Hands-On With Ratchet And Clank: All 4 One
After having spent many years playing and replaying the Ratchet and Clank series on Playstation 2 and Playstation 3, we were extremely excited when Ratchet and Clank: All-4-One was announced. We were also extremely curious since it turns out All 4 One was to be a coop platformer with elements similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii instead of a proper installment in the series. Would a significant change from previous games in the series work? Yesterday, we attended a Sony event in Los Angeles hosted by Insomniac games, and got the chance to spend a goodly amount of time playing 3 levels from the game. The long and short? Yes, it works, and with some caveats, we loved it.
Here’s our immediate post hands-on thoughts:
1) Changes to the series.
All-4-One isn’t the first time Insomniac has flipped the script on a Ratchet & Clank game. 2005′s Ratchet: Deadlocked turned the series from a galaxy hopping action platformer into a Gladiator combat game (with mixed results). However, the fundamental mechanics of the series were unchanged. It remained strictly 3rd person, behind the shoulder camera, single player. As a coop game for up to 4 players, All 4 One is an almost complete departure from previous games, with a few not-broken-didn’t-fix-it old favorites remaining.
The plot of Ratchet and Clank All 4 One is also a big departure from previous games, introducing Qwark and Dr. Nefarious as playable characters. That’s a selling point in and of itself, and though we didn’t see any of the actual plot during gameplay, from the little we saw during the presentation and from how each character handles in-game, it works extremely well.
2) Fixed camera.
The first thing we noticed during gameplay was the fixed camera. Because up to 4 players share the screen at any given time, the camera must accommodate them all. Unlike previous Ratchet & Clank games in which the camera is firmly placed behind the player (over the shoulder) in strict third person, All-4-One’s fixed camera changes frequently based on the needs of the specific challenge facing the players. There’s very little exploration, which makes sense, since you’re spending your time trying to survive by cooperating with (and, giggle, screwing over) your fellow players. Progress is moved along by the camera itself. As you move through a level, you know where to go when the camera changes position.
Though it sounds odd, it turns out to actually be quite well designed. Some levels use a straight isometric camera, while others move the camera behind in the classic style, except that multiple characters occupy the same space and none of them own it. All in all, at least in what we saw of the game, there’s no God Of War style nastiness in which you fall to your death because the camera hides vital information from you, and that’s a good thing.
3) Excellent coop.
The main takeaway from our time with All 4 One is that the coop just works. This is partly due to the aforementioned lack of camera problems. Some scenes allow you and your fellow players to futz around without having to strictly interact, more akin to cartoonish squad based fighting than true coop. Not a problem, BTW, since Insomniac’s tendency to create staggeringly beautiful backgrounds is (mostly) in full effect. Sometimes you just want to enjoy the scenery. However in other levels, you depend fully on your fellow players to survive.
This comes into play with the ability to revive fallen teammates. Should you or one of your squad die, another player can run to them and hold down the O button – producing a hilarious vacuum gun thing that picks them up – to bring them back. There’s no time limit, so you can focus on getting rid of enemies before attempting it, making for some interesting gameplay decisions. Some enemies beg you to revive fallen team members in order to survive. Others, like the ubiquitous, largely invincible squid things populating the three levels we had access to, can be dispatched easily by flinging them into nearby water.
There are also clever weapons that work best when all players use them, like one that launches storm clouds at enemies. Used by one player it is somewhat effective but when all players use it the effect is multiplied. We also must note one memorable level that places you and your squad in a giant wind tunnel with four giant fans blowing in random order. You and the other players must make your characters hold hands as you’re blown back by the gusts of wind, shifting your weight so that you drift into the wind.
4) Ratchet and Clank staples.
There’s still a lot about the Ratchet and Clank series that remains. The trademark sense of absurdist humor remains in full effect (particularly with the way Dr. Nefarious melodramatically dies). Weapons, like the Storm gun mentioned earlier, are as hilariously over-the-top as always. Best of all, the series’ basic functionality is unchanged. If you’ve played previous Ratchet and Clank games, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting started, and weapons, attacks and movement largely work identically to previous installments. The biggest changes to core functionality are to the venerable selection wheel, which remains the means by which players choose their weapons. Instead of being activated via the triangle button, in All 4 One you bring it up by clicking up on the right analog stick rather than the triangle button. It took a bit to get used to it, but as a way of making use of the no longer needed right analog stick, we approve.
5) Few issues.
Overall, All 4 One was extremely fun. However, we saw very little of it and while we didn’t see any major problems (other than unfinished graphics), we did experience a tendency for the camera to choose a favorite in the event that you and your fellow players spread out across the screen. I ended up almost removed from view by going too far left as Dave Moss went right. It didn’t end up causing me to die, but it was slightly confusing. Based on the obvious beta status, I’m assuming this is going to be worked out by the time All 4 One goes gold but just in case, PSSST! Insomniac! Treat my words like gospel truth and fix this.
Though we only saw a limited amount of the game, we had an absolute blast. We’ll see how the final product turns out, but it looks like All 4 One will end up leaning heavily toward coop play in order to beat the game.