Part one of Sony's two part action platformer double whammy this Christmas is Ratchet & Clank 3. Being the third Ratchet & Clank game in two years, you might expect to see signs of a rushed job, or that the game turns out to be nothing more than a mission add-on to the previous game. You would be wrong. Ratchet & Clank 3 is one of the best games you could play this year.
The game starts with one of many cutscenes; Clank has been given his very own TV show - Agent Clank - and in a twist from reality, Ratchet plays his sidekick. Agent Clank has gathered quite a fan base, including the very evil robot Dr. Nefarious. With a hatred for Squishies (everything that isn't a robot), Nefarious wants to lure Agent Clank over to the evil side; together they would be too strong for the Squishies, wiping them out completely.
Ratchet & Clank 3 isn't your usual platform game. In fact, you would be stretching it a bit if you were to call it one. The game is really a third-person shooter, with some jumping sections thrown into the mix, along with a few other sub-game style missions; a traditional 2D style platform section being one of the highlights. Clank will remain on Ratchet's back for most of the game, but he does jump off now and again, putting you in control of the tiny robot. Captain Qwark returns along with a mix of old and new characters, together making the Q-Force.
Weapons are the main focus of the game. You spend the vast majority of the game blasting enemies, and a huge arsenal of weapons means this never becomes boring. There are really three categories that the weapons fall under; traditional, bizarre and support. Traditional weapons such as shot guns, rapid-fire pistols and grenade launchers are all present. In the bizarre category, among others, you have a black hole creator, a suction gun and a device that turns the enemy into sheep. So-called support weapons let you deploy turrets, release attack robots and set up defensive shields.
Each weapon has five levels of power. As you use each weapon you gain more experience with it, eventually powering it up to the next level. While this does make the weapons far more satisfying to use, it is easy to ignore your other, more exotic weapons when you have a blaster and rapid file pistol each maxed out at level five. Weapons are bought using nuts and bolts (the games currency). These are gained each time you destroy a robot or complete one of the challenge missions, but also come out of smashed up boxes and anything else that can be blown up.
Enemies come thick and fast, with Dr. Nefarious sending all manner of robots in an attempt to kill all the squishies. For some reason these robots are fighting along-side a race of slime balls, themselves ranging from small to huge toad like creatures. The early missions will require little thought, with mindless blasting being the order of the day, but later missions require a lot more care; good use of cover needs to be made as the enemies can take more damage, while inflicting more on you.
The game has a mission based structure, with each completed mission opening at least one other mission or task that you can then move on to. Your hub of sorts is a spaceship called the Phoenix. Here you can make upgrades to your armour, check out your trophies and play some videogames. The console of choice isn't a Playstation any more, with the Video Comic device being what all the kiddies want. Rather surprisingly, this state of the art games machine is home to a fairly traditional side scrolling platform game, featuring Captain Qwark. Throughout the game you collect new chapters in the Qwark stories, each one providing a short burst of gameplay, accompanied by some tongue in cheek back story on Qwark.
The cutscenes are full of mild humour, with Qwark's mission plans providing the most consistent laughs. The voice acting is great; nearly all the characters in the game are memorable and each has a voice perfectly fitting their look. Even the mouthless guards convey personality, almost always reporting to Ratchet while under heavy attack. News style reports make up the majority of cutscenes, but there are a few notable others that stand out; a music video complete with full lip-synching and a set of robotic dancers is a real highlight.
Mixing this much combat within a platform game could have proved difficult, but it has been pulled off exceedingly well. You have a variety of control schemes on offer, allowing you to control the game in a traditional 3D platform style, or giving you the controls of a first person shooter. Whatever you chose, the game plays superbly; sensitivity on the analogue sticks is perfect and you never feel that the controls have let you down.
The single player game is more than good enough to stand alone, but also included in this bumper pack of a game is a great multiplayer mode. This can be played with four players on one console or with up to eight online. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are pretty standard in multiplayer shooters, but the standout mode is the team-based siege mode. This mode gives each team a base and then sets up a number of neutral nodes. These nodes can be captured by using your wrench to turn the nodes screw. Once captured the node gains a turret which is used to take out the opposing team and occasionally gives you items and vehicles, helping you take control of more nodes. The aim is to eventually storm the enemy base and destroy their power source, ending the game. Playing online is a lot of fun, even if the gameplay is pretty simple, particularly if you are used to more advanced PC shooters, but there is little like it on the Playstation 2. The online games have great stat tracking and have a good number of options to customise the play, making Ratchet & Clank 3 online worth coming back to time and again.
Ratchet & Clank 3 is visually one of the Playstation 2's stand out titles. The series has always looked good and the third instalment is no exception. Environments are massive, character models look great, colours are vibrant and the game's frame rate rarely hiccups. This is a game that wouldn't look out of place on the Xbox or GameCube.
With a single player game easily lasting more than fifteen hours (more if you take part in various optional missions) and an online multiplayer mode that is unlike anything else on the Playstation 2, it is easy to recommend Ratchet & Clank 3. Fans of the previous games will love the new missions, while newcomers to the series will find a game that is a joy to play, either by yourself or with friends.