Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando

Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/18/2003 for PS2  

About a year ago Sony took the gaming world by storm when it released two amazing platformers, Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank. While it appeared that the cel-shaded Sly Cooper received the most hype it was immediately apparent that Insomniac’s action-platformer was the superior title of the two. Apparently Sony saw it this way as well as the sequel to one of last year’s best games has been released and we’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best games of this year.

We begin after the events of the first game. Our heroes have rid the galaxy of evil and are busy living the slow lifestyle, lounging on their recliners while occasionally attending the opening of oil and lube shops. Yes the lifestyle of the hero is tough when there’s no evil in the galaxy but that’s all about to change. As the duo is expressing its woes on galaxy wide television a man in a distant planet heeds their call, enlisting our heroes to retrieve an artifact. After debriefing, Ratchet sets out on his mission but as always seems to be the case, everything isn’t as simple as it seems. Just as Ratchet is about to get his paws on the artifact a mysterious figure shows up to crash the party. After he escapes with the prize (while bumping his head on the door of his space ship of course) Ratchet is left to deal with some minions as he sets out to learn more about this mysterious man. Soon afterwards Clank is kidnapped from his apartment and Ratchet is forced to come to the rescue. Thus we have the basic premise of Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando a very deep and entertaining action-platformer that will redefine the way that we look at the genre.

While not nearly as strong as Jak II’s, the storyline in Ratchet is definitely impressive. The boys at Insomniac have an amazing sense of humor (just check out their commercials) and it really shows during the game’s numerous cut scenes. You’ll find hilarious characters at nearly every turn, adding some levity to the situation just as you’re in the midst of your rampages. One of my favorite scenes early on featured a broadcast from a seemingly overbearing leader. He chooses to go with a dark setting, his eyes seemingly glowing with hatred as he spews his gospel. Then suddenly someone flips on a light switch and he goes on a rampage because it’s bad “Feng Shui.” You’d think that an evil bastard like him would be pissed because someone just revealed his identity, not because his flow of energy has been disrupted, but then again you probably don’t know the guys at Insomniac.

If you couldn’t get enough of the first title you should be happy to know that this game is at least a third longer than its predecessor, giving you at least 20 solid hours of gameplay. Not only are the levels larger but there is more variety in your locales ranging from lush tropical settings to settings that you would expect to find in a futuristic city. Perhaps the largest deviation is the spherical worlds, levels that feel as if they take place on the surface of giant ball. Imagine what life would be like if you were a giant and you could actually see the curvature of the world. Instead of having a flat appearance you can see the horizon and the actual spherical shape of the planet. Now imagine playing a platforming level like this and you have a very innovative idea. It seems kind of ridiculous but it’s actually one of the freshest ideas that we’ve ever seen in a game. What’s neat is that when you fire projectiles you’ll actually see them curve along with the horizon, just as if you were firing it in a straight line on a flat plane. It’s just a shame that there weren’t’ more of these levels in the game because they’re one of the best ideas that we’ve ever come across.

What would this series be without its outlandish assortment of weapons and gadgets? Instead of providing the gamer with a bunch of random throwaway weapons that they’d rarely use Insomniac opted for a level up system that allows for weapons to be upgraded. This means that you’ll start out with the lowest form of a weapon but after extended use the weapon will upgrade and become a full-fledged destructive machine. In addition to the explosions and destruction players are rewarded with new weapons that are capable of producing even more chaos. As a nice bonus to owners of the first game having a memory card with save game of Ratchet 1 will unlock new weapons that wouldn’t otherwise be available such as the bomb glove. If you ask me this is an excellent system that should be utilized more in future titles.

While the weapon variety is nice I really wish that Insomniac would have reworked the combat system to include weapon and melee combos. Jak II did an excellent job of incorporating the weapons into the melee combat scheme but Ratchet decides to keep them separate, not allowing for any intermeshing of the two. It’s not that the weapons aren’t fun to use; it’s just that you really don’t have a reason to use melee attacks on your enemies when you’ve got the more destructive weapons. Had the designers done a better job the melee attacks would have played a more integral role in the action as opposed to taking the back seat.
As the game’s namesake implies Ratchet is now armed with an upgradeable commando suit. When you begin you’ll have a small chunk of health but as you kill more enemies you’ll essentially level up the suit, providing you with additional hit points. By the time you get to the end of the game you’ll be able to absorb well over 50 points of damage. This may seem like overkill, especially considering that the early enemies will only do one hit point of damage, but you have to consider that later enemies can do upwards of 20 or even 30 points of damage. Thus the suit serves two dual purposes, giving you more health and helping balance out the game so that there’s a distinct difference between the early stages and the latter stages. Later enemies do more damage and thus separate themselves handily from the enemies that you meet early on in the game. As another nice bonus, when you level up the suit you’ll regain full health like in many of today’s RPG titles.

Making a return appearance are the game’s massive and lush environments. Last year’s game set a new standard on what we should expect out of our levels, featuring massive levels that seemed to stretch on for miles and miles with seamless transition from locale to locale. This time around the designers added some minor changes that make them even more impressive to look at. All of the environments are much more interactive this time around, helping to feed your destructive nature. Whereas before you could only destroy crates now you can take out parts of the levels including machines, windows and lighting equipment. The destruction model really reminds me of the one used in Sly Cooper, right down to the fact that destroying certain facets of the environments will even yield some nuts and bolts. And as if that wasn’t enough the levels are even more beautiful to look at.

On the whole the game looks very similar to the original but it incorporates a few new graphical techniques that helps set it apart. My favorite is the way that the lighting is handled. Most of the lighting sources have a hue around them, lending the scene a sort of surrealistic feel. Explosions are much more devastating thanks to the use or more particle effects that really makes them more satisfying to watch. Ratchet has also received a significant visual upgrade as well and it’s especially apparent during the cutscenes. His suit looks great and the visor even has a reflective sheen to it that gives his outfit even more depth. All of this looks even better to the rich folks out there who have Progressive Scan capable television sets.

Things don’t let up on the audio front either. All of you who shilled out $700 for your primo aural setup will be glad to know that this game has some of the richest bass and clearest audio that we’ve ever experienced in a video game. Even the sound of Ratchet’s feet hitting the ground will give your sub a decent workout. At one point the bass got so heavy that it was knocking pens and knick-knacks off of my desk. That’s something that I’ve never experienced when playing an Xbox or GameCube game. Now that’s impressive. Make sure to give your neighbors ample warning before deciding to boot this puppy up, or invite them over to check it out so that you can experience the magic together.
One of my favorite portions of Ratchet 2 is the fact that it comes packaged with a unique manual that reads sideways, much like the manual that comes with your motor vehicle. At first I thought it would be weird but I actually found it to be a unique and interesting way of dishing out the information to you. It’s not really all that necessary but it’s definitely a slick way to show gamers that this is indeed a unique title that shouldn’t be lumped in with the rest of the crowd.

I didn’t have many problems with Ratchet but I was definitely bothered by the camera at times. There’s a quick center button but I wish that the right analog stick would have been a little more sensitive, allowing me to maneuver the camera a bit faster. When coming out of buildings I found that the camera was zoomed in a bit too tight, making it difficult to see if there’s anything to my sides as I passed through the door. I’m not sure if the guys at Insomniac were aware of this but they did place an awful lot of boxes and powerups in these “blind spots.” Also the camera has a difficult time of keeping up with the actions when there is a large volume of enemies. Most of the time they’ll surround you and attack you from all sides. I generally don’t have a problem with this but the camera is always zoomed in so tightly on Ratchet that I can’t see the ones who are attacking me from behind. Had the camera been zoomed out or an auto-targeting system that manipulates my viewpoint had been incorporated I would have been saved from a lot of headaches.

Some of the levels are also a bit difficult for inexperienced gamers and may take them out of the game before it can dig its claws into them. There are some rather long sequences sprinkled throughout that have very few save or respawn points in them which can lead to some frustration to even the most advanced gamer. Personally there are more than a few sequences in the game that I could live without ever having to see again.

Minor camera issues and quirks aside Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando is one of the best titles available this holiday season. Along with games like Jak II, SOCOM II and the Eye Toy, Sony is again proving why it has been dominating the holiday season for the past seven or eight years. If you own a PS2 you should definitely consider picking up Ratchet 2, it has all of the goods to please all sorts of gamers and best of all your girlfriend will fall in love with the cute and cuddly protagonist. Face it when a game can let you blow stuff up and make your girlfriend happy it’s well worth your $40.
Saying that we were impressed from the start would be an understatement, amazed is more like it. While Jak II showed us just how emotional a video game could make us Ratchet shows us just how deviant we could be. Never has running around and blowing stuff up been so enjoyable and satisfying. Best of all the game has plenty of style and substance too, proving that Insomniac’s franchise has a lot of life and innovation left in it.

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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