Release Date: October 25, 2005
Sony's built quite a few franchises during the PS2 era. After that poor Crash Bandicoot guy puttered out of steam, a few new guys stepped up to try and be kings of the mascot platformer. We've seen Sly Cooper steal the place blind twice (the third time's later this year), Jak and his...whatevertheheckitis Daxter adventure through fantastic worlds and drive really fast, and — I'm not shy about these guys being my personal favorites — space mechanic-turned-intergalactic superdude Ratchet and his runaway runt-bot Clank. Now entering their fourth title, Ratchet: Deadlocked, things are going to be substantially different this time around. Substantially.
Yet again, the two spacehoppers have been swiped out of their happy post-adventure existence, this time by the producers of the galaxy's greatest blood ballet, Dreadzone. Given a slightly modified suit of body armor and a standard cache of firearms, Ratchet is tossed headfirst into a furious string of gun battles, a performance of sorts punctuated with explosions, laser fire, and more rockets than Kennedy Space Station on a good day.
You may have noticed the bit of shift in the title; Clank's missing name is not a typo or an oversight. Gone is the little steel trooper, relegated (along with one of the Technicians from the original Ratchet & Clank) as background and help dialog. Ratchet is desperately trying to figure out a way to get Clank free, get himself out of this Running Man scenario, and maybe save the universe from a game show focused on killing everyone who ever competes. Standing between him and a simple walk out the door is an entire set of armies, all hell-bent on making sure it's business as usual on the airwaves. Leading them is a fallen hero, one of Ratchet's old role models, who switched from saving lives to destroying them, riding the power trip of murdering and mayhem.
The cast roll call is not the only thing that's had a paradigm switch. Gone is much of the platform action that defined the initial titles several years ago. Now that the gunplay has become the centerpiece, the basic gameplay built on a simple mission structure. The upgrade system seen in Going Commando! and Up Your Arsenal has returned, moved from a single-level upgrade to multiple modes, each of which gives particular, specialized boosts for each firearm. Vendobots are scattered around the landscape, carrying, as always, spare ammo and new weaponry alongside feature upgrades like Freeze Rays and Exploding Shells.
And if that's not enough focusing on the action, the all new vehicle system spices things up to an extreme. Ratchet now has access to huge tanks, carts, aircraft, and then some, all massively equipped for total annihilation of everything and everyone that gets between him and the mission objectives that could gain him freedom. The Landmaster Tank is the only one featured in the preview build, but it's certainly completely different than playing on foot — it's a gigantic lumbering monster of a machine, packed with a repeating laser cannon and plasma mortar launcher.
Before you think this is a case of Unreal Tournament envy, sit your ALICE back down on the table and take a longer gander. Deadlocked is not about "frags" and kill ratios, but instead about getting from point A to point B the way the game tells you to based on your mission. The entire mood is slower and somewhat more strategic than your normal FPS. A pair of well-armed Smart Drones act as escorts, laying down laser fire, putting up shields, and helping Ratchet capture territory and grab bolts, all controllable via the directional pad the way Clank controlled his mini-bots in previous installations.
The build level, The Temple, is very straightforward, demonstrating not much more than the basic elements of the gameplay. The missions are either Get To Point B or Capture The Points, linking the map together by taking down force shields and creating bridges. Ratchet has infinite lives, and his Smart Drones can be revived indefinitely, so getting through areas is just a matter of hammering against the waves of enemies.
I have some issue with the controls as they stand in the preview build; there's a large leaning on the shoulder buttons, as is traditional in console shooters. While many functions are duplicated on the four face buttons, use of both analog sticks is obligatory. Unfortunately, at times the layout can require pressing three shoulder buttons, both sticks, and possibly the X or Square buttons. On top of this, gone are the simple strafing keys as seen before; I may be the minority here, but I prefer keyed strafing to left-thumbstick strafing (but then, I'm a PC gamer by trade).
The one thing that everyone will have to wait on is level design. The preview level is not exactly groundbreaking or intense, but it's only one of what promises to be a litany of battle zones. Given Insomniac's propensity towards swanky maps in the past, I can only assume that they'll be well laid out, though significantly less about the jumping puzzle as we've seen in games past. It's a wait-and-see situation for Deadlocked — gun-nuts will be happy to have a new guy in town, and even the old fans may enjoy things. Keep an eye open for the October release.
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