not controlling Ratchet himself, especially if it's Clank that you're controlling. But the big jump from the first game to this outweighs the clanky crap, and even if there wasn't that huge jump, it's still heaps of fun to play, it's all exciting and it puts you in a good fucking mood before you have to do what you have to do outside of video gaming.

8.5/10 (Great)

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