Ratchet: Deadlocked is built around the multiplayer mode that was introduced to the series in Up Your Arsenal. It's been less than a year since the release of that game, but Insomniac has been hard at work refining and improving the combat mechanic to have Deadlocked on store shelves this holiday season. We recently spent some time with a preview build of the upcoming game, and it looks like the single-player game is every bit as fun and feature-packed as the multiplayer game.
That's because they're pretty much the same. All the single-player levels are also available for multiplayer. The build we played wasn't set up for online play, but we did get a chance to play through several of the game's missions in the story campaign. The story begins with a cutscene in which Ratchet and Clank find out that several heroes have disappeared recently and that Captain Starshield is dead. Apparently, he was killed while competing in an underground combat tournament known as Dreadzone. Dreadzone is operated by Gleeman Vox, who runs an underground media empire in the Shadow Sector, a lawless region of space at the edge of the universe. It might not sound like a nice place to visit, but you aren't given a choice.
Your ship is taken over by a group of robot thugs and you're taken into custody by order of Vox himself. Because Ratchet is a hero in his own right, Vox wants him to compete in Dreadzone to boost broadcast ratings and sell merchandise. Ratchet and Clank are captured and fitted with deadlock collars, which are programmed to administer a powerful shock when the wearer ventures into any restricted area. The collar can also be detonated if the contestant "becomes uncooperative, or worse, boring." So although Ratchet doesn't really want to compete, he doesn't have much choice.
You are fitted with a Samus Aran-style metallic battle suit and sent off on your first mission. Before you can compete in the live combat missions, you have to pass a qualifying round, which is basically a tutorial to help you get familiar with the controls. After you complete the qualifying round, you travel to Dreadzone Station, which is basically your home base. Here, you are assigned two battle bots that provide support and firepower during combat. After you get the hook-up on the bots, you can drop in on Clank. Turns out that Clank won't be joining you on the battlefield; but as your mission engineer, he'll provide helpful information and monitor your progress during each mission.
As you complete missions, you'll earn dread points and medals. If you accumulate enough of these, new planets will be unlocked. Each planet offers unique missions, enemies, and challenges. The first planet you'll visit is Catacom Four, which is a sacred robot burial ground filled with robotic zombies that burst from the ground to attack you. In true zombie fashion, they'll keep attacking, even when they are dismembered. The first mission on Catacom Four is to simply make it from one point to another, but the missions get progressively more complicated and difficult as you go on.
Later missions have you capture control points, race hoverbikes, clear an area of enemies, destroy key targets, or activate switches to open pathways. No two missions are quite the same, and the way they are strung together in each level helps to keep the action moving without getting stale. Missions usually don't take any more than a few minutes each, and each planet has more than a half-dozen missions. Many of the missions are optional, but they're a lot of fun, and the more missions you complete, the more bolts you get.
Bolts are used to upgrade your weapons and bots. You can purchase new heads and paint jobs, just in case you get bored of looking at the same two guys all the time. Your bots aren't the only thing you can spend money on, though. While on the battlefield, you'll encounter vendor stations where you can purchase ammo, new weapons, and weapon mods. Weapon mods add various effects to your weapons. There are both omega mods and alpha mods, and the two categories provide different sorts of modifiers for your weapons.
The omega mods have to be purchased, and they add special attributes to your ammunition. For example, you can buy an acid mod that will apply an especially corrosive chemical mixture to your ammo, which will in turn inflict more damage on your enemies. Other omega mods include napalm, which charges your explosive rounds with lava; ice, which freezes enemies; and electricity, which shocks an enemy with electricity, which then arcs to all nearby enemies. You can switch out your mods at any time during play. Alpha mods have to be earned by using weapons and gaining experience. These mods affect weapon stats such as ammo capacity, firing speed, and knockback. You can assign points for each of these mods, and the points can be redistributed at any time.
Ready to Rumble
The combat in Ratchet: Deadlocked feels very much like an arena-style first-person shooter. In fact, one of the control schemes lets you play the game from the first-person perspective with the familiar shooter controls. You can also use a third-person control scheme that feels more like the traditional Ratchet and Clank style, since you move entirely with the left analog stick and use the right analog stick to adjust the camera. We found the best control setup to be the lock-strafe mode, which automatically lets you strafe and run with the left analog stick and aim your weapon with the right analog stick. This scheme gives you the best view of the action, while making it easy to move and shoot at the same time.
Regardless of which control style you prefer, you can't reassign the buttons as you like--but the preset button assignments work fairly well. You can do pretty much everything with the shoulder buttons and the two analog sticks, but if you prefer, you can also use the face buttons. Weapon selection is a bit awkward, since you have to hold R2 or triangle and choose a weapon with the right analog stick. The weapon-selection interface wasn't very intuitive or responsive in this build of the game, but hopefully that will get smoothed out before the game ships. Fortunately, you don't have to use the menu very often, since you can just double-tap R2 or triangle to switch between your recently used weapons. If you don't want to mess with that, you can just hit square to use your wrench as a melee weapon and forget about all the other weapons entirely. Of course, that's not too effective when you're fighting hordes of enemies.
The wrench is also useful in activating certain switches, like bolts that have to be screwed in so you can activate a bridge or door. If you want to stick to your guns, you can just have your battle bots do the work. You can give your bots orders with a quick touch of the D pad. Usually, your bots will simply hover close by and shoot at any nearby enemies. You can tap down on the D pad to order them to regroup, in case you want tighter coverage to fend off an attack. If a bot dies during battle, you can press down on the D pad to order the bot to revive itself. Bots are also useful in battle because they can toss out EMT charges, which can disable enemy shields or electric fields that would otherwise prevent you from progressing. Bots can also hack computers to gain entry into restricted areas, and they can generate grind beams to allow you to move across large gaps between platforms.
In addition to battle bots, you also have a variety of vehicles at your disposal for those times when you need a little extra mobility or firepower. There are four vehicles in the game. The Land Stalker is a spiderlike mech that seats two people, a driver and a gunner. The Land Stalker has a powerful machine gun, as well as targeted mortar rounds that can be charged up to inflict heavy damage on enemies and structures. The hoverbike is a light but quick bike that is equipped with forward-facing machine guns, but is really built for racing, rather than all-out combat. The Puma is a quick and fairly heavily armed all-terrain vehicle that seats one person and has machine guns and a high-powered cannon on top. We didn't get to fly the Hovership in this build of the game, but we did play with some stationary weapons, such as turret guns, that you can take over in certain levels.
Despite the combat focus of Deadlocked, the game isn't dropping its platforming roots entirely. There are still plenty of platform challenges, and you still have to use your fire whip to swing between platforms from time to time. One particularly cool level has you rail-grinding from platform to platform while shooting at enemies that hover nearby. The track twists and turns and sometimes ends abruptly, requiring you to hop to another rail to continue your grind. There are also explosive rings around the rails that you have to hop over to avoid taking damage.
There are, of course, boss battles as well. We fought a huge robotic gladiator named Shellshock who would show up and then flee after taking a certain amount of damage. Eventually, we were able to take him down with some heavy explosive rounds. The preview ended with Shellshock, so we didn't get to fight any of the other bosses. We did fight a wide variety of enemies, though, from the aforementioned zombie robots to tiny jumping aliens and large scorpions. All of the enemies tend to swarm pretty heavily, so you'll be glad to have the support of your battle bots, or even better, a friend to play along with in co-op mode.
Although still a bit rough around the edges, Ratchet: Deadlocked looks nice and runs smoothly, even when there are tons of explosions and enemies on screen. The levels are full of destructible items, which is a nice effect since you can simply blow up cover items to expose your enemies. The levels look good and carry their respective themes throughout. We fought in a swamp, high above a city, on the crumbling remains of an ancient battleground, and in an indoor battle arena. The explosions and other special effects add a nice visual flare to the battles, making the action all the more exciting. The sounds were incomplete in this build, but the effects and voice work that were present sounded up to standard for the Ratchet and Clank series.
Whether you prefer to tackle missions alone or with the help of a friend, it looks like Ratchet: Deadlocked will offer plenty of explosive combat in a wide variety of missions. Of course, if you want to ditch the missions and just blow up your friends and enemies online, you'll be able to do that as well. So have no fear, Ratchet and Clank fans; although it's a departure from the platforming gameplay the series is known for, it looks like Deadlocked will live up to its predecessors when it ships in October. While you wait, be sure to check out all the recently posted screenshots and movies from the game.