Well it’s confirmed: Ratchet and Clank do not wear underwear… or Insomniac is just witty with their puns. Maybe both. Regardless of their undergarment status, Ratchet and Clank have returned in their numberless sequel Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. The original title set the solid groundwork that begged to be improved upon and blown out in true Ratchet & Clank fashion. Going Commando not only overturns the curse of the sophomore slump, but broadens the scope and betters almost every mechanic and system along the way.
After squandering the insidious galaxy-destroying plans of Chairman Drek, Ratchet and Clank have caught the couch potato bug and have had to get used to life being a little less exciting. Rather than worrying about gigantic weapons of mass destruction, they’ve had to fret about dirty radiator cores and other small household issues. A slight step down in adrenaline to say the least.
Seeing these heroes waste their potential, a bouncy fellow by the name of Abercrombie Fizzwidget, CEO of Megacorp, has requested the duo’s assistance to steal back a coveted furry experiment called the Protopet from a masked thief. Of course, this not only gives Ratchet and Clank some sweet digs (free training and a new house), but gives them a reason to shake off the cobwebs and jump back into the hero’s role.
At face value, retrieving the Protopet from filthy hands seems a bit tame, but the story goes out of its way to twist and turn to keep the narrative from becoming a predictable routine. Faces aren’t who they appear to be and the story shifts accordingly to keep from being bland or repetitive. The cast of cartoonish characters makes this narrative ride even more pleasant with their witty performances and endearing personalities. Ratchet and Clank, while they lack the character progression of the original, have prominently displayed their ability to remain one of gaming’s best duo of protagonists. Villains, especially the hilarious Thugs-4-Less boss, are stupid enough in the best ways (thanks again to the writing) to make their time onscreen to be just as much a highlight as anyone else’s.
Platforming and blowing shit up are the two core tenets of the Ratchet & Clank franchise and each has been streamlined and given more depth. Strafe buttons have been implemented to ensure a more shooter-friendly environment. No longer must you run in circles just to hit the enemy head-on with your chosen armament. Naturally, this isn’t perfect as it sometimes requires a finger “claw” as you try to strafe and hit the fire button at the same time, but it is peeking its head in the right direction. The auto-targeting needed does it what needs to in most situations, but refuses to aim at anything that isn’t on level ground with Ratchet. A blood sacrifice and 10% of your gross income is required to aim at any aerial threats or at least it seemed that way.
Besides the opposition that chooses to fly overhead, the game’s shooting mechanics work delightfully, mainly banking on the game’s killer arsenal. Insomniac cleverly checks off genre standbys like the shotgun and sniper rifle, but goes that extra few miles in crafting tools that don’t fit any sort of trope. The Sheepinator adds 100% more wool to your opponent, the Tankbot Glove allows for a self-destructive robotic spider to seek your prey, the RYNO makes a return, and a few dozen more creative firearms are given to the player to tamper with. Ammunition is severely limited for the first playthrough, but after you overcome that hump, choosing which weapon you want to use in each situation adds a player-driven strategy to each encounter.
Your will to upgrade each of the weapons is also a driving force in balancing out your gun usage. An experience bar is below each weapon, filling up slowly as you use it. Once it hits its climax, the chosen armament transforms into a new, more destructive version of itself. For example, the Minirocket Tube evolves into the Megarocket Cannon, a rocket launcher capable of a four-rocket barrage instead of just one missile that the previous version held. On your challenging New Game Plus playthrough, the upgraded weapons are ready for another level, further upgrading their power and ammo capacity.
Addictive RPG mechanics have invaded the weapon category, but have thankfully infected other facets of the game as well. Armor is now upgradeable, weapon mods can be added to your guns, your ship can be outfitted with more firepower, and your health constantly upgrades with each enemy slain. The meta-game of “I have to level everything up” is a thoughtful addition because not only does it make you try everything out, but it shows a steady progression from level to level. Building power and amassing a wealth of bolts is something that adds to both moment-to-moment gameplay and the replayability at large. Running through multiple times might be required for those OCD players fiending to see everything the game has in its arsenal.
When you aren’t massacring evil robots or squashing hostile aliens, you’ll be fiddling with the other tertiary activities the game has in store for you. Platforming and puzzle solving get spiced up via the many gadgets you acquire along the way. Each minigame or small activity is simple fun even if most are underutilized. Every gizmo gets used only a handful of times, but that may be welcome since they could wear out their welcome.
Space combat is also an activity worthy of milking a few bolts out of. Buying new upgrades for your ship and testing them out in the field isn’t super deep, but is fun in of itself. Hoverbike races are the same way. They’re fast and exhilarating, even if they aren’t the most complex of mechanics. Maybe it’s because of how much I played them as a kid, but I never lost one of them and each became a landslide victory. Gauntlet challenges have a more immediate reward, with new bosses and handing the player a massive amount of bolts. Besides running out of ammo, these are a neat way to concentrate the weapon-heavy combat into one area and reward the player handily for it.
While the soundtrack doesn’t best the first game, the visuals compare a bit more favorably. Bright hues and creative character design give the game a whimsical, alien feel, along with crafting its own creative visual niche. Bringing the game up to HD has given this artistic direction the proper room to breathe and age wonderfully, but some aspects weren’t as lucky. An otherwise-solid framerate can slightly dip when action gets overly hectic but is quick to resume at a silky pace after a few seconds. Glitches are far less welcoming. Although rare, a few progress stopping bugs crept their way into my save, forcing me to restart levels with my fingers crossed hoping the past wouldn’t repeat itself. Every game has bugs in some capacity, but there were multiple occasions where something would break, an issue I didn’t have in the PS2 days. These rare bugs don’t affect everyone and it doesn’t overly tarnish a bright spectacle of a game, but it is something to be aware of.
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando HD was a remarkable game back then and is a noteworthy title today, even in the face of many sequels. Ratchet’s inventive planet hopping destruction tour is a formula that is simple and just works so well and, given the laundry list of improvements, makes Going Commando HD a pleasant experience and one worthy of carrying the borderline sex pun name the franchise carries with pride.
+RPG mechanics have been added to almost every facet, adding a tremendous amount of replay value
+Weapons are creative and explosive and gadgets add variety
+Ratchet, Clank, and the crew are as enjoyable as ever and all contribute to an intriguing plot
-Ammo is limited for a fair chunk of the game
-Aiming at aerial foes is inaccurate
-Minor framerate issues and bugs
Final Score: 8.5/10