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Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando
Score: 100%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Insomniac Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
This hasn't been a good year for sequels, especially ones I've been looking forward to. First there was Jak II, which turned out to be a whole lot of everything else, but not enough of the original. Then there was Rebel Strike, which proved to be as vapid and shallow as Paris Hilton. After this string of mishaps, I didn't know what to expect from Ratchet and Clank 2. Would it prove to be another disappointment, or would it give me a glimmer of hope?

The original Ratchet and Clank was the pinnacle of graphical prowess a year ago. Everywhere you looked, it was hard to see how things could possibly get better. Well, somehow Insomniac has found a way and once again, Ratchet and Clank are at the top of the game. The almost CG quality graphics are back in full force, showing off even more detail than the game's predecessor. All of the game's characters manage to show off a wide range of emotions and feel almost life-like at times. This is especially noticeable during some of the game's slapstick moments. I found it funny how some of the game's CG characters were able to sell things better than real-life actors. Evolution my friend, evolution. The game's worlds show off just as much life as the characters. Cars and boats zoom around bustling cities and neat art structures blow in the breeze. The best part about it all? You can blow it up. Although the levels aren't completely destructible, a good portion of them can be smashed and blown up. Anything in pursuit of the almighty bolt.

Things only get better when you listen to the game. The music is lively and fits the mood of each level to a T. Fans of the original will even pick up a few remixes of tunes for the original. A number of ambient sounds compliment the soundtrack, such as announcements while walking through the Megacorp Mall, the slow chime of the art (which you can destroy) or the tour guide chattering on as you visit the Megacorp weapons factory.

Once again, the game manages to incorporate fantastic dialog with equally well done voice work. The game's dialog hits that nice sweet spot between Monty Python and Douglas Adams that is hard to hit. There are so many little details in the game that push the game over the top, such as when the bad guy lords his victory over Ratchet only to slam his head on the cockpit of his ship. Some of the 'Behind the Hero' vignettes that tell what happened to Captain Quark are absolutely brilliant.


Gameplay:
Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando picks up two years after the original. When we last saw our heroes, they had just saved the universe and shown Captain Quark to be the rat fink we all knew him to be. Unfortunately, the last two years haven't been too kind to Ratchet and Clank - in fact they've been outright boring. You know you've hit rock bottom when you're bragging about a mall opening. That all changes when the head of the Megacorp Corporation teleports the duo to a far off galaxy. Ratchet is offered a lucrative position as a Commando and given an important assignment of recovering a stolen experiment. Clank, on the other hand, is offered a job as the head accountant at Megacorp (which includes full service from the Megacorp Corporate masseuse...pretty cushy). Of course, things go awry, nothing is as it appears to be and the two are reunited on a quest to once again save the galaxy.

Unlike Jak II, Ratchet and Clank 2 doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the game is more of a refinement - making a much smoother riding wheel. For the most part, the game plays exactly like the original, only with a few refinements. Levels are laid out in the same overlapping manner as the original. In addition, new micro-world levels have been included. These levels are truly unique since they essentially place Ratchet on a small, round level that you can circumnavigate. Objectives on these levels range from shuttling down jamming satellites to a Godzilla-like battle featuring the destructive power of Mega Clank.

Ratchet and Clank 2 offers more than just a fast paced and fun Story mode. As you visit new locales, mega-games are unlocked. What exactly is a mega-game? Well, think of a mini-game, only bigger. Okay, so they're not that much bigger - but the name sounds cool. Competing in mega-games gets you bolts, which in turn allow you to buy new weapons, some of which make the price of the R.H.Y.N.O. from the original look cheap. Needless to say, it's encouraged that you complete as many mega-games as you can. Rare bolts (this time Platinum) also make a return and can be used to purchase upgrades for weapons. Finally, those who still have their original Ratchet and Clank save data will have access to the original game's weapons (normal modes only, sorry - no gold versions) once they find the galaxy's last remaining Gadgetron vendor. Those without a save file must purchase these weapons. Ratchet's wrench and armor can also be upgraded. Clank also comes with all of his upgrades already installed.


Difficulty:
Ratchet's newest adventure is much harder than his original. If I were to say the game had any flaws, the difficulty level would probably be the only one - at least at the beginning of the game. The game picks up right in the thick of the action, near the difficulty level where the original left off. This can be a little disheartening for people who either haven't played the original or felt it was too hard. This shouldn't be a cause for too much alarm since the game still manages to give players a smooth learning curve. There's also not limit to the number of lives you have, allowing for try, try again gameplay. Normally I'm pretty harsh on things like unlimited lives, but the game manages to find a nice balance with the system. Things never feel too difficult, nor do they ever feel like your hand is being held.

Game Mechanics:
An RPG-like hit point system and EXP system has been included and replaces the old, outdated system found in the original. Enemies come in three types, each with their own hit points. Some also feature armor levels, making them harder to take out. This system complements the expanded weapons system. As Ratchet uses weapons, they gain EXP and eventually level up to a more powerful version. Defeating enemies also benefits Ratchet, since every enemy he kills earns him Nanotech, which increases his life gauge. The brilliance of the system is that the game seems to evolve as your weapons do - or that's the plan. Using your weapons is encouraged throughout the game since it not only makes things easier, but it nets you weapons EXP.

Aside from the standard platforming levels, the game also includes some new flying levels - at least that's what the press information says. The original had its fair share of flying levels, so the flying levels in this game really aren't new. Like the rest of the game, they're just retooled and refined to work better. Most of these levels include dogfights, but there are a few variations on the formula. As with everything else in the game, your ship can be upgraded by visiting the Shady upgrade store.

To be perfectly honest, Insomniac could have repackaged the original and strapped a water pack on Ratchet's back and I would have liked the game. But, Insomniac isn't in the business of retooling simple things and calling it innovation (that's Nintendo's territory). Instead they have taken an already stellar game and taken it to the next level. The only trick now is to see how they can top themselves with the next game. Pick this one up.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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