Hands-On Preview with Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One

As a diehard fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, I was unbelievably stoked to get into the beta for All 4 One. I’m the guy who named the first game in the series as his favorite PS2 game EVER and I’d say that A Crack in Time easily ranks in my top three PS3 games as well. I’ve played every game in the series, including the PSP titles, and any time a new entry is announced, I become happy.

But enough about my rampant fanboyism. Let’s talk about what Insomniac has in store for players in this, the fourth entry on the PS3.

As you may already know, this entry is taking the series in new direction. Instead of a single player experience, the game is designed for four player co-op. That’s quite a drastic change. The game’s mechanics have been completely redesigned with this in mind, however, and it creates something interesting.

You start things off my picking one of four characters. The options are Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark, and even Dr. Nefarious. As far as I can tell, there are no tactical differences between characters. They all felt roughly the same, though the in game dialogue was different depending on who was involved. For example, Ratchet and Qwark started chatting about their predicament, while Nefarious tried to convince Clank to join the dark side. The characters do level it would seem, so it pays to stick with one character at a time.

The game plays fairly similar to prior Ratchet games. You have a linear level to progress through, including numerous enemies, bolt crates, and puzzles to work through. There’s a competitive stint to the proceedings, as bolts and other boosts are first come first serve. The game also keeps track of your actions, awarding points at the end of each level. These points are tallied, and bonuses are given to the top performer. I’m not sure yet what these prizes do, as progress was not saved in the beta. I imagine they’ll grant the ability to access stronger weapons and the like, as that is the series’ status quo.

With co-op being so heavily featured, the level design has definitely seen some changes. For starters, there are enemies everywhere, and more bolt crates than you can throw a wrench at. Also, there are several areas where a single player can’t possibly get through. For example, one section requires a player to launch another with a cannon to a distant platform. Then, the first player can use the swingshot to grapple the teammate and make it across. Other puzzles include one player holding a gate open while another throws a key into a lock. When playing single player, an AI character will perform the necessary actions. One of the niftier things in the game was a moving platform that must be steered by adjusting the weight of the characters. This shows not only the importance of teamwork, but also allows for just the right amount of griefing. Another option to mess with players is to use that cannon I mentioned earlier and shoot a teammate off of a cliff. Death is pretty inconsequential, though; as long as one player is alive, the others will respawn shortly. So, these actions may be annoying, but they aren’t overly detrimental to anything besides nerves.

The weapons, a trademark for the series, seem to have taken a backseat here. While there are a number of them, the game seems to rely heavily on basic weapons. Veteran players will recognize the basic pistol, bomb glove, rocket launcher, electric whip, and even the morph-o-ray. While there isn’t much new, the way the weapons are used has been changed. Since there are four players at once, there is no individual camera control. Thus, the right stick is used to quick select weapons. Also, if multiple players attack the same target, they start a chain boost. Essentially, the weapons shoot faster, and it eventually culminates into a massive damage boost. This works even if all players are using different weapons. The best use of this was when I teamed up to turn a giant hulking boss into a sheep. I appreciate that.

The aesthetic of the game has been changed as well. The game takes the next step into turning the series into a cartoon. Everything looks more like computer animation and less like a video game. Ratchet and Nefarious in particular have had their looks altered in noticeable ways. I’m a bit undecided on this for the moment. I’ll have to see how the story develops to see if the new look is fitting.

All told, I”m pretty impressed by what Insomniac has managed to do here. They’ve turned a long standing single player franchise and found a way to implement cooperative play without completely destroying the experience. The game is fun, and the multiplayer is much better than I figured it would have been. As a long time fan of the series, I’ll admit to being worried that All 4 One would be a weak entry. However, this beta has gone a long way to dismissing those fears. In fact, I can’t wait to see the final product, which will be released on October 18th.

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