Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One was unveiled last night at Sony's Gamescom 2010 press conference. There are two big features that separate this Ratchet from previous games in the series. For one, it's the first title to come from Insomniac's offshoot North Carolina studio, which the developer opened up in early 2009. But more importantly, All 4 One will give you the chance to play through a Ratchet game with co-op supporting up to four players. We just had a look at this new spin on the series courtesy of Insomniac, which gave us a chance to learn quite a bit more about it than what we had gleaned from last night's press conference.
All 4 One's playable cast of characters includes Ratchet, Clank, Quark, and Dr. Nefarious. The story does its part to explain why these four need to team up with one another, but according to studio director Chad Dezern, they also want to play up the tensions among this motley crew based on their past conflicts. Dezern describes the result as "cooperative with a competitive edge" and a friendly level of "spite and mean-spiritedness" underscoring the basic theme of working together.
Taking a look at the game for the first time, the most visible change, aside from four player-controlled players on the screen, is the new camera system. The action is framed using an isometric view that will move along in pre-scripted pans and sweeps as you progress through the game. Dezern describes this as a sort of director camera that lets the development team merge story moments more seamlessly into the gameplay by focusing the shot on what they want to show at any given moment.
Most of the demo we saw, which was set in a level called Planet Magnus, featured the co-op quartet running around blasting enemies with a variety of new and familiar weaponry. There's the vacuum gun that lets you pick up and launch enemies or teammates, and melee combat is unique for each character (so, for example, Quark's Fists of Justice will feel different from Ratchet's wrench). But every so often the team would encounter a scenario that made them work a little more closely. These included the four-man rope swing you can pull off with the slingshot gun to cross gaps; the four-man jump into a cannon to launch across the level; and synchronized skydiving in a wind tunnel.
After the demo concluded, we asked Dezern a couple of questions about issues that typically go hand-in-hand with co-op games of this nature. One was about the issue of griefing your own teammates. If you've ever played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you know that co-op platformers have a tendency to make other players feel like enemies just as often as they feel like teammates. Dezern said that they definitely still want to let players have fun with each other, including picking people up and throwing them from ledges and racing toward rare weapons that pop up from time to time, but the game still heavily incentivizes teamwork in a number of ways. Among these is a point system that rewards you for helping each other out with new unlockables.
Then there's the issue of visual clutter. We asked Dezern what they're doing to minimize the amount of visual chaos that could crop up when you take a colorful game and quadruple the number of players. He said this is something they've definitely been keeping an eye on, and the main solution they've settled on is making sure the characters stand out from the background. This has been done by specially tuning the series' usual visual flourishes for fast-moving objects, adding a color outline to characters, and even redesigning the character models a bit to make them more easily identifiable from one another.
Altogether, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One is definitely looking like an intriguing step forward for the series. But like any co-op game, it's hard to really get a good sense of what to expect until you pick up that controller and become one of the team. Hopefully we'll have the chance to do that soon.