Ratchet: Deadlocked (PS2)
Excellent presentation, graphically and audibly; The already-great weapon system gets even better; Brand-new cooperative mode is a welcome addition; The online multiplayer has been beefed up; It's humorous and stylish in every way;
Single-player game is surprisingly short; Not especially different from other Ratchet games; Diminishing role of Clank;
Ratchet: Deadlocked is still one of the best platformers you can find, with a clever story, unique and interesting weapons, and compelling multiplayer options.
When Ratchet and Clank debuted on the PlayStation 2 nearly four years ago, it was already less of a platformer than those in the genre that preceded it. Kicking the cuter side of gaming into gear, the lombax and his lovable robot sidekick showed that their bias was in favor of heavy artillery instead of fancy moves. Now in their fourth iteration, Ratchet and Clank have upped the ante once again by removing almost all semblance of platformer gameplay to concentrate on combat. And though the game successfully reduces the jumping and swinging segments of the gameplay--due largely to Clank's retirement from action--the single-player is still, for all its changes, not that different from the previous three games. On the one hand, that works to the game's advantage, as Insomniac Games takes its already stellar gameplay mechanics and fine-tunes them with each addition to the series. On the other hand, it means that each successive entry in the franchise competes with all the previous games, so even the greatest devotees of the franchise will begin to tire of it. Thankfully, Ratchet: Deadlocked makes significant headway with revamped multiplayer and a brand-new co-op mode. Though the gameplay continues to remind us all too much of the previous games in the series, Ratchet: Deadlocked is still one of the best platformers you can find, with a clever story, unique and interesting weapons, and compelling multiplayer options.
Ratchet: Deadlocked picks up shortly where Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal left off. The heroes--Ratchet, Clank, and the nerdy mechanic Al--are floating through space while basking in the spoils of their last efforts to save the universe when they are suddenly captured by nefarious evildoer and corporate tycoon Gleeman Vox. It seems that Vox, who's responsible for the trashy network Vox News, makes his living off a Running Man-style reality show called Dreadzone. Dreadzone pits captured heroes against one another...specifically by removing them from their arduous collective task of saving the world and forcing them to compete for bolts, fame, and, most importantly, ratings. Ratchet and Clank veterans might immediately draw comparisons between Dreadzone and Up Your Arsenal's Annhilation Nation, and those comparisons are not too far off base. Aside from the main characters and a few guest appearances, however, Deadlocked is a completely independent game. For as storied a history as Ratchet and Clank have together, there's surprisingly little tie in to the other games in the series.
Ratchet: Deadlocked maintains the same visual and aural standard set by the previous entries in the series. The game is smooth and beautiful, with bright colors, detailed environments, and splashy weapon effects. It's marred only by slight dips in frame rate, which become more noticeable in later segments when you unlock super-high-powered weapons and bonus visual effects. You'll be able to customize the appearance of Ratchet and both combat bots by unlocking and assigning differently themed armor. Even the most subtle changes made in the menus are immediately obvious in gameplay, a tribute to the game's strong visual style. The music and sound effects are still great, but the voice-over is what really gives the game its special flavor. Most of the levels are narrated by the two quirky Dreadzone announcers, Dallas, a sleazy egomaniac, and Juanita, a sadistic seductress. Their commentary about Ratchet, the competition, and each other persistently adds flavor to the gameplay. Arguably, the most entertaining aspect of the game takes place during the cinematics. The smooth cutscenes that progress the story by telling the tale of Gleeman Vox and his insane interests reveal the great personalities of the game's many characters, as well as the humorous ways in which they interact with one another.
Once captured, Ratchet is suited up in Dreadzone attire, from head to his now-concealed tail. Clank is placed in charge of communications, and Al is given maintenance duties over Ratchet's new sidekicks: two combat bots. For the first time in the series, Clank is not perched on Ratchet's back. What this means for gameplay is that Clank's participation is confined to supplying gadgets (it's handled automatically, so you won't have to locate or earn them like in previous entries in the series). This also means there's almost no platforming to the game at all. From time to time you'll have to make your way across a few jumps, which is made trickier without the advantage of Clank's gliding capabilities, but those instances are few and far between. The swingshot and grindboots still make appearances on many of the levels, but the majority of the platforming-enabling mechanics and gadgets are gone. The consolation prize is the inclusion of the bots, which, courtesy of extremely adept artificial intelligence, follow you everywhere. Aside from providing extra force against enemies, they make excellent decoys and can be issued to complete various tasks, like tossing electromagnetic pulse grenades on electrically shielded enemies or bypassing "hacker orbs" found throughout the levels. Though the bots can die, they can be revived at any point during the game as frequently as necessary.
Without much platforming, combat takes a more critical role in gameplay. Aside from the wrench that Ratchet carries at all times, you can purchase up to 10 different guns. This is fewer than in the previous games, and you'll notice the artillery has been streamlined to include only the game's more-serious weapons. Each gun represents something semirealistic, whether it's the pistols, shotgun, or sniper rifle or the mine, grenade, turret, or shield launchers. The most absurd weapon in the game is the super-expensive Harbinger, which acts as this iteration's RYNO, the classically devastating gun from the first game. Even though some of the cooler guns are now MIA, you'll find that the remaining 10 are the most useful ones--and they have the potential to get quirky Ratchet-style upgrades.
After frequent use, a weapon will automatically level up, which earns you an alpha mod for that weapon. Alpha mods boost certain attributes, like rate of fire or the gun's ammo capacity. Although not every alpha mod can be used on every gun, as you acquire more of them you can mix and match them to your liking (if the game's automatic placement doesn't suit you). You'll also be able to purchase alpha mods, but it's a waste of money until your second play-through, since the ones you receive automatically from leveling up are sufficient. Omega mods, on the other hand, give your weapons a little more punch and can be bought at any of the vendors. Each weapon can have at most one omega mod, but you'll be able to use the same one on multiple guns. Omega mods give flavorful attributes to the otherwise plain weapons in your arsenal. The frost mod freezes enemies upon contact and is the most useful of the omega mods. However, the morph mod, which lets you turn enemies into explosive barnyard animals (in lieu of the missing sheepinator), is definitely the most entertaining.
The combination of the alpha and omega mods makes your weapons both more effective and more stylish. Of course, weapon leveling doesn't just stop there. After you reach level 10 with your guns, which will take frequent use over the course of the entire game, they become superpowerful. The fusion rifle becomes the antimatter rifle, and the dual vipers become the dual raptors. And with the name changes come significant carnage. After completing the game for the first time and then beginning another one, the shop will carry a "mega" version of any gun that has reached level 10. Mega makes the guns even more powerful, and it ensures you'll be able to run through a second play-through while blasting everything in sight.
By Carrie Gouskos
Posted Oct 26, 2005 6:41 pm PT