Clanking it up a notch.
There's no way to tell whether or not Ratchet, the furry hero of Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, is indeed "going commando" underneath his slick new battle suits. Honestly, I don't want to know - it's enough for me that he no longer wears those unsightly suspenders. Clank, on the other hand, unmistakably does in fact "go commando." He is naked for the entire game, except one scene where he has a towel draped around his privates after a shower. It sort of makes him look like Donald Duck.
It's an odd connection, really, but Ratchet and Clank are now every bit in the same "character" leagues as classic cartoons. In the one year since their first game, the pair has matured not only as funny and interesting characters, but in the tightened gameplay and variety of their new sequel.
It all starts right after their first adventure. The hoopla of their heroics has died down, and things have become dry and dull for the duo. Elsewhere in the universe, the proto-pet, a genetic science experiment, has been stolen by a mysterious cloaked figure. Ratchet and Clank are quickly hired to retrieve the pet, and the cartoon hijinks take off from there.
The story is not some dramatically epic affair, but it works very well in the comedy vein. The clever surprises manage to keep coming, though I was somewhat underwhelmed by the ending. The characters of Ratchet and Clank have been tempered to create a more likeable and balanced duo, eliminating the little moral and personality flaws in the original that made it hard to really get into them.
Ratchet has also been tuned up in the control department, with a better strafing system. Nitpicky details like the old "immobile wrench throw" has been exchanged for a more boomerang-like ease of control; you can now move to dodge attacks after you've tossed out your wrench.
There are also scads more guns this time around, offering a well-balanced mix of different attacks for every situation. Surrounded by tiny little enemies? A quick spin while spraying the lava gun works in a pinch. Hurl gravity bombs at enemy clusters, while the blitz gun works great in those aerial situations when you just want to bump someone off an edge. Selecting weapons works much better now thanks to the pause when you go to the quick select screen.
The game tosses in some nice RPG elements as well, allowing upgrades of both health and weapons. The more enemies you kill, the more health you accumulate. Weapon usage causes the gun to become more lethal, so there's even a reward for reckless slaughter. If you have your old memory card save from the first game, you can even receive a handful of the original's weapons. It's a very smart detail that rewards your hard work on the original.
After you beat the game, even more powerful weapon upgrades are made available. The game is strong in the replay quotient by serving up increased difficulty to contrast the stronger weapons every new time you play. Plus, there are some extra weapons and armor available at incredibly high costs just so you always have something to "shoot" for.
Despite sharing the marquee, Clank does feel somewhat underused in both the story and the gameplay. His contributions include playing a gigantic, city-destroying Clank utilized in moon battles. What's especially neat is how the crest of the moon can be seen on the horizon, as you circle the planet, smashing things up.
There are many of other alternate gameplay styles on top of the typical running and gunning, including racing, space battles, and Clank's "control smaller robots" Pikmin style levels. The best of the new gameplay styles are the arena matches that pit you against a near endless stream of opponents for high stake money prizes.
Considering all of these improvements, I wasn't as surprised by the graphics and sound. While there are some marginal upgrades, these were already done well in the original. A skyline filled with flying vehicles just feels old hat this time around. The sound effects and music are still in same the likeable, snazzy techno-cartoon mold.
You have to tip your hat to Insomniac, because Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando improves on nearly every facet of the original. I consistently enjoyed it, even in those frustrating moments up against entire gauntlets of robots or some enormous boss, and the RPG elements kept me coming back for more. Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando goes the distance, shoots, and scores.