Reviewed: November 19, 2005
Released: October 25, 2005
This is a season for sequels and many of them are coming with a twist. With new installments of Jak, Sly, and Ratchet, all arriving on the PS2 for the holidays, this is a great time for gamers who love visiting their favorite game icons.
Ratchet and Clank have been one of the more dynamic of duos over the past few years with several inspired platform games on the PS2, mixing together awesome space action with a nuts and bolts collection system and an amazing upgradeable weapons system. And even though the previous installments in the series have been considered platform in nature, there is no denying the heavy emphasis on combat.
Insomniac has taken that combat element and spun it into a dedicated tournament style fighting game not unlike Unreal Tournament. The premise of Ratchet : Deadlocked is simple, and downright plagiarized from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, 1987 sci-fi movie, The Running Man right down to the reality TV game show presentation and even the explosive collar restraints used to coerce our hero into battle.
The game show is called Dreadzone and Ratchet is the latest contestant who must fight for his life in arena after arena, going up against all sorts of insane robots and fighting machines until he makes it to Ace Hardlight, the reigning Dreadzone champ.
The first thing you will notice is the absence of your robot pal, Clank. He has now been relegated to off-screen companion offering advise and limited support. You now have a new crew of robot bodyguards to do your bidding, turning wrenches or engaging enemies. There is a very nice upgrade system in place giving you the freedom to enhance their weapons, armor, and even tweak their appearances.
Ratchet has a good assortment of moves and attacks in his combat arsenal. Control is extremely intuitive and while there is barely a trace of platform gaming to be had, the game still maintains the same precise controls, tweaked for combat. There are very few, if any, jumping puzzles or even logic puzzles for that matter.
The single-player game spans nearly 90 missions and thousands of enemies in a progressively more challenging experience. There are also several challenge modes that put you in the cockpit of spider-tanks, hoverbikes, spaceships, and other cool rides for racing and shooting.
Much like other tournament style battle games, this one is designed around multiplayer, with up to ten people fighting online and up to four players going head-to-head or cooperatively in split-screen mode. Deathmatch and CTF are back from last year’s installment and they join new modes like Juggernaut and King of the Hill and a tweaked version of Siege called Conquest.
There are 11 maps created especially for multiplayer and gamers can setup their own lists of favorite players and even create clans for organized team warfare. The person hosting the games has full control to customize all sorts of rules to make each session something unique.
Combat is fast and furious and quite simple thanks to some intuitive and responsive controls. You run around with one stick and target with the other unloading any of several weapons at your disposal or using a simple point-and-click system to order your robots around. There is an extra level of challenge playing with the bots, but the game is much more enjoyable with two players if you don't mind the split-screen gameplay.
Deadlocked also features the first instance of squad-based combat in the series, letting Ratchet command a team of bots, each with unique powers, into battle. For those playing alone, these robots replace your second player and they fight, hack computers, and even twist a wrench when ordered to do so. These robots can also be used to distract the enemy allowing you to orchestrate and execute some advanced battle tactics.
The game has a definite sports feel to it, with competitions occurring in various arenas, complete with cheering audiences and broadcast style commentators. As Ratchet progresses through the ranks, he'll be awarded with different types of weapons and armor, which have thousands of possible customization options. Those playing cooperatively will be able to customize their own weapons as they see fit.
Ratchet also has some new vehicles at his disposal including a hover bike, puma, and the land stalker, a giant spider-like robot with devastating firepower and uncanny mobility. My demo put me in control of the land stalker, and I was amazed at how I could leap from side to side and unleash holy hellfire down upon my enemies.
Despite the focus on combat Ratchet: Deadlocked will still have missions and gamers can play the story mode alone or cooperatively with a friend. Multiplayer modes include Deathmatch, Juggernaut, King of the Hill, and Conquest, a challenging mode very much like siege.
I found it interesting that Ratchet has moved away from his platform roots and is now trying his hand at arena combat. The premise and even the gameplay is sound, but it is likely to turn off dedicated fans of the series while possibly attracting a new audience of combat fans and online gamers.
Visually, Deadlocked maintains the look and feel of the previous platform games while pulling the camera out to give you a broader view of the battlefield. The character designs and especially the robot and vehicle designs are very nice and the animation is fluid and realistic. The textures are very detailed creating some stunning worlds, and the lighting and particle effects really enhance the intensity of the battles.
There were a few instances of poor camera angles, usually where the camera had trouble keeping up with the speed of the action, and the framerate took a dip when the screen started to fill up with explosions and special effects. Online sessions added to the frequency but it was never unplayable.
Kudos to Insomniac for including HDTV support for widescreen and progressive scan. If you are fortunate enough to play this on an HDTV then you are going to be in for a visual treat that rivals anything you've seen on the PC lately.
I was impressed with the sound, both the energetic techno-metal for the game that was contrasted by the intentionally annoying elevator music in the menus and the powerful array of sound effects for the various vehicles and weapons. While the music is not nearly as enjoyable as it has been in past games, it certainly does fit the gladiator-style gameplay.
The voice acting is as solid as always with all the familar voices as well as some new ones for the great commentary and new characters. The script and dialogue is as witty as always and is guaranteed to make you smile if not laugh out loud.
Sound effects are outstanding and include all sorts of futuristic sounds for the weapons and various vehicles and spacecraft. Explosions are powerful and the Dolby Pro Logic II mix does a fantastic job of putting you smack in the middle of the action.
Deadlocked offers a substantial gameplay experience for both solo and multiplayer, but there is also a disturbing lack of freedom and that sense of exploration we got from the previous games. Since the levels are laid out in a tournament structure you don’t have a whole lot of freedom of where to go and when to go there. You simply complete your mission, return to the hub station and pick your next.
Most gamers can expect 20-30 hours to finish the solo game, and there is even a cool cooperative story mode where a second (local) player can join in. But the true staying power of this title is the vast multiplayer experience that will give you countless hours of extra enjoyment whether you end up playing in split-screen or head online for some major online action. The game even supports USB headsets and keyboards making your online communication that much easier.
I’m sure there will be plenty of dedicated fans out there who will scoff at the new combat-intensive game style and bemoan the loss of their traditional platform elements and nuts and bolts collection. But everything else you loved about Ratchet and Clank is back including a great story and plenty of witty dialogue.
And with more weapons, explosions, and excitement than most other games released this year, Ratchet: Deadlocked is a must-see, must-play title for anyone who is a fan of the series, or just loves a good action-combat game, online or off.