Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando
As sure as night follows day, Ratchet and Clank follows Jak and Daxter. This time in sequel form. That's right, the furries favourite game mascot and his fun sized robotic pal have returned to wreak platform havoc upon the evil-doers of the galaxy. As is the norm for the majority of sequels the game is set some time after the first and sees our feline looking hero separated from his robotic counterpart, but it is not long before they are re-united for more of the dual-character hi-jinks we have come to expect from the modern platform game.
Little seems to have changed from their first adventure together at first glance. It's still a matter of traversing increasingly hostile terrain with jumping and leaping and shooting. Killing bad-guys is as before, their death leaves behind a series of cogs and nuts to be collected which may then be traded in for more powerful weapons and armour. The inclusion of destructible terrain also lavishes these trinkets on the player as well as the usual videogame fare of smashable crates. Crates. Why does it always have to be crates? On the surface it appears that little has changed, but unlike Jak II the changes in Ratchet and Clank 2 are a little more subtle and possibly more interesting as a result although as such they don't have as big an impact as the Jak II changes.
So on to these changes then. Whereas much remains the same, there are some important and interesting differences. This time money is not the only way to improve ones chances. Experience counts now. The more you use a weapon, the more your experience builds. Use it enough and it upgrades. Ratchet too upgrades and gains more hit-points as a result. This use of Nano-Tech, as the game calls it, certainly makes for a far more interesting experience and some of the weapon upgrades are great, especially the mini-Nuke. Nothing like some Mushroom Cloud shaped destruction to liven things up. Ratchet gains some new skills too, although they are quite mundane like the now de-rigeur grinding mechanic.
Progress is made by visiting a series of planets using Ratchet's spaceship. Along the way Ratchet may or may not come under attack from enemy vessels resulting in a sub-game in the style of a space shooter. And this is where Ratchet and Clank 2's weaknesses really start to become apparent. The space shooting mechanic is at best weak and rears its ugly head more often than I would like. Other mini-games include a Gladiator style arena tournament for cash and special spherical levels featuring a giant Clank smashing buildings and other robots of similar size. Now on paper that sounds fantastic, but in reality it's nowhere near as fun as it should be, instead of feeling weighty, it merely feels unresponsive. A shame, but these are really the only low-points of the game.
Level design is great, as you gain new abilities you can revisit planets and open up whole new paths around them which is not unusual for this kind of game, but is still welcome and rewarding. Boss encounters are imaginative and manage to still be a lot of fun. My particular favourite is manning a series of gun emplacements on rooftops while a giant robot does it's best to smash you with it's oversized fists and feet. The sense of scale is fantastic and helps make the whole affair quite scary.
The game, as the first, is graphically very accomplished - despite my distaste for the main character, the enemies and incidental characters are all extremely charming. The voice talent again is top notch and compliment the high quality cut-scenes which manage to be entertaining and not annoying, although they still have some way to go to beat Jak II's masterpieces of animation and scripting. Despite that they are still some of the best cut-scenes on the Playstation 2.
Ratchet and Clank 2 is a very competent game. It has tried, and succeeded, to improve over the first outing without rocking the boat too much. And therein lies the problem. Jak II rocked the boat, not to the point of capsizing, but was a real advancement over the first. Instead of shaking up the game structure considerably if feels as if mini-games have been the order of the day and if they were as much fun as the rest of the game it would have been great but alas they aren't and will have you begging to get back to the platforming rather than having to fly spaceships or smash buildings. If you have already conquered Jak II and crave more platform action you could certainly do a lot worse and not a great deal better than to pick up Ratchet and Clank 2.