Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando Preview
We take the sequel to Sony and Insomniac's platformer for a spin.
Southern California-based developer Insomniac Games is currently hard at work on a follow-up to its PlayStation 2 platformer Ratchet & Clank. The game was released last November and garnered some well-deserved praise for its polished gameplay and impressive visuals. The upcoming sequel, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, is slated to hit shelves roughly a year after the original game was released. If you think Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is a quickly churned out rehash of the original game, you're wrong. Insomniac has gone ahead and created a new adventure that contains some impressive original content and some slick refinements over the first version's gameplay. We had the chance to try our hand at a preview version of the game and have come away impressed. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando retains the tight mechanics of its predecessor but has its own unique feel.
The game's story picks up a short time after the events of the last game and checks in with the dynamic duo as their 15 minutes of fame is coming to a close. The game opens with the pair being interviewed by a television show similar to both E!'s "Where are they now?" and VH1's "Behind the Music." As you'd expect, given the amount of free time on their hands, Ratchet & Clank have been doing a whole lot of nothing and appear destined for obscurity. Of course, this all changes when the pair is contacted by Abercrombie Fizzwidget, the eccentric CEO of Mega Corp, a vast company based in the nearby Bogon galaxy. Fizzwidget is stressing over the recent theft of one of Mega Corp's experimental projects, the proto pet. To make matters worse, the proto pet's loss has the potential to do more than damage Mega Corp's bottom line for this fiscal quarter: The experimental critter can apparently cause damage of galactic proportions if it's misused. While this is what gets Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando's plot moving, as they start digging around, you come to discover there's a lot more going on when it comes to the proto pet and Mega Corp.
You start the game as Ratchet, as he heads out to check on the proto pet at Fizzwidget's urging. This introductory segment of the game, which serves as a basic refresher for fans of the previous game or a tutorial for newcomers, is fairly straightforward. You explore a massive airship and deal death to a variety of security robots, some of whom have brand-new arsenals of weapons. The core gameplay remains roughly the same. You still journey to different locations, explore areas, solve puzzles, fight hordes of enemies, buy weapons, get gadgets, and engage in some new minigame-style action. The only familiar thing on hand--when you begin going through the airship--is Ratchet's trusty wrench, which can be used as a melee weapon or a projectile weapon as in the original game. You notice some new gameplay elements in the form of two meters. One is above your selected weapon, and the other briefly appears in the center of the screen. The meters are part of a newly implemented RPG-style experience system that rewards you with experience for using a weapon and defeating enemies. As you take out enemies, Ratchet earns experience. When you earn a set amount, your health increases. The system is similar for weapons. You earn experience every time you use a specific weapon, and once you've earned enough, the weapon automatically upgrades. You'll find 19 new weapons in the game, 18 of which can be upgraded by gaining experience. The upgrades are more than just simple increases in power, though. In most cases, the weapon changes into something completely new. For example, the lava gun spews out a stream of fiery lava, but once it's been upgraded, it becomes the meteor gun, which fires a hail of fiery rocks. Fans of the original game will be pleased to know that some of the weapons from the first game return, thanks to the presence of a lone gadgetron vendor whom thorough players may come across in their travels. If you have a save from the original Ratchet & Clank on your memory card, the weapons are free. If you don't, you have to buy them. In addition to the new arsenal of weapons, Ratchet also sports some sleek commando gear. You can find four different types of armor in your adventures, and each one increases the amount of punishment Ratchet can take.
Ratchet's improvements and tweaks are complemented by a set of healthy changes to Clank's handling in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. As in the original game, you take control of the little guy and make your way through areas Ratchet can't. This time out, though, Clank is sporting some serious improvements. In addition to his standard platforming and combat skills, Clank can now control a variety of robots he comes across. The robots we've seen, so far, come in three varieties: microbots, bridgebots, and lifterbots. You can issue global or specific orders to the robots as you come across them. When you come across the various bots, you free them, at which point they follow you automatically. However, you are also able to order them to wait for you or to follow you depending on what the situation requires. Microbots are tiny mechanoids who serve two main purposes: They attack enemies and open doors. Bridgebots use their bodies to form bridges, allowing you to access new areas as you explore. Finally, lifterbots use their robotic might to raise certain blocks out of your way so you can get by. As useful as they all are, the best aspect of the robots is how they all look together. The sight of little Clank rolling with his robot posse is worth a chuckle. In addition to controlling Clank's normal form, Insomniac has stated that you are also able to control Giant Clank, his "iron giant" robot.
Although Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando's title implies a strong emphasis on action--and you certainly do your fair share of butt-kicking--your brain also gets a bit of a workout as well, thanks to a variety of puzzles in the game. Puzzle-solving is aided by the use of two items: the electrolyzer, which lets you repair broken machinery by hacking into it in a minigame, and the dynamo, a gadget that lets you trigger certain machinery.
There have also been some significant changes made to the exploration elements in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, although they don't affect the game's overall feel. You're now clued in to new locations and objectives by radio communications rather than by the infobots used in the original game. You'll also find a bit more variety in the missions and objectives. On top of the standard character interaction, you engage in space battles and man turrets in the shooting sequences as they occasionally crop up. You're also able to participate in some old-fashioned, arena-based brawling and racing to earn more bolts and new gadgets. Additionally, you explore "spherical worlds," which are funky 3D spheres featuring structures that extend into the atmosphere. Exploring this new world ends up feeling like puzzle-solving, as you have to make your way up and around the structures to reach objects.
The graphics in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando have undergone some improvements, although they aren't as dramatic as the work done on the gameplay. Ratchet and Clank both look quite fetching and sport some slight tweaks to their models. Ratchet, obviously, now sports his commando uniform, while Clank's coloring has been tweaked a bit. You'll also find a solid helping of new faces on hand, both friend and foe, that feature some cool designs and fit in with the series' retro design sensibilities.
At first blush, the environments, while looking roughly the same in terms of quality, have seen some serious upgrades. Generally speaking, you'll find a wider variety in the locales and overall design. The traditional style of environments (as most fans of the first game are used to) are much bigger, sport higher detail, and offer more special effects. Most notably, there's a particle effects system that's pretty slick. In addition, you now have space environments, complete with destructible asteroids and other debris that appears when you engage in fights. There's also the M.C. Escher-style spherical worlds. The improved graphics engine is ably showcased in the various real-time cinemas that move the story forward as you progress through the game. We're also pleased to report that the game's loopy sense of humor remains intact--particularly in regard to the aforementioned cinemas. On the technical side of things, the game offers widescreen support and progressive scan. Despite all the improvements to the graphics engine--which coaxes even more performance out of the PlayStation 2--the game's frame rate remains at a solid 60 frames per second. This helps add to the polished feel.
The audio is coming together nicely and is easily on par with the original game. The voice acting is very strong and is a fine complement to the well-written humor. The in-game music is a collection of more aggressive tunes, with some tunes that are reminiscent of music from the first game. The effects in the game are a satisfying collection of sounds that ably capture the various weapons and explosions you encounter. As in the first game, each area has its own unique ambient sound that adds a nice, subtle touch.
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is shaping up to be a promising follow-up to the excellent original game. The game looks good and, most importantly, feels as polished as its predecessor. As far as content goes, the game offers improved gameplay and a respectably dense quest that ends up offering a lot more to do in the game. Platformer fans, especially those who were into the first game, will want to keep an eye out for Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando when it ships this November for the PlayStation 2.
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