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Historically, taking big detours from formula hasn’t worked out so well for Ratchet & Clank. True, it’s only really taken one – Ratchet: Deadlocked – but that left enough of a bad taste in the mouths of fans that the series has since stuck to continually adding new bells and whistles, instead of reinventing itself entirely. That changes with Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which takes traditional Ratchet gameplay and turns it into a top-down, minigame-infused adventure for four players.
If reading that makes you suspect that All 4 One is a simplified, possibly terrible party-game spinoff instead of a legitimate entry in the series, you’re not alone. That was our initial, knee-jerk reaction, too. But after checking it out behind closed doors at PAX, we’re happy to report that All 4 One actually looks promising. Impressive, even.
It’s also going to be a full-on sequel to Crack in Time, and according to production director Shaun McCabe, the team at Insomniac’s North Carolina branch is going to great lengths to “preserve the series’ DNA.” So while All 4 One might look simplified, it actually takes Ratchet’s established gameplay ideas (as well as ideas from Left 4 Dead, LittleBigPlanet and other four-player games) and adds its own interesting twists to create something that’s different, but no less valid as a game.
The central idea behind All 4 One is to give Ratchet fans something they’ve been asking for for years: a two-player mode as Ratchet and Clank. And if you’re giving two players control over Ratchet and Clank, the thinking goes, why not add two more characters? On-again-off-again villain/ally/idiot Captain Qwark is an obvious third choice, but the fourth – Dr. Nefarious – is a little weirder.
Nefarious, it turns out, is along for the ride out of necessity. The story – penned by T.J. Fixman, the same writer as the last few Ratchet games – begins with Nefarious\ formulating a plan to finally kill Ratchet and Clank. This involves contacting a Galactus-like entity called the Creature Collector, who betrays Nefarious, and kidnaps him along with Qwark and the heroes. Captive and in hostile territory, the four characters (who mostly hate each other) are forced to work together to escape – and, occasionally, to stab each other in the back a little.
Part of what makes All 4 One interesting is its heavy emphasis on co-op; play alone, and you’ll have an AI partner to help you along, although a friend can drop in and take its place at any time (it’ll also be possible to play locally, online or in any combination of the two). There’s a lot of the co-dependent gameplay you might already expect – to cross a long chasm, for example, one player has to use a Vac-U 4000 gun to launch the other over to the next platform (or off a cliff), and then grapple onto them to swing across (or to pull them back up) – but there’s a lot of other stuff that’s more eye-catching.
For example, the series’ classic Swingshot tool is back, but now, whenever you see a grapple point, each player can latch onto the next to form a human chain. Then, as the four swing back and forth, whoever’s at the end of the chain can let go and grab onto the next grapple point, at which point the next player can swing over and grab onto them, and so on. Since everyone’s dependent on everyone else to keep the chain swinging, it’s really easy for someone with an axe to grind to leave their trusting frenemies behind to fall into the abyss.
Even if you decide to be a dick and let your partners plummet to their doom, it won’t be a huge problem; players who fall off cliffs will respawn in a few seconds, which should dull their anger at being griefed considerably. And if one of them gets shot down by an enemy, other players can quickly revive them. Only if everyone dies at the same time will you be sent back to the last checkpoint.
The co-op mentality carries over into the combat, too; there’s plenty of the shooting, close-quarters fighting, crate-smashing and bolt-collecting that has made the series great, but a few new additions directly ensure that the more you and the other players work together, the deadlier you’ll be. During the demo we saw, weapons were piled around at certain points for players to fight over and grab, and while there’s a competitive aspect to grabbing the weapons first, some guns are actually dependent on a partner to be effective – like one that strings a bolt of lightning between two players to create what’s essentially a deadly clothesline.
You’ll have to team up to scrape through other hazards as well, like massive gulfs that can only be crossed via four-barreled man-cannons (which have to be wound up by all four players twirling their thumbsticks), or a towering wind-tunnel shaft that forces all four heroes to join hands to float on the air currents generated by the four giant, alternating turbines at the bottom. Then there was the demo’s crablike boss, whose weak points are a couple of shield generators that players have to launch each other at in order to destroy. All 4 One already looks like it could be an amazing co-op experience, although we won’t know for sure until we get a little closer to its planned release in fall 2011.
Sep 6, 2010