I have to confess, when SCEA came out with Jak & Daxter and then followed up with Ratchet & Clank, I kind of rolled my eyes at the thought of Sony attempting to produce mascot-based titles. While I haven't warmed up to Jak yet, I decided to give Ratchet & Clank a go after reading some stellar reviews about it. What followed was one of the more enjoyable experiences I ever had with a PS2 game! This happened once again when I picked up Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando when it was first released. Who knew that SCEA and Insomniac Games could make such an enjoyable action/platform title? The problem now, is to top what they've done in the past two installments. I feel really sorry for Insomniac Games though... they have the easiest and hardest job in the world. How? Well, it's easy to see how to improve your games when they have a narrow focus, but it's also tough to stop deviating from that by adding superfluous content that doesn't make a game better.
But that's exactly what they did with Up Your Arsenal. There isn't a lot that separates Up Your Arsenal from Going Commando when you look at the single player experience, but it's just so well done that you can't help but enjoy it. Like previous titles, Ratchet has a massive amount of weaponry at his disposal, from the Plasma whip to the Infector, which causes enemies to turn on each other. The stages are still fairly linear in nature, but due to the game being more action-oriented, I could care less. If this was an RPG or an adventure game, it would definitely hurt, but Ratchet & Clank have always been about action, so the design works very well here. I do enjoy the more expansive areas that the game offers though. What is also a pleasant surprise is that Clank has a much more prominent role in the game than he did in the previous games. There are several scenarios in which you'll have to control Clank to allow Ratchet to complete his missions. An early example is having Clank control some mini-robots in order to disable the security system that is blocking Ratchet's progress.
While the intense action in the game is great, the mini-games that break up the frentic melees are what really make the game truly great to me. Fans of Shiny Entertainment's MDK will recognize the free-fall mini-games that occur at key points in the game, the aforementioned Clank side missions are also executed wonderfully, and there are the Captain Quark side missions. These are playable when you find video episodes of Captain Quark's past adventures. Played in a strictly 2D nature, they break up the action really nicely, and on top of that, they're extremely fun to play. Insomniac really did their homework when it came to pacing in their games. Spyro was designed with similar pacing, and since then the studio has only been improving this aspect of their games. Now, if only some other companies would follow suit...
Complementing the crazy action is a level up system that rewards the player on their choice of firearms. Use a certain weapon enough times and you will be able to use an upgraded version that can hold more ammo, as well as being more powerful. Each weapon has five different iterations, and most have special properties once they're upgraded. For example, the Lava Gun gets a lock-on modification once it hits level 3, and the Annihilator's final version releases a grand total of a dozen missiles at an enemy, compared to the single missile that the stock version provides. The experience system works very well in Up Your Arsenal, for the sole reason that you won't be relying on one weapon at all times. Sure, your Nitro Launcher (grenade launcher) can deal an unholy amount of damage on a swarm of enemies, but it's not practical against certain types of enemies. On the other hand, your Shock Blaster (stock shotgun) is a great general purpose weapon, but there will be many times in the game where you will be forced to switch because it's not effective against larger, more powerful enemies. On top of that, it also makes your early weapons a viable option to you, even though you may have picked up more effective weapons later in the game.
Admittedly, the game hasn't changed all that much from the first two, other than the new weapons and better dialogue, but that's only when you explore the single player mode. Multiplayer on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. You can liken it to Unreal Tournament's online modes, it's that good. There are three modes of play online: Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Seige. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but it's Seige that really makes the multiplayer aspect of Up Your Arsenal stand out. The objective of Seige is to destroy an enemy's base, and then destroy the power core within the base. Sounds simple, but it's not, since your foes have a vast array of toys at their disposal on top of the basic weapons. Laser turrets and robotic bodyguards are also online, so you'll have to watch out for more than a furry little guy with a shotgun. Add in a variety of vehicles and you have an entirely new experience that wasn't half-assed to simply satisfy the cries of gamers everywhere. I never thought of Insomniac Games to do something half-heartedly, and thankfully, they didn't.
I've never been a stickler for graphics, and to be honest, I absolutely hate the Jak and Ratchet character designs. I was never into the cartoony look that the games have. Despite my tastes in art design I can still commend developers when they have achieved a high level of technical excellence in their titles. Up Your Arsenal is a visually impressive game, that's for sure; you have anywhere from five to twenty enemies on the screen, with all sorts of things blowing up around you, and the game does not slow down. Ever. There's so many things going on all at once in the game that it's sometimes hard to keep track of it all, but that's what makes playing the game so damn fun at times. Dropping in from 30,000 feet from a dropship, landing, and then fighting a small army of aliens without any break is what makes Up Your Arsenal one of the best games on the system.
There isn't anything wrong with Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal as far as design goes. Most of the faults I find with the game have to do with the art direction, which I never liked in the first place. But it says a lot for the quality of the gameplay when one can bear through something they perceive as 'ugly' and still have a great time with it. It'd be great to see the series appear on Sony's next-gen platform, and I hope that they start beefing up the online aspect of the game. Seige is a great start, but let's try adding some more modes that would never be found in other games. How about a mode where players race to turn as many enemies into sheep or chickens within a time limit? Or perhaps a multiplayer race through a gauntlet using vehicles or on foot. Hell, why not throw in a Mario Party-esque board game in there, complete with mini-games? The possibilities are endless, and I for one cannot wait to see what Insomniac cooks up next with their dynamic duo!