Review: Get it? Up Your Arse-nal?... no?
Another year, another Ratchet & Clank. Since 2002 now, Sony and Insomniac have graced the PS2 with their action-platform franchise, and each time out, it's been an outstanding experience in numerous ways. Though occasionally considered the little brother of Naughty Dog's Jak franchise, R&C has developed quite a following due to its fast action, RPG-like elements (from Going Commando), and quirky humor. With Up Your Arsenal, the 3rd game in the series, Insomniac has maintained the same excellent adventure, but tacked on a seemingly natural progression for the series with multiplayer action, playable both off and online. The combination offers double the audience for this sequel - online fragging for the type that enjoys shooters, and the same quality single player adventure the first two games are noted for. As this likely is the last R&C game for a while (if there ever will be another), Insomniac has sent their franchise off with a bang.
Up Your Arsenal's single player offering tells the latest tales of the dynamic duo. While Clank is now a star of 'Secret Agent Clank' with Ratchet merely the sidekick, an evil force looms in Dr. Nefarious, a former humanoid turned robot in order to save his life. Employing a strange race of critters called the Tyrrahnoids, Nefarious wishes to wipe out 'squishies' as they're called, and transform the world's population into robots. Along with a goofy group of sidekicks called Q-Force (a team built by the redeemed Captain Quark), Ratchet & Clank begin by saving Ratchet's home world, but eventually spans all sorts of different planets in order to bring Dr. Nefarious down before he can pull off his plan. Though R&C games have been more about action rather than story as opposed to its closest rival Jak, the story is quite goofy with some strange yet memorable characters, such as Lawrence, Nefarious's weird butler, and Courtney Gears, the Britney Spears of robots (only a little less of a tramp. Okay, a lot
Right off the bat, it should be known that Up Your Arsenal is a bit shorter and sometimes more linear than past entries in the series. However, this is made up for with some fun side missions, and an amusing series of mini-games that can help move the story along. The side missions are pretty much 'war' scenes, where you and a set of cowardly robot rangers fight Tyrrahnoids in various situations and objectives. They're really fun and are extremely useful for acquiring bolts, upgrading your weaponry, and increasing your Nanotech health. There's also some games to play at a location called Annihilation Nation, and VR missions aboard the main hub ship (the Phoenix) which net you some extra bolts. Most of these are optional, so you can skip past them if you wish to run through the game. The Quark Vid-Comics are goofy little 2D mini-games that you play within the game, which tend to offer little hints here and there as to how to progress the storyline. They're not overly difficult though the little optional challenges (like acquiring the Q symbols spread around the levels) make it worth running through a couple times.
Despite that though, the star is still the fast-paced, sometimes challenging action of the traditional levels. While there are platform-like sections of the game, R&C has always skewed towards a pure 3rd person action/shooter and that's the case here as well. Like Going Commando, your weapons level up as you use them, gaining more power, ammo, and accuracy, letting your firepower grow as enemies get tougher (if you have memory card save data from both previous games, you can get a discount on many of these, and unlock some extra weapons from past games). Ratchet can get a huge assortment of weapons to use, as well as buy enhanced armor that becomes almost required later on when enemies are murderously efficient and strong. Of course, Ratchet again can increase his HP by defeating enemies, RPG style, to keep the odds even. It's this depth that keeps the action from becoming a mindless shooter, as it easily could have been. Though the levels are a lot more linear than before (though R&C has been mostly straightforward since its inception), the intense action & addictive quality of using the various weapons to kick butt evens this out. Though you can beat the game in about 10 hours without doing the optional missions (which makes it about 15 hours or so), it's worth the trip through, especially to find all the hidden goodies like bolts and trophies, and power all the weapons up to max power.
The new beast is the multiplayer. Up to 4 players can do battle in splitscreen play, or 8 online complete with voice chat, clan support, and a buddy list, for starters. There's traditional deathmatch for 8 players, 4v4 Siege (blow up the opposing team's base), and CTF. There's not a whole lot of gametypes, but you can customize a lot of things and create some unique games. Thanks to some crazy maps, the multiplayer component is a blast online and off, and maintains a completely lag-free experience thanks to being Broadband-only. It functions just like the single player, though skill in one does not equate to success in the other despite that. While not groundbreaking, the more lighthearted action helps it stand out against the more serious PS2 online fare such as SOCOM or Killzone.
The graphics engine isn't too far from the original, though that game was noted for large worlds, huge explosions, great animations for its characters, and an overall excellent art style. Up Your Arsenal delivers on all of this, most especially in the campaign mode (the multiplayer is a bit low on explosions and the maps, while good for gaming, are sometimes bland & uninteresting artistically). Though the animation doesn't rival the quality of Jak 3's, UYA's is still quite good. Vast terrain and numerous unique levels (you rarely see the same kind of level design twice...unless you return). Thankfully all the action on screen (and it can get mighty intense) does not result in many frame-rate dips or slowdown, if any at all. The action rarely relents and the game engine thankfully can handle it.
UYA's sound also excels and is just damn good. Voice acting for starters is top-notch. James Arnold Taylor (who likely will be remembered forever as Tidus from Final Fantasy X) returns to voice Ratchet, and the Lombax is voiced well because of him. Almost every character is voice in an eccentric fashion, such as the galaxy president who has a very...obvious similarity to one Bill Clinton. Sound effects also shine, with matching sounds to match the explosions and various on-screen action. The soundtrack contains the same epic-sounding compositions that perhaps is not memorable, but good nonetheless.