Galactic Warfare. Interstellar Heroes. A robot with an ego problem, and a laser whip. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, the latest game in the best-selling platform series, does not think small. Twisted, maybe, with a side of brilliant: for instead of taking it easy on a surefire hit sequel, Insomniac Games have gone for broke.
One year on from Ratchet & Clank: Locked and Loaded, relations between the space heroes are strained. Clank has moved from perennial sidekick to intergalactic celebrity, starring in his own TV Series and leaving Ratchet disgruntled. Luckily, a classic Interstellar Emergency shows up to smooth out the ego problems: diabolical scheme, robotic supervillain, end of galactic life as we know it... the Big Bad this time is Dr Nefarious, and to stop him the duo must journey back to Planet Veldin, scene of the original Ratchet & Clank. Along the way there's a huge cast of friends and foes to meet, including the stroke of nostalgic genius that is Captain Qwark - more on him later.
It's clear within minutes that UYA has is no longer a platform game in any normal sense. Jump puzzles are out, and even more than Locked and Loaded, UYA brings the action in spades. You're running, you're shooting, you're leaping, you're shooting; overall, it's fast, aggressive and very funny. Everything - the levels, the characters, the enemies, the humor - is done double size. And then there are the guns. Lots and lots of guns....
UYA is stacked with over 20 different weapons. Some of the best new ones are the Plasma Whip, which lets you go Indiana Jones Ratchet-style; the Infector, a stupidity machine for enemies; and a Rift Inducer that creates on-the-spot black holes. Even better, along with the arsenal there's a fully kitted out upgrade path. Four or five enhancements for each weapon let you bolt on extra rounds, firepower, and speed until even the poxiest gadget will turn Nefarious goons into spaceburger.
While the central plot of UYA is a huge game in its own right, several other elements break up the action and add variety. The best of these is a vidcomic pickup that takes you into the world of Captain Qwark, Space Hero. UYA presents his greatest adventures as little 2D platform levels, very similar to the original Duke Nukem/Commander Keen titles of a decade ago. These mini-games are tremendously enjoyable, a stylish, funny and nostalgic break from the ultra-fireworks of the main adventure. They've even got the cheesy 16-bit sound effects.
Multiplayer, too, is a winner. UYA brings a cargo-ship's worth of guns, vehicles, and gameplay options, everything from girly co-op to full on killing fields. You can play four-way split-screen on a single machine, but the real action is online, where Sony have made an effort to add extra content. Six new levels become available over broadband, and they're well-structured for team play with lots of destructible scenery and multi-pilot vehicles. USB headsets are fully supported, and there's the usual setup of game lobbies and buddy lists to get you into games.
Given the success of the other titles in the series, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal could easily have been a â€œsafeâ€ sequel â€“ slap on some extras, a quick polish, and it would still be an excellent game that sold millions. The full, mad reality of the release goes well beyond this. In its own way, Up Your Arsenal is like that other huge sequel of the moment, GTA:San Andreas: a monster franchise extension that smacks expectations with a laser whip. It's twisted. Brilliant. And a space hero on all fronts.