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Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One – PAX 2010 impressions

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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

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16 comments

  • EnragedTortoise1 - September 7, 2010 12:19 p.m.

    The first thing that came to mind when I saw the trailer was "Lego Star Wars!!" and that's probably what it is. But why the hell not, honestly? They've got another year to improve it, the graphics look great as always, the multiplayer looks fun, the weapons are creative...
  • JayBeat - September 7, 2010 11:14 a.m.

    Looks and sounds fun, which is what most people want from a R&C game. Appeals to me.
  • Thequestion 121 - September 7, 2010 4:42 a.m.

    It certainly looks interesting.
  • NanoElite666 - September 7, 2010 3:03 a.m.

    Well, this definitely clears up some of the curiosity. And the overall story reminds me of an ooooooooooold Sonic the Hedgehog comic I read years ago, where Sonic & Co. and Robotnik were captured by an alien collector and had to work together to try to escape.
  • papergoon - September 7, 2010 2:17 a.m.

    ratchet and clank's a great game, kinda got an eyebrow raised when i saw this. with this impression though, looks pretty good (but dr nefarious?) @Pocotron Oh yea, totally want to see that!
  • valance23322 - September 7, 2010 12:40 a.m.

    what deadlocked was my favorite one
  • Pocotron - September 7, 2010 12:30 a.m.

    I just wanna know if they have the upgrades on weapons! They're a staple of the series! However it does look a bit better than what I first thought.
  • Fiirestorm21 - September 6, 2010 11:55 p.m.

    KaiokenKid -- It isn't a rip-off of Mario Party at all. I think you're thinking of New Super Mario Bros Wii. This'll be a fun little game. It's going to help fill that not-quite-casual, not-quite-hardcore-epic niche that mechanics-driven games like Mario and Twisted Metal are in. A good start for Insomniac NC. Although I'm wondering if Resistance 3 is going to launch in 2011. We're seeing tons about R&C and that's not till Fall 2011. We haven't seen anything but a teaser for Resistance 3 and that's supposed to launch no later than that. But the general rule of thumb with game publicity seems to be that games the get less info revealed than other games come out later, especially when they're from the same developer or publisher.
  • skynetiscoming - September 6, 2010 11:53 p.m.

    I always admired Insomniac's creativity with the weapons and and gadgets in the series. Looks like they have a lot of great ideas for co op now too. Skepticism aside I think this looks really fun.
  • Ninja-KiLLR - September 6, 2010 10:32 p.m.

    I dont get everyone hates on deadlocked. To me it was my favorite ratchet game of the series mainly because of the co-op it had that made it a favorite to me.
  • batmanboy11 - September 6, 2010 10:25 p.m.

    Looks cool.
  • CreeplyTuna - September 6, 2010 9:57 p.m.

    ... i still want an hd update of the original games, kinda like god of war collection. Any one agree with me?
  • RepublicOfDave - September 6, 2010 9:49 p.m.

    The news of the game was exciting to hear, but after seeing the trailer I got skeptical. Glad to hear it seems like things are going in the right direction. I really hope they can pull this off.
  • pepheb - September 6, 2010 9:33 p.m.

    looks fun, but again, as any coop-heavy game, they'll have to figure out ways to encourage people NOT to grief/be assholes...
  • KaiokenKid - September 6, 2010 9:31 p.m.

    Very cool. I admit I had the same knee jerk reaction these guys had. I thought it was just going to be a bad mario party clone, but it seems like its atleast a good Mario Party clone.
  • oufour - September 6, 2010 9:14 p.m.

    well...if you say it's got potential, i'll hold my rants till i see more, but this better not end badly!

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