Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 2: Going Commando
Starting the trend of double entendre titles in the series, Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando (or Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked and Loaded if you live in a boring territory like I do) is the second main game in the series, and one that attempts to tweak the formula whilst retaining its core elements. This time Ratchet is transported to the Bogan galaxy to retrieve a stolen experiment by the eccentric head of Megacorp, Mr. Fizzwidget. This iteration onto improvement of a tried and tested formula is a core tenant of all the mainRatchet & Clank sequels, and most of the features introduced in Going Commando were successful enough to be retained through the rest of the series.
Much like the first game, Ratchet & Clank 2 has aged very well thanks to it retaining its stylized aesthetic and cartoony action. The graphics are slightly more detailed; especially many of the textures, making the developing style of the series more like a family CGI movie than cell shading. The colour pallet of the series is always a joy to look at, and that contributes no small part to their continuing eminent playability.
Having now picked up the HD collection at a reasonable price (it’s like gold dust in the UK) I can say the games look wonderful, but the port job isn’t perfect. I noticed a lot more graphical glitches, and especially sound glitches than I remember, so just keep that in mind if you’re thinking of picking it up.
All the features and collectables carry over from the first game in slightly altered forms. The special collectable Bolts this time are Platinum Bolts, which can be used to acquire weapon modifications. These modifications combine with an experience based upgrade system to make the weapons feel much more powerful over time, and eventually lead to a powerful final upgrade with added utility and punch.
The weapons are probably one of the most improved aspects of Ratchet & Clank 2 over the first game; they feel a lot more user friendly, lock onto enemies better (the lock-on mods are a godsend for many weapons, and I recommend prioritizing them), and have a greater area of effect for taking out the multitudes of enemies you’ll face. The upshot is you are far better equipped to deal with the ramped up action sections of the game. The Ryno is back, but slighly more subduded in my opinion. It’s still crazy when you hold down fire, though.
Thankfully the game didn’t fully devolve into an action shooter; the gadgets, environmental puzzles, and problem solving puzzles are all accounted for. The game adds new gadgets like the Thermanator which can freeze and thaw water, the Infiltrator and Electrolyzer that grant access to hacking style mini games, the Hypnomatic which allows you to hijack and control certain robots and the most boring gadgets in the series, and the Dynamo and Tractor Beam which literally just move things and press buttons. Utility aside, there is a good number of things that break up the experience and avoid monotony. The Swingshot and Grind Boots are back, and the racing sections also make a return with hover bikes instead of hover boards this time around, and with additional challenges available to earn bolts.
Two completely new elements are the spherical worlds and the addition of round based arena combat against waves of enemies. The Galactic Gladiators and the Megacorp games are some of the most enjoyable sections of the game, and show off the ability of the game to produce fast-pacing and varied action to test out your new arsenal without warping the rest of the levels around it. It’s a neat solution for pure combat that also serves are a good way to boost your bolts should you require some grinding.
They also expanded and improved the space battles this time. The space combat in Going Commando isn’t ideal; it’s often a scramble to see where your enemies are and navigating the 3D space can be a disorienting, but it’s not miserable and is at worst merely serviceable. I think this was overambitious of them to try and pull of what essentially amounts to a whole other type of game within Ratchet & Clank 2,but the fact you can have racing, space battles, platforming, arena combat, and puzzles in the same game and it not feel like a disjointed mess is a testament to the skill of the developers. A decent proportion of what is on offer here is optional, and that allows you to move past elements you dislike to focus more on elements you do like.
Whilst the game doesn’t have a massive amount of direct continuity to its predecessor it is able to read your Ratchet & Clank save file, and that gives you free access to many of the weapons from the previous game. Sadly these do not upgrade like the new weapons do, and even when you get them they are horribly underpowered. It’s nice to see them back, but you will most likely hardly ever use them.
The story and world are much on the same level as the first game; there are a couple of twists, some nice voice performances from the supporting cast, and a range of exotic and differing environments to explore. Megacorp is nicely integrated into the world and fills the same role as Gadgetron did in the first game. I especially like the level where you find the crumbling presence of Gadgetron who failed to compete in this galaxy — it’s a nice touch. The story present is still more a way of moving the encounters forward at this point in the series, but it’s never obtrusive and retains the series signature wit and charm.
There are many great Easter Eggs in Going Commando. The game contains a nod to Naughty Dog who helped Insomniac out with their engine technology in the first game. In Allgon City on planet Damosel you can visit Clank’s apartment, and in there you see a poster for Jak and Daxter; this is a trade Naughty Dog returned in the Jak series which features a poster of Ratchet & Clank from the Going Commando era. Clank’s apartment also features a hidden Sheep Invaders game where you shoot the sheep model produced by the Sheepinator with a Sythanoid. It’s a great little re-use of the game’s existing models and sounds. There is also a returning nod to the ever present plumber, who hands out nuggets of wisdom fresh from the toilet-bowl.
Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando also features the first appearance of — for me — one of the best and most unique aspects of the Ratchet & Clank series: the Insomniac museum. Part Easter Egg, part behind the scenes showcase, and part bonus level the museum shows off cut concepts from this installment as well as the original Ratchet & Clank. It also shows off many of the design and testing features used in the game, and even gives you the ability to make your own particle effects and puzzles in a feature that allows you a window into the development process. This version in Ratchet & Clank 2 also features a decent amount of voice recordings form the team itself.
Ratchet & Clank always took the time to add things for the player to discover over and above other games, and all the entries in the series are chocked full of skill-points, special collectable bolts, in-built cheats, and lots of other Easter Eggs. This shows the care and attention Insomniac puts into each of their games; in a world of cut-content DLC and microtransaction costumes it’s refreshing to be able to play a series that gives so much extra for the price of entry. The Insomniac museum is the ultimate expression of that; it takes a lot of time, effort, and love as well as development resources to craft a whole level purely for the committed fan to find.
In doing this retrospective, I’ve begun to realize some of what we’ve lost in modern gaming in the scramble to squeeze every penny out of the audience. We don’t usually get these fun little extras for free anymore and that’s a shame.
Going Commando encapsulates “more of the same but better,” and that isn’t a bad thing. Whilst I like ambitious games I think it’s better to polish and improve what you already know works rather than attempt an experiment and fail. If you add enough new elements then you end up with another modern classic, and Ratchet & Clank 2 is just that. Despite it falling a little uncomfortably between the shiny newness of the original game and its stellar sequel this installment is very much worth playing in its own right. It’s a testament to the quality and consistency of the series that there are such small margins between three stellar games in a series.
Favourite Weapon: Sheepinator (Baaaa!)
Favourite Gadget: Hypnomatic
Thanks for joining me on this journey through gaming history. Next time we venture into Up Your Arsenal!
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