You're A Big Fat Liar, But That's Okay

Unlike the movie industry, when a sequel to a computer game comes around, the programmers and designers are far better at realising the mistakes they made the first time round. Look at the Police Academy films for flips sake, they're a constant reminder of how not to do anything ever, anywhere. Anyhow.

I can't say much really, as I didn't finish the first game properly (I got to the last level, honest). Actually, I don't even own the first game, or this sequel "Ratchet & Clank 2 - Locked and Loaded" either. They belong to my older brother, who has an awful tendency to buy games that he forgets about and ends up never finishing. That's where I come in like a typical younger brother and play them.

Quick little plot synopsis. Ratchet (a fuzzy, fox like creature with a tail called a Lombax) met up with Clank (umm... a robot) and before they both knew it, they were on a personal mission to save not only Ratchet's home planet, but the galaxy from the evil Blargians headed by the even evil-er Chairman Drek (or in other words, to save the forest from the tree cutters). In true superhero fashion, he saves the day and so on and so forth. This brings us up to the present game where Ratchet and Clank are morosely sitting about with no superhero activities to do whilst being filmed for the galactic program "Behind The Hero". Little do either of them know that the Chairman of Megacorp, Abercrombie Fizzwidget, is watching them from a whole other galaxy and instantly teleports them away from their world and into the Bogon Galaxy. Megacorp needs help to retrieve a stolen top secret experiment and of course only Ratchet can save the day.

That's it. That's all I'm giving you as that's all the manual gives you and that's all you should get in such a review. Anything else is just spoiling it, so go spoil it for yourselves if you really need to. Speaking of which, the manual is very nice. It's filled with the usual technical hoo-hah and controls, but also some amusing concept art of characters good and bad. Even if you're a bit of a ficko, giving the manual a quick read over will get you to grips quite quickly with the game. I do like a good manual or an album slip. Tis quite a nice addition that helps along with anything.

Ratchet And Clank (I'm not gonna quote the whole title anymore) belong to the Action Platformer type. You run, you jump (there's the platform bit) and you blast the seven bells out of anything that even so much as twitches (which is the umm... *action* bit). Parentals may worry at such violent words, but fear not. The ISFE, whoever the heck they are, rate this game as 3+, which I imagine that anyone under the age doesn't have the mental or more likely the physical capacity to cope with this game. Enemies don't run around screaming while blood spurts out of their neck like fountains when you hit them upside the head with your wrench. Nope, No sirree. It's just cartoon silliness, really. They just explode and leave you with a bunch of bolts (the currency of the game) to collect.

Fear not for first timers to this type of thang as the game will ease you in very gently with the first level acting as a mini tutorial that doesn't interrupt the smooth flow of gameplay in any way.

Now to some of those who are reading and who would be used to the genre of such games may be thinking that this is just another smash, crash, collect, lather rinse n'repeat type of game. Granted yes, the enemies that you encounter that are very impressive in detail, they still consist of either the slow shooting-from-afar or close up bite-you-in-the-ass type. This isn't really a problem for Ratchet as it escapes this problem. It presents a variety not seen in most games that can be overlooked.

In the first game, Ratchet although had many weapons at his disposal, the majority of them were underpowered and useless, leaving you with only a scant few that were of any real use. This is not so in the second game. Ratchet has up to 24 weapons at his disposal. Each and every one of them has their own individual use that sets them apart. Whether you're using your Lancer to rapidly blast Thugz from afar or blowing up tight groups of Chicken Bots with a Gravity Bomb, each has their use. Not only that but most of the weapons also "upgrade" themselves. Killing enough bad guys with one makes your weapon "grow" into a new one. Without warning your Lancer will turn into the Heavy Lancer giving you better and faster firepower with more ammo to unload into those who would dare to cause you harm. This is no secret, the manual tells you this. It all adds an extra dimension to the game.

Of course you don't get access to all the weapons at the start. Gosh no, you gotta earn them bucko. Cause carnage and reap the rewards. Spend those bolts at the Megacorp outlets and buy those new weapons and ammo to go with them. The economy of the sequel it a lot fairer than the first one. The original suffered from over expensive ammunition and poor amounts of bolts available to collect, meaning you were hard pressed to deal with tough enemies cheaply. There are far more opportunities to earn plenty of bolts in this game. On top of the weapons, Ratchet also is able to possess several gadgets and items that lets him manipulate certain aspects of the environment, most of which are integral to certain puzzles and advancement in the game itself.

The game comprises of several worlds that vary greatly in their individual design. Ratchet travels from wasteland planets to towering skyscrapers all of which do not suffer from having repeated textures or any stuff like that. It's not too easy describing this but the designers have produced genuinely amazing vistas, so credit is certainly due to them. Ratchet can explore whole worlds with ease and there are no loading times except when Ratchet shuttles himself between worlds or when you enter certain areas of a world like an interior bit. I was taken aback by the level of detail and the clarity of it. For the first few hours you'll be engrossed at how smoothly it flows, even when you're being stamped upon repeatedly by baddies. Moving around is not impeded in any way. Ratchet can jump around in circles as much as he wants and the camera will stick to him. I would much prefer it if the camera panned out more to give a better view behind Ratchet, but this is only a minor complaint.

The game makes full use of the PS2 Analog Dual Shock Controller. A mouthful, I know. In case you don't know it's a pressure sensitive jobby. Moving the stick slightly makes Ratchet walk slowly. Tapping the jump button gently, makes Ratchet hop. Steering your spaceship into an asteroid results in a violent vibration transmitted into your palms.

Still not convinced that this is a cut above the rest? I'll tell you this. The gameplay is brilliant, for lack of any other crappy clichéd phrase to use. Yes it does have big weapons with big explosions and yes, they are fun to cause. There's a lot more depth to it. The music that pervades the worlds of Ratchet are all individual and brilliantly composed by some dude called David Bergeaud. Ambient sounds fill your speakers when exploring sparse desert scenery whilst upbeat electronic techno beats accompany the Fritz Lang inspired city-scapes perfectly. Kudos to the guy who did it. God knows how long he plonked away at his keyboard.

Heck, even the sound effects of this game are great. The noises made when enemies stampede towards you, when Ratchet grunts in agony at being hit by an explosion or the noise when you fire off a Mini Nuke are all appropriate. Mind you, I've never heard a nuclear bomb go off, but it's probably not far off.

Now even when you've tramped about all the worlds and hit every enemy with your wrench, there's still plenty left to do. You can take to the skies with your spaceship and dogfight with other enemies, or even take part in high paced races around asteroids. Failing that, a couple of the worlds give you the opportunity to take part in Hoverbike races that let you gain more bolts. Still unsure of your combat skills or need a few more bolts quickly? Head to the battle arena and test your mettle in the different challenges that can offer pretty impressive rewards for eliminating wave after wave of enemy.

What I like most of all, however, is the voice acting. The plot of the game is very tightly written and the script along with it. It's very light hearted and genuinely funny, you may be shocked to hear, as well as being slightly corny (but they always are). Gone are the days of terribly dubbed games like Resident Evil where characters spoke something along the lines of "HERE. TAKE, A GUN. AND. SHOOT ZOMBIE. IN FACE." We live in the days where the cast of Goodfellas voice the main leads of games like GTA Vice City and many other Hollywood actors follow suit. Recently, Jean Reno (Leon, Ronin) has leant his oral talents to a game called Onimusha 3. To those who even remotely care, the voice of Ratchet is provided by James Arnold Taylor. He has also provided the voice of another main character for another fairly well known game (the english version anyway). His voice can be heard as the voice of Tidus in Final Fantasy X. The best voice has to go to Jim Ward who does not only Abercrombie Fizzwidget but also the announcer of most of the cinematics. You get treated to short movies prior to visiting each worlds. All of which are pretty damn funny.

Ratchet et All laugh, cry, smile, frown, shout and on the off occasion swear convincingly, but no worries parents. It ain't bad. If the simpsons can say it, so can Ratchet. The rapport between the various characters is often hilarious, in fact the bad guys tend to be the funniest of them all. The animations don't suffer either and the creators have used body language and facial expression effectively to convey so much more in dialogue.

In terms of longevity, if you do everything and I mean eeeeeverything like getting all the weapons upgraded and 100% collection of stuff, pffffft... you'll be at this for quite some time. 50 hours or so? Work that out as a pound an hour and you've gone well past what you paid for the game. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and still do if I'm bored to this day.

Now go and buy it for any urchins that you've spawned and they'll love you for it. Or just buy it and love yourself.