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Ratchet and Clank Original Trilogy Retrospective Part 2

Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked and Loaded, (or Going Commando in parts of the world where innuendo can be in game titles), was released in 2003 on the PS2, one year after the first game. The game begins with the duo appearing on an interview, lamenting the fact that no one needs a hero nowadays.

 

An individual in another galaxy sees this broadcast and teleports them to a ship, introducing themselves as Abercrombie Fizzwidget, CEO of Megacorp. Recently an experiment was stolen from Megacorp by a masked thief and he wants Ratchet to reclaim it, whilst offering Clank a high-ranking administration position at Megacorp.

The thief evades Ratchet and escapes with the experiment, kidnapping Clank shortly afterwards as a warning to Ratchet. The two are reunited shortly afterwards and the adventure restarts in earnest.

Unlike the first game where it carried themes of “two opposites working together”, this time the focus is more on the bond the two have developed. They are shown interacting as friends, with Ratchet not hesitating to jump to Clank’s defence and Clank doing what he can to assist Ratchet.

Weapons

A total of 24 weapons are in the game this time round, 19 original to the game and 5 returning from the first. The 5 returning weapons are free if you have a save from the game on your memory card, but, don’t expect to be using them much. Combined with enemy buffs and the weapons themselves being nerfed; they’re not going to carry you like they did in the past, especially since the new weapons can be upgraded. There’ll be more on that in gameplay.

You start out with the Lancer and the Gravity Bomb, standard single-target and crowd-control weapons respectively. The more ridiculous weapon concepts have been toned down in favour of doing interesting things with conventional technology, with a few out-there weapons thrown in.

An early game weapon I tend to rush for is the Blitz Gun. The games equivalent of a shotgun, it’s able to deal massive amount of damage within a cone, sometimes clearing through crowds of tough enemies up until the mid-game. Combine this with a high ammo capacity and you get a weapon that can easily last until the third act.

Close to the start of the second act the Bouncer becomes available for purchase, at 100,000 bolts it’s a steep purchase at this point in the game, but if you’re willing to grind, it’ll become a mainstay in your arsenal. It fires out a large spherical projectile that will explode on contact or after coming to a complete stop, releasing lots of small bouncing explosives that gently home towards enemies, creating a weapon to handle crowds and bosses.

For an endgame weapon that will handle both of those with a bit more accuracy and power, look no further than the Plasma Coil. The Coil will fire out a large bolt of charged plasma which will inflict heavy damage upon the intended target and arc out lightning to any nearby enemies, softening them up for another shot chain.

Continuing with series tradition, the R.Y.N.O returns in the form of the R.Y.N.O II. Instead of being a multi-rocket launcher it now takes on the form of an 8-barrel gatling rocket launcher. The missiles retain their individual strength and homing ability but are now fired much more rapidly, with a 100% increase in ammo capacity from the first iteration the R.Y.N.O II. Much like its predecessor, it turns the game into cakewalk.

Gameplay

Progression remains unchanged from the first game; you go through a linear series of planets which usually have 2-3 paths for the player to explore. These routes will usually include one that will advance the plot and another that will provide access to a gadget. As usual returning to a world with newly acquired equipment can provide access to new areas.

Returning from the first game are a series of 40 collectibles, this time called Platinum Bolts. Once again these normally require clever use of a gadget or searching all the hidden areas on a map, unlike the first game however they can be used earlier on.

At a few points during the game, you can find a button that calls Slim Cognito down to modify your weapons in exchange for Platinum Bolts. Most weapons will have access to a Lock-On mod that makes it easier to move & shoot, and most will have either a Shock or Acid mod for additional damage.

Skill Points make their return: 30 skill-based challenges ranging from fast completion times to destroying all breakables in a level. Earning skill points are now used for earning ship customisation options and unlocking toggle-controlled cheats, ranging from Big Head Mode to Mirrored Levels.

The main feature of a level being presented to you through a set camera continues. With how much larger some of these levels are, it really gives an idea of the scale Insomniac could work with in the sequel. The game is still running at 60fps with some occasional slowdown when a lot of enemies or projectiles are on-screen.

Bolts return as the primary currency, and the economy is so much better. Both enemies and crates drop a reasonable number of bolts in line with the game’s progression, which allow for buying new equipment at a steady pace. To aid this, other methods of earning bolts have been introduced, these will be covered in detail in a bit, but hover bike races, gladiator battles, crystals and space combat sections all reward bolts.

The game has now introduced slight RPG elements. As mentioned earlier, weapons can now be upgraded through use. As enemies are defeated weapons will gain experience and once they have gained enough experience, they will upgrade. A weapon upgrade can grant a higher ammo capacity, increased damage, additional mechanics or all the above. Health can now be upgraded the same way, rather than a set number of units in the previous game.

Because of this change to health; players can now upgrade their armour as well. A new suit becomes available for purchase at 4 different points in the game, and each new set will give better damage reduction, up to 90% for the best suit.

Gadgets to aid in mobility and progression remain a feature. Returning from the first game are the Swingshot and Grind Boots, the latter remains mechanically identical whilst the former now gains the ability to pull objects towards you.

New to the game are:

  • The Dynamo, which can be used to activate machinery to generate platforms or open doors.
  • The Gravity Boots are modified Magneboots, which now allow Ratchet to jump during these segments.
  • The Tractor Beam is used to move around platforms to block forcefields (actually managed to softlock the game once doing that), open the way or move bombs into positions.
  • The Thermanator which is used to freeze water or thaw ice to create paths through levels.
  • The Electrolyzer which allows you to play a reaction based minigame to complete a circuit,
  • And finally, near the end of the game you get the Hypnomatic which allows you to hijack robots to play through small shooter segments.

I’ll also break off for a moment to focus on one particular gadget, the Charge Boots. With a double tap of R1 Ratchet is propelled forward with a continuous burst of kinetic energy that won’t stop until R1 is released, an object is collided into or, as has happened to me, falling off the edge of the world. These come midway into the game and make backtracking so much easier. (they’re also pretty stylish)

There are also two gadgets used for traversing long distances at set points. First is the Levitator, an activated backpack for Clank, which uses a set amount of fuel but allows for unlimited flight during it. Second is the Momentum Glider, which I’ll talk about more in Controls.

The gadget diversity is strong, but once again there is a gadget that allows you to open doors. This time it is called the Infiltrator and presents the puzzle in the form of a sphere with an incomplete circuit. Your goal is to move around the sphere completing the circuit, with dead ends thrown in to impede your progress. This version of the entry gadget as a timer on it too, meaning you must exercise both your logic of where you’ve just been and how fast you can figure out where to go next. Aside from the puzzles to find optional collectibles, which are intentionally more difficult; none of the compulsory sections will stump a player for long.

Both Clank and Giant Clank return for the game. The latter is no different, he has missiles, bombs and his fists (though those do a lot more damage this time round). One segment is compulsory, one is for an optional item. The former has some changes with Gadgebots making their return but three types of unique bots appearing. A Bridge Bot for traversing gaps, a Hammer Bot for smashing obstacles and operating catapults, and a Lifter Bot which is used for one whole obstacle and is never seen again.

As mentioned when discussing bolts, a lot of things now give bolts as a reward, and they form the side mechanics of this game.

A change from the first game is that now Ratchet rides on a hoverbike, rather than a hoverboard. Small change I know but I much prefer this to the somewhat mediocre races of the previous iteration. Bikes are faster, weapons bring much needed diversity and the courses are well-designed. Once again one is compulsory for progression and another earns you the Charge Boots, with additional races afterwards to earn bolts.

Two planets in the game play host to gladiator arenas. These are specific spots where all you will do is fight rounds of enemies to win bolts, allowing you to grind experience for weapons at the same time. Both arenas will present unique challenges to play through, such as using only one fully loaded weapon to defeat all enemies, defeating all enemies within the time limit, or clearing the challenge without taking damage. These arenas can be surprisingly addictive with a good pay-off to match.

On two other planets, once the main objective is achieved, there is a wide open space to traverse filled with crystals, which can be retrieved and brought to someone who will give you bolts in exchange for them. Collecting all crystals on a planet earning you a skill point.

Finally, the small ship combat sections from the first game have been expanded upon greatly. There’s now 3 dedicated areas which are exclusively ship combat, with the first mission being a straightforward “eliminate all the targets” and required for story progression. The subsequent missions being elimination missions or taking more of an objective focus. The last mission is always a checkpoint race through the level.

During these segments, a collectible called “Raritanium” can be dropped by ships. This can be taken to Slim Cognito’s Ship Shack for various ship upgrades such as better lasers, new secondary weapons or upgraded engines. This is also where the unlockable ship paint jobs can be purchased.

Controls

Ratchet controls similarly to the first game, small tweaks to make platforming tighter and Clank’s Thruster and Heli pack upgrades are now mechanically identical with no new moves added, the choice now being just for player preference (Thruster Pack all the way).

Ratchet can now strafe right out of the gate. This makes combat so much easier as you can now sidestep around enemies whilst targeting them properly, now able to jump if a large projectile is coming your way.

The camera still feels off though, it gets stuck on things less but in tight areas it’s still awkward to angle right due to the rotation speed. It continues to be the perfectly workable camera for a 3D platformer, but it’s not until this game’s sequel that we’ll see the camera done right. (An aside, beating this game once unlocks a toggle-controlled first person mode, which is a full control method explored in the sequel)

And my issues with controls don’t stop here sadly, as when I was talking about gadgets, I briefly mentioned the Momentum Glider. It is used a grand total of three times in the game, two of which are for compulsory segments, with one of these segments holding one of the most awkwardly placed collectibles in the game. These three segments are not enough to get used to how the glider controls, with the controls being inverted even if you turn off camera inversion and the camera being right up Ratchet’s arse makes long sweeping turns difficult as you can’t see what’s around you.

This ties into the awkwardly placed collectible. It’s placed in such a way that it’s impossible to pick up without doing one of two things. Either turning around at the end of the course in a long sweeping turn and travel all the way back to the start, or intentionally stalling the glider close to the start, quick turning around and then attempting to get it.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because it took me until this playthrough, 16 years after first playing the game, to finally get that collectible, through multiple playthroughs and years of attempts I finally did it.

Finishing it today

I did a perfectly fresh and clean playthrough this time round, and it turned out to be one of my best. I had so much fun using every single new weapon, getting to explore all the new worlds which still felt fresh and fun to me. I grabbed collectibles that have eluded me for 16 years and played through missions that were impossible to a younger me.

I know it feels early to say with an article still to go, but this is the best game in the original trilogy for me. The worlds are diverse with so much content to explore, all the new weapons are incredibly well designed with utility up until the end game, and the replay value is insane, to the point one of the saves on my memory card which belongs to my dad has 11 playthroughs on it.

This is also the game that introduced the “Insomniac Museum”, a side level dedicated to the game’s development and letting players mess around with the systems they developed for the game and showing off cut content from both this game and the previous game. To both a regular player and to the more technically minded this is a fascinating addition to the game.

And as we move forward to Up Your Arsenal, more changes happen… though some are not for the best.


Once again, a huge thanks to our guest Murray Butler for this week’s article. Have you played Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked and Loaded yourself? Do you agree with Murray’s assessment, or is this your first time seeing the Ratchet & Clank series? As ever, share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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