If there is anyone out there who has not yet heard of Ratchet and Clank, where the hell have you been for the last three years? This series is probably one of the best titles that has ever been produced for the PS2. The original was released in the UK at Christmas 20001 and was a phenomenal success right from the outset, its only rival being the equally brilliant Naughty Dogs Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Both games were amusing, beautifully produced and had well thought out storylines. Where Ratchet and Clank relied on its extensive gadgetry and armoury to make the game enjoyable Jak and Daxter had the humour and the innovative objectives. Developers Insomniac released the second title in the series the following year Ratchet and Clank2: Going Commando again it was up against Naughty Dogs sequel Jak2: Renegade. This time however where Ratchet and Clank had merely tweaked its original formula Renegade was an entirely different game to the original title. Renegade had been given a complete overhaul; it had lost its cutesy feel and had been given a much darker overtone. The general consensus was that although Ratchet and Clank 2 was still a very good game, Renegade had the slight edge in the popularity stakes. In 2004 the rivals up against each other yet again with the release of Jak3 and Ratchet and Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal this time Insomniac had the upper hand. Ratchet offered more weaponry and fire power where Jak 3 had grown up and its new darker image would no longer appeal to younger gamers, there were less platformer elements and the game revolved a lot more around driving combat vehicles.

Now in 2005 Ratchet - Gladiator has been released, the fourth title in the Ratchet and Clank Series. As usual the game has been released for the Christmas market and at the same time as Naughty Dog has released the another Jack and Daxter title Jak X. This year however developers Naughty Dog have diversified from the usual series of mission based games and Jak X is a rather disappointing racing game with non of the magic or plot of the previous titles in the series. Insomniac not to be outdone have also opted to modify Ratchet and Clank and have moved away from the usual platform gaming format of its previous three titles, but in this instance it is an enhancement of the game and is not at all detrimental to its predecessors. Ratchet - Gladiator is more of a shoot-em-up than a platformer, however if you have played any of the other tiles in the Ratchet and Clank series this will not be too much of a disappointment as the series was always geared towards combat missions with a little acrobatics thrown in for good measure.

The President of the Shadow sector, Gleeman Vox, invented the game show Deadzone while watching the news one day. He thought it would be a fantastic idea to coerce all of the interplanetary heroes he was always hearing about in to risking there lives in the name of entertainment by offering huge figure sums of Bolts (the local currency). Within four seasons trillions of life forms from all over the Galaxy were watching the show where some of the greatest heroes in the universe must complete challenges and battle against the meanest soldiers of the Shadow Sector.

Ratchet the cute and furry Lombax is cruising around the universe on the Starship Phoenix with his two pals Clank the robot and Al the loony scientist when he gets a call from the Mayor of Metropolis, Ratchets home planet. She tells him that a number of heroes have been disappearing from planets across the galaxy, the latest, Captain Starshield disappeared over a month ago and is thought to be involved in an underground illegal combat sport Dreadzone. As she is telling Ratchet to take care and be on the lookout for anything unusual, a large drone appears on the deck of the ship and takes Ratchet prisoner.

He wakes a week later to find that he is encased in armour and Al is trying to wire him up so that he can see and talk properly. As soon as Ratchet is up and ready he is flown to the Dreadzone qualification course. This is where you take over and learn the basic control system. On screen prompts and the voice of Clank who has now become your mission controller tells you about your basic moves. The first part of the course gets you used to the direction controls and fire buttons. After completing this very easy first arena you are transported to the next. This area is a little more difficult as your opponents actually fight back It is explained that R1 is your fire button, by tapping R2 you can toggle between the last three weapons you have used and by pressing R2 or the triangle button you can choose any of the weapons you have available in you armoury. At the bottom left of the picture is a map of your immediate vicinity by pressing the R3 button the map will expand to show you the layout of the whole area. By smashing any blue boxes that are around you can replenish your nanotech (or health meter at the top of the screen) if you have received any damage. The more enemies you defeat the more experience points you gain, one the experience meter is full your nanotech will be increased or some of your weapons will be upgraded and the more a weapon is used the more upgrades are assigned to it. Green boxes that are dotted around when smashed contain some ammunition, however once these boxes are gone they are not replaced so use ammunition wisely. Once Ratchet has defeated the enemies in this area a hologram programme appears on a giant screen. Gleeman Vox tells him that he is now part of the Deadzone show and the only was he can escape is to fight for his freedom. He must fight his way through the ranks and defeat the Deadzone champion Ace Hardlight. Ratchets is told that his armour has been fitted with a deadlock collar at the neck, if he does not put on a good show or does not co-operate then the collar will give an excruciating electric shock or can be blown up.

After hearing this news Ratchet is teleported to the Deadzone containment area. Here he is met by Clank who tells him that he should go and find Al as he has something for him. The location of Al is indicated in blue on the map any locations you need to find or objectives that you need to complete will be indicated on the map. Any enemies in the area will be shown as red dots. Al is based in another part of the containment area, when Ratched arrives Al tells him that he has managed to get him some help to fight his way through the Deadzone. The help comes by way of two battle bots Merc and Green who were left behind by a previous unfortunate contestant. These robots will stay with you throughout the game. These botts will automatically fire on any enemy within range, if they get left behind a any stage by pressing the down button on the left side of the controls they will regroup. If one of the bots is destroyed then press the same button and they will rebuild themselves. They can also be instructed to operate screws on your behalf so you can gain access to other areas of the game, they can also fire a electro magnetic pulse that will know out any shield protecting a enemy weapon. Ratchet is now ready to take on the Deadzone.

The action takes place in a number of arenas which are distributed on different planets in the galaxy. Each planet, as in previous Ratchet and Clank titles has its own unique environment. Also as well as the missions that Ratchet has to complete on each planet there are also the dread challenges. By completing a number of these other planets are unlocked and made available.

So in Ratchet Gladiator you don't get to play as Clank, but that is not too much of a hardship. He is still around to give sarcastic advice and plenty of humour to the game. The introduction of the battle bots brings a whole new dimension to the game and makes the game play much faster a there is much more to concentrate on. For those of you who have never played a shoot-em-up before or need a little practice then there are five levels of difficulty to chose from, what is nice is that once you have got t grips with the controls you can amend the difficulty level at any time by going into the options menu, this means that you do not have to restart the game, you can also revisit any planet that is available to you so you can redo missions as many times as you want. As well as the single player mode there s also a multiplayer and an online option available. There is also much, much more that this game has to offer there are numerous weapons and upgrades both to Ratchets arsenal and to the battle bots, I could go on and on. Needless to say Ratchet - Gladiator has moved this series of games up a notch with hours of gameplay available. I can't wait to see where Insomniac will take this game next.