Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal Hands-On Impressions

We meet with Insomniac Games and check out the latest playable build of Ratchet & Clank's third PS2 outing.

We just got back from a Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal demonstration with Insomniac Games, during which the developer's design director, Brian Allgeier, and vice president of programming, Brian Hastings, discussed and showed off a number of previously unannounced features. We also managed to spend some time with the latest playable demo of the game, although the new features we were shown during our meeting were, for the most part, absent from the build on the showfloor.

The evil Dr. Nefarious is on a mission to rid the universe of all organic life and has an army of machines at his disposal. Not all of the machines in the galaxy are working for Nefarious though, and so, as we were shown in the first demo level, you'll actually spend a lot of your time in the game fighting alongside galactic rangers. The rangers we were with on the surface of Ratchet's home planet of Veldin displayed a reasonably good level of intelligence as they assisted us en route to an underground tunnel, a tunnel that seamlessly took us into a city overrun with enemies. After escorting us to the tunnel, the galactic rangers left us to our own devices, but since the weapons in the game upgrade automatically the more you use them, and we'd been using ours a lot, we were able to handle the numerous and varied enemies in the city without too much difficulty. Some of the weapons seem a little overpowered right now, particularly the spectacular-looking plasma whip, which is capable of dispatching multiple enemies at a pretty good range and, judging by how quickly even the larger enemies were falling, deals some serious damage.

At the end of the Veldin level we stepped aboard a galactic ranger dropship and were told that we'd be entering one of the game's new battleground levels. The drop itself saw us stepping off the ship along with a number of rangers and then passing through some nice cloud effects en route to the surface. We had control of Ratchet and Clank during the drop, but it was devoid of any real gameplay. We were assured, however, that many of the drops in the game will feature hazards for you to avoid before you reach the battlefield below. The battleground level we played wasn't wholly unlike the conventional levels, save for the fact that our progression through it was less linear. Again, the weapons at our disposal seemed a little overpowered once they started leveling up, and there seemed to be more than enough ammo littering the battlefield for us to never really worry about it.

The hub area between missions in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal will be the Starship Phoenix, which hadn't actually been implemented in the build of the game on show. We were shown a few screenshots of its interior though and can report that while aboard you'll be able to pick which mission to attempt next, to requisition armor and weapons, to train using a virtual reality arena, and to even spend some time playing retro-style console games in your own room. The cabin assigned to you by the galactic rangers looks pretty basic for the most part, but it does contain a games console designed to play "vid-comics" that, according to Insomniac, are futuristic interactive comic books--video games, essentially. There will be a total of five vid-comic titles for you to find as you progress through the game, each offering around 20 minutes of 2D gameplay and starring the heroic Captain Qwark, who, although something special in his day, has lost his mind and assumed the identity of a jungle witch doctor between the end of the last Ratchet & Clank title and the start of this one. We were shown a never-before-seen clip of one of the vid-comics and saw Qwark engaging in some traditional-looking 2D platform-jumping and ladder-climbing action--albeit with less-dated-looking 3D visuals and lighting effects.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal will, we're told, be more story-driven than the previous games in the series. We weren't given too many plot details during our demonstration but were told that Captain Qwark, reminded of his former glory by the aforementioned vid-comics, reassembles his "Q Force" group of unlikely looking crime fighters to assist you on your mission. We were also told that some of the later levels in the game will see you traveling to the planet Aquatos to infiltrate Nefarious' underwater base, and we were treated to a very brief demonstration of the game's excellent soft-focus underwater effects, which suggested a scene far more tranquil than any location in the game is likely to be once populated with enemies.

Ratchet's formidable arsenal won't be the only way for you to deal with enemies in the game this time around, and perhaps one of the most intriguing gadgets we were shown was the new Tyhrra-Guise. Using this, you're able to disguise yourself as one of the Tyhrranoid enemies that frequent most of the game's levels and, in the base infiltration level we were shown, communicate with them by pressing buttons as the symbols flash onscreen--much as you would in a rhythm action game. Entering the button sequences correctly will let you obtain access codes and other such information during conversations with your unwitting enemies. If you enter them incorrectly, though, there's a good chance one of your enemies will raise the alarm.

In addition to the single-player game, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal will feature three different multiplayer modes of play for up to eight players online or four on a single screen. The previously announced capture-the-base mode, which we now know will feature three different vehicles, will be complemented by both conventional deathmatch and siege multiplayer options. The vehicles weren't present in the playable demo of the game on show, but we were given a sneak preview of them in artwork form. The turboslider will be a two-man land vehicle accommodating a driver and a gunner, the hovership will be much the same but with the ability to fly (or perhaps, as its name suggests, hover), and the less imaginatively named APC will be an armored personnel carrier with room for up to four people--an entire team. All of the game's online content will be available from the outset so that you don't necessarily have to play through the single-player game before going online, although Insomniac plans to reward those who do play through the single-player game with additional character skins for use online.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal is already looking extremely polished and, even when played online, runs at a steady 60 frames per second. The four-player split-screen game, we're told, will run at 30 frames per second, but none of the consoles running the game on the show floor had more than one controller plugged in. We're also told that Insomniac will reward players with game saves from previous Ratchet & Clank titles on their memory card in Up Your Arsenal, although the developers present at our demonstration refused to comment on whether or not the rewards would again be in the form of weapons from previous games.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal is currently scheduled for release toward the end of this year. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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