OK, I was wrong. Ratchet: Deadlocked is shaping up great. It's just as explosive and combat-filled as the earlier games were, but now Insomnia has mixed in what I feel was missing for so many years -- variety.
The demo includes six single player and co-op missions, and a king of the hill multiplayer mode. According to the press kit sent along with the disc, the final game will include deathmatch, juggernaut, capture the flag, and conquest modes -- which will support 4-player split-screen and 16-player broadband online play.
As I said, what impressed me the most during my limited play time was how much variety I came across. Like the other three games that came before, Deadlocked is all about gunning down wave after wave of monsters and robots. Ratchet still has his trusty wrench, which can be used like a hammer, and an assortment of brutal guns. There are about 10 different weapons in the demo (dual viper pistols, arbiter rocket launchers, etc.). The final game is supposed to have more than 40. This time around though, weapons can be upgraded and modified. The more you use each weapon, the stronger it becomes. Also, some weapons can be combined, or have attachments put on, that change how powerful the gun is, the type of energy it spits out, and how good it is at seeking enemies.
One particularly interesting change is that Clank is gone, replaced by a pair of computer controlled bots that tag along with Ratchet and help him attack enemies and unlock switches. They can be bossed around using the digital pad, much like the bots in a squad-based FPS game. Within a few minutes of playing, I quickly discovered how useful these little guys can be. Get below a hook and they'll activate a rope. Stand on a platform and you can have them activate what's called a "grind wire." It's called that because once attached between two points, Ratchet can slide along it as if he were grinding a snowboard down a rail. Great for crossing gaps that are too wide to jump across.
Another change--more of an upgrade from Up Your Arsenal--is that vehicles play more heavily in combat now. A pair of levels in the demo let players hop into a Landstalker tank, which can jump, fire mini-guns, and heave plasma bombs toward slow-moving enemies. I had fun with both levels, particularly because I wasn't forced to follow a set path or to stay in the tank the whole time. I'd spend a minute or so slaughtering five dozen or so soldiers and airships, then I'd hop out of the tank and explore a corridor in the castle... at one point, I tracked down a free grenade launcher. Not bad, since most weapons have to be bought using the bolts that Ratchet earns from blowing up enemy robots. Apparently, the final game will also include a hoverbike and hovership. Sweet.
Insomniac seems to have kept the same sense of humor intact for this latest game. Heck, the story revolves around a madman's combat-based reality show, and the narrator describes each mission to Ratchet as if he's a contestant on a game show about to win some awesome prizes. Yeah, if surviving an onslaught of hundreds of enemies just for a few thousand bolts is a prize.
Judging from this demo, Deadlocked is all about taking the franchise to its ultimate evolution on the PS2 platform. There are more weapons, more vehicles, more ways to mix-and-match... there's more variety, period. Plus, the inclusion of both co-op and online play.
Even the graphics have undergone a makeover. The large, streaming environments from the past couple games are back, but now it seems like the engine can handle dozens upon dozens of enemies, lasers, and debris without so much as a hiccup. That's important, because when you're lumbering around a level in a tank, you want to enjoy watching enemy robots explode into tiny pieces without worrying about slowdown or draw-in. For good measure, the game also supports widescreen and progressive scan (480p) displays.
I could probably go on and on about the demo, but honestly that'd just be overkill. Ratchet: Deadlocked, like every other Ratchet & Clank game, is all about blowing up thousands of robots (big & small) with a wide-range of vicious weapons. It's not rocket science, it never has been. However, this time around, developer Insomniac Games has injected a mega-dose of variety into the mix, something that was so painfully absent from previous installments. Fans of the older Ratchet & Clank games will probably love this one too. Meanwhile, now that Ratchet can mix-and-match weapons and make more frequent use of tanks and hoverships, people like me that were bored to tears by the first three games may finally be able to sink our teeth into this latest one.
Anyway, that's what I got out of the demo. I'm looking forward to trying out the full retail version of the game, which ships October 24th.
9/12/2005 Frank Provo