During E3, companies often prepare very basic playable demos of games that won't be published for quite some time. These early demos aren't meant to be taken as an indicator of what the final game will be like. Instead, they're produced to give us media types a taste of of the upcoming game's personality and to give us some insight into the overall graphical quality that the development team is shooting for.
That's the nature of the demo I got a chance to play today for Sony's upcoming PSP-based Ratchet & Clank sequel, subtitled "Size Matters," which won't go on sale until 2007. On the PlayStation 2, the Ratchet series is known for its fast-paced gameplay and large, constantly-streaming worlds. The demo for Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters suggests that the PSP game will accomplish the same things, but the free-roaming world in the demo is a bit smaller and much less remarkable than the locales we saw in Up Your Arsenal or Going Commando, and the selection of enemies is quite limited (robot soldiers and robot crabs, mostly). Thus, this demo is no indicator of what the final game will be like, but rather a proof of concept meant to hammer home the promise that the final product will indeed be a true console-quality Ratchet & Clank game.
For E3, the dev team from High Impact Games has put together an island with a few caves, paths, and dock areas to explore. Enemies appear from various spawn points, which the player, playing as Ratchet, has to dispatch. Gameplay is in line with the PS2-based games. Using the square button, I was able to make Ratchet perform melee attacks and combos with his giant wrench. Using the circle button, I was able to fire one of the six weapons at his disposal. My favorite was the flamethrower, which sets enemies alight and causes them to burn other nearby enemies. Just like in the console games, fallen enemies leave behind bolts, which you can collect in order to purchase new weapons and additional ammo from the various vendors situated around the island.
Unlike the console games, this demo suggests that Size Matters will place a greater emphasis on exploration. Combat will still be the game's primary focus, as evidenced by the more than 200 crabs and robots I killed, but there will be more instances where players will have to interact with switches and reach out-of-the-way spots. On one of the docks, for instance, I used Ratchet's wrench to turn a bolt that triggered a bridge to be raised. In another area, after climbing a hill, I used the wrench to latch onto a zip line and slid down it to the beach below.
After exploring the island for a few minutes, I wandered into an enclosed arena... and was greeted by a giant pink bear-like creature. Boss battle! Pinky, as I came to call him, had an impressive arsenal of attacks. His first attack pattern involved jumping across the room and taking a swing at me (Ratchet) with his brutish arms. Once I cut down his health by 25%, he retreated to the other side of the arena and began to cast debris toward me using his telekinetic powers. At 50%, he yanked a giant pillar off the wall and started using it like a giant baseball bat. Overall, the animation seemed quite smooth and gave me the sense that combat in Size Matters is going to be fun to watch. I certainly enjoyed using the plasma gun on Pinky.
In terms of graphics, Size Matters looks to be on par with the PS2 games in most respects, although a few aspects are obviously toned down. The draw distance was great, for example, and the screen didn't balk with a bunch of enemies visible. Looking around the environments, however, I noticed that the water isn't transparent, and that the textures look muddy in spots (roughly PS1 quality). On the upside, the framerate is smooth and there are plenty of awesome flare and debris effects. Enemies explode into metal shards and chunks, and they leave behind bunches of bolts for Ratchet's wallet.
Multiplayer is promised for the final game. Judging by the demo, I can totally see how much fun it could be. With four Ratchets roaming around an arena firing off weapons at each other, it'll be cathartic mayhem.
Of course, no one knows how the final game will turn out. The demo here at E3 is flawed, but also shows promise, since it is still merely a brief taste of an overall game that is currently only 40% complete and more than six months from shipping.
But, hey, I played it and figured one of you might want to know what I thought.
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters will ship for the PSP sometime in Q1 2007.
5/11/2006 Frank Provo