First off, I wouldn't actually call these the "greatest games of all time". That was just a catchy headline to bring you here. Because to be fair, I haven't played every game, or even most of the ones that are widely considered "the greatest". But for me
, these are the ten greatest titles that have had the largest impact on my tastes and interests as a gamer. There's a lot that I left out of course, and my list largely focuses on character driven, single player experiences. Be warned, there will probably be some spoilers if you're unfamiliar with the source material. Following Kotor at number ten
, let's continue with nine:
9) Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
Developer: Insomniac, Publisher: Sony
Release: November 11, 2003 (PS2, PS3, Vita)
Furry protagonist, robot sidekick, big guns, giant explosions. Okay, I'm in.
When people refer to a game as "formulaic", it's usually done so with a negative connotation. Many annualized franchises today get that term thrown at them as a criticism. With Ratchet & Clank, the opposite is often true. Much like Dota or WoW, the formula to Ratchet's gameplay is by far its greatest strength, and what's allowed the franchise to spawn nine main installments, three spin offs, and a PS4 remake of the original coming next year.
By Christmas 2003 I had already owned a PS2 for a full year, and two of my uncles decided to buy me the first couple Ratchet games as a gift. I didn't ask for them, but I read in Game Informer that they were made by the guys who did Spyro (which I still love to this day), so I was excited to play them. And for the most part, I enjoyed the first game. The humor, the weapons, the interesting worlds. Unsurprisingly reminded me a lot of Spryo, so I was happy.
But the sequel is what really grabbed me. The shift to proper dual stick, strafe and look controls was a massive improvement over the original. Combat was now significantly more frantic as the developers were able to expect much more in terms of what the player was capable of doing. So from a mechanical perspective, Insomniac really nailed it with Going Commando. But even more important were the addition of upgradable weapons, health, and armor to the original's shoot, explore, and collect formula. Way before this trend was everywhere, Insomniac found a way to enhance progression with RPG elements in a genre that rarely featured it.
One of the earliest third person games that really nailed dual stick controls.
But why is this so important? One of the biggest issues with the first Ratchet game (beyond its controls) was the lack of encouraged variety in player behavior. When you got a gun that worked, you stuck with it. Sure, there were certain situations where some weapons were clearly better than others. For the most part though, once you got the automatic blaster and the rocket launcher, you stuck with them. If that was the most effective way to progress as a player (and the first Ratchet was really
hard in some places), why change what wasn't broken?
For Going Commando, every time you killed an enemy with a weapon you got a little experience on that gun for using it. Once you hit a certain point, the weapon upgraded into a stronger, improved version. Here's the kicker, though: sometimes you'd end up with a functionally different weapon as a result. That gun that shot streams of lava at enemies? Now it shoots balls of molten magma. The one that shot balls of plasma? Now it sends out shock waves as it flies, bouncing off multiple walls (or enemies) until it explodes. The shield charger now shocked back
at enemies. The ray that turns enemies to sheep? Now they're giant exploding sheep. You weren't just rewarded with more killing power for using a gun you otherwise wouldn't. Often you'd end up with a different tool in your arsenal that pushed you to think and fight in different ways.
The Sheepinator upgrades to the Black Sheepinator. Yup. Still makes me laugh.
Once you hit the experience cap, you couldn't level the weapon up any further. Unless you were fighting a boss, using already upgraded weapons on regular enemies felt like a waste. The solution? Use a gun that you didn't have upgraded yet. Suddenly, the second biggest issue with the first game is solved. As a player, you're incentivized to rotate your arsenal and upgrade all your weapons. The curve at which you get bolts (your in-game currency) and are able to buy new weapons is set up so you'll almost never be without something to level. As such, this guiding mechanic was able to push you through the game from start to finish.
Was there a great deal of variety in the worlds you visited and the enemies you faced? Of course. But at the end of the day, all you're really
doing is strafing, aiming, and shooting at bad guys while you dodge their own attacks. Being incentivized to constantly change the weapons you used (which were already very unique from each other) made the game rarely feel repetitious. When you factor in the weapon mods, it added another layer to this. Things always felt new, and they always felt fresh. They managed to create a gameplay hook that always kept you moving forward. Studios will spend decades making games but never really manage to pull that off.
Fuck finding stars in Super Mario 64. Collecting these bad boys was the shit.
In order to get weapon mods though, you had to spend your collectable Platinum Bolts. Why is it always fun to explore in Zelda? You get cool shit for it. There's a feedback loop there that works, and it incentivizes certain action by the player. Same thing here, and Insomniac were nice enough to add an item late in the game that highlighted the general area for Platinum Bolt locations on your map. If you were smart, you could get them all without ever needing outside help. You also had Skill Points: vague level specific challenges that accomplished the same thing. They may not have had as big of a gameplay reward (they only unlocked cosmetic changes), but they too got you to try things you might not normally do. Plus there was an interesting thought puzzle involved in deciphering the descriptions and finding how to even complete them in the first place.
Which bring me to my second point. Beyond that feedback loop, the optional "macro-games" in Ratchet did a great job of breaking up the gameplay and letting you do something cool and different for a while. One of them was the arena, which presented you with increasingly difficult and varied combat challenges that rewarded you with bolts (and sometimes unique items). Some would limit your weapon choice, others had a time limit, a few required you to complete it with full health, and a couple threw unique boss enemies at you. The second arena also had a mode that flung you in the air onto what was basically the inside of a hollow cylinder. With your Gravity Boots, you'd fight off waves of teleporting enemies as the lava filled arena below you seemed to spin in the background as you strafed.
My god, I've probably spent hundreds of hours in the arena alone over the years.
Maybe you'd be interested in the two hoverbike courses in the game which also featured increasingly difficult and varied challenges. As you progressed, track short cuts and weapon pickups unlocked, and competitors got much more aggressive. How about space combat, fighting off enemy ships, space wasps, and ghosts from your starfighter. Not fast or well armed enough? There's a couple planets were you can mine the comically named "Raritanium" to trade for ship upgrades. Which are coincidentally the same places you find buried crystals you can trade to a crazy old hermit for bolts. Hell, the grind rails, glider segments, and hacking minigames within levels were great at breaking up the experience in and of themselves.
Up Your Arsenal, the sequel to Going Commando, built on a lot of this. They ditched the hoverbikes and space ships (to which I ask, WHY?
), but kept the arena and crystal collecting while adding a couple new things. They lacked the character or the variety of the original macro-games though, and ultimately failed to live up to them. In all honesty, no Ratchet game since has managed to nail this pacing so well. They were all optional, so if you wanted to skip part of all of them you could. But they were a great way to break up the experience and help reward you with bolts for your main journey. Again: feedback loops. Insomniac gets them.
The Star Explorer is in desperate need of a return. I miss my ship combat!
And the proverbial icing on the cake? Challenge Mode, aka new game plus. I couldn't actually beat Ratchet 1 when I first played it. I got stuck at the final boss, put it down, and picked up Going Commando (which I proceeded to tear through). So I had no idea the series had a challenge mode. Hell, at that point I had never played any game with one. Beating the final boss wasn't even the real reward; getting to take all my shit and start the game over was. And that's immediately what I did. Insomniac however, added a twist: every enemy you kill ups your bolt multiplier by one. Every time you get hit, it drops to zero. And now you can buy new upgrades for all your weapons that will let you level them up one more time. Which is great, because now all of your enemies are dramatically harder to killer. They really weren't joking when they said challenge, eh?
You might have notice I've skipped elaborating on some of the things Ratchet & Clank is known for, namely its humor, weapons, and art design. Like I said, they're all great. Insomniac knows how to get that atmosphere right and it's part of why I'm so excited for Sunset Overdrive. That game basically looks like the spiritual successor to Ratchet I've been waiting for. But those aspects aren't the reason why I'm immediately addicted to these games as soon as I pick them up. That perfected feedback loop is the reason, and it may very well be Insomniac's greatest achievement as a developer. If there is such a thing as gameplay "perfection", at least for mechanics, they did it.
Crazy to think how far this franchise has come in a decade. It looks incredible now.
Any fellow Ratchet fans out there? Anybody who's never got a chance to play one but was interested in doing so? Or are you one of those
people who think Jak and Sly were better series? (It's okay to be wrong, I still love you). Whatever the case, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, as always, and if you like what you've read feel free to give it a heart/upvote. Hoping to keep this series going all the way to number one, so be sure to check back for the next post in a few days. Oh, and if you haven't read number ten yet, definitely check that out here