Ratchet: Deadlocked First Look

Sony and Insomniac unveil Ratchet and Clank's newest adventure on the PlayStation 2.

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Ratchet: Deadlocked
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It's a tall order to keep a franchise going with yearly installments. At some point the idea well is simply going to run dry, and developers are bound to start repeating themselves. Thankfully this isn't the case with Insomniac Games' latest entry in its Ratchet & Clank series, Ratchet: Deadlocked. The dynamic duo returns in a game that features a host of fresh, and unexpected, tweaks to the polished platformer formula that has worked so well in the last three entries in the series. We had the chance to play Ratchet: Deadlocked at a recent press event where representatives from Insomniac were on hand to share the first details on the pair's newest adventure.

The game's name, Ratchet: Deadlocked, offers a hint to the darker tone of the game. The fourth escapade for the affable floppy-eared whatsit and his robotic, hetero life partner finds the pair in some trouble after being kidnapped while on a mission. Gleeman Vox, a king of all media in the R&C universe, nabs the pair to get them to participate in Dreadzone, a made-for-TV sport that's one of the pillars of his empire. As you might expect from its decidedly non-warm-and-fuzzy name, Dreadzone is a death sport that mixes gladiatorial and battlefield combat into a live show piped out to eager viewers, for a price. The show's simple premise has new participants like our kidnapped duo compete in gladiatorial arenas and on larger-scale battlefields against the unpleasant-sounding exterminators, a crack team of fighters led by the mighty Ace Hardlight, whose goal is to stomp all newcomers. To make matters worse, Ratchet and Clank are separated for this outing. While both are fitted with explosive collars that will Picasso-ize their appearance should they attempt to escape, only Ratchet will be facing off against the exterminators. Clank will be keeping an eye on things and offering mission info, à la Metal Gear's Otacon, over the course of the adventure. Given that the stakes are their lives, Ratchet has no choice but to participate and win if he and Clank are going to have any hope of making it out of Vox's Running Man-esque show.

Each of the Dreadzone battlezones will have its own look and feel.
Each of the Dreadzone battlezones will have its own look and feel.

The TV-show setting fits in well with the game's mission-based structure and the new open-ended approach Insomniac is taking. You'll start out in a hub and choose which missions to take on. The missions will be set in different battlezones that will feature their own unique look and feel. You'll simply have to clear a certain number of goals in order to move and to eventually encounter various bosses spread throughout the game.

So how does this translate into gameplay? Pretty much how you'd expect, although Insomniac has thrown some interesting wrinkles into the mix. You'll take control of Ratchet, who handles pretty much as he has in the past. You'll have the full complement of all his non-Clank-powered platforming moves to use in your fights against the hordes of enemies that await you. If you're a fan of the series, you'll be expecting Ratchet to have access to an arsenal comparable to the plethora of weapons seen in the previous games. But, for better or worse, Ratchet will be able to choose from only 10 weapons. While this may not sound like much, the 10 weapons you have are just starting points for your arsenal. Like the previous entries in the series, Deadlocked will feature a role-playing-game-lite experience that will let you beef Ratchet up and an economy and point system you'll rely on to be able to customize your gear. This time out you'll be able to get all manner of attachments you can use to modify your weapons, customizing them for your play style, which means the 10 weapons you start with will likely be unrecognizable by the time you're done with the adventure.

The spider tank is one of many new vehicles you'll find in Ratchet: Deadlocked.
The spider tank is one of many new vehicles you'll find in Ratchet: Deadlocked.

Now while a set of 10 modifiable weapons is all good, is it really a replacement for a robotic buddy? Of course not. Thankfully, while Insomniac robbed Ratchet of Clank's direct help in the adventure, the developer is still getting him some robotic assistance from a team of two bots assigned to tag along on the adventure and lend a hand. If you played Up Your Arsenal's excellent multiplayer game last year, you'll have some idea of what to expect from Deadlocked's bots. However, the bots in Deadlocked will be considerably more sophisticated and will respond to a variety of commands that run the gamut from basics such as "follow me" to context-sensitive orders that will be available for most every situation you find yourself in. If all this isn't enough, you'll find a variety of new vehicles, such as a spider tank and the venerable buggy, to use in your adventure.

Bot to the Future

In addition to the single-player game, Ratchet: Deadlocked will feature a robust multiplayer element that will expand on the work done in last year's Up Your Arsenal. A co-op mode now lets you play through the single-player experience with a friend from beginning to end in split-screen. Like Up Your Arsenal, Deadlocked will also feature a number of online multiplayer modes for up to eight players. While Insomniac reps didn't reveal too much, they mentioned that fans can expect new modes and enhancements to the game's online community experience.

You can play through the entire game with a friend in the all-new co-op mode.
You can play through the entire game with a friend in the all-new co-op mode.

The levels we played in the work-in-progress version did a fine job of showing off how everything works together, and why Insomniac describes Deadlocked as a squad-based platformer. We encountered switches that you and a bot will need to trigger to open doors and gain access to new areas. It's also going to be possible to have your guys man turrets or provide distracting cover fire while you go about your business. Your bots will also be able to offer some cool perks, such as mobile zip lines that you can have them set up to let you get to new parts of an arena if you need to. Issuing commands via the directional pad worked well, although it did take a bit of getting used to.

The graphics sport a number of bells and whistles that retain and expand on the impressive technical merits of the previous games. You can expect to see larger, detailed worlds with minimal loads and detailed characters complemented by a wide array of special effects and lighting. But, while that's pretty much par for the course given Insomniac's practice of refining and building on its proprietary game engine for the series, the various changes to the game engine are highlighted more dramatically than in previous installments in the series. In keeping with the game's darker tone, everything in the game has been redone to one degree or another to give it a harder look. A darker, less-saturated color palette is used to good effect in setting the tone in the levels we played. Character and environmental designs feature harder edges, and most everyone looks a little meaner. We didn't see Ratchet's face in what we played, because he was wearing a full armor setup, but his combat suit certainly made him look surlier than he has in the past. Vehicle designs follow suit and offer menacing modes of transport and destruction for you to use. But, despite all the changes, this work-in-progress version of the game was already running at a smooth frame rate, even in split-screen multiplayer.

The audio was still pretty embryonic. All the expected elements were in place--music, explosions, and some voice--but nothing was final. However, the incomplete audio package we heard gave us a good idea of what Deadlocked is going for in the audio department. The sound won't stray too far from what you'd expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. What stands out right now is a pretty strong emphasis on the weapon fire and explosions. We don't think we're ever going to get tired of roaring explosions and weapon fire during the heat of battle, especially the way Deadlocked presents them. Overall, the music and audio we heard was fine. The music has a faster pace to it, and the standard R & C robotic voices and screeches were peppered throughout the levels we played.

The explosions and weapon fire sound as good as they look.
The explosions and weapon fire sound as good as they look.

Based on what we played, Ratchet: Deadlocked looks interesting and should be a fun fourth chapter in the ongoing series. We'll admit to being more than a little disappointed by the apparent loss of Clank as a playable character. The little guy has grown on us over the course of the previous entries in the series, so we're bummed to see him relegated to nonplayable status. We're pretty curious about how the game's darker look and feel will mesh with the franchise's trademark sense of humor and light touch. Going dark is a pretty fashionable thing to do these days and runs against one of the franchise's most appealing aspects, its tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Still, if anyone can pull it off, the folks over at Insomniac would be the ones to do it. After all, if you had told us when the first Ratchet & Clank hit that the series would one day have on online multiplayer component, we would have looked at you funny, thus proving that just about anything is possible where Insomniac is concerned. Ratchet: Deadlocked is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game next month from E3 and in the months to follow.

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