The people at Insomniac haven't strayed too far from the winning game play formula that has made past Ratchet and Clank games so addictive, and really; why should they? I've always felt that a good measure of a well put together game is in the ease with which novice or veteran players alike can get into the game play without too much of a learning curve. This game excels in that respect. My only other experience with this franchise was playing Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, which although really entertaining, was short lived on my part, as I was playing it at a friend's house. So when I picked up Ratchet: Deadlocked, I recalled how easily I was able to pick up the other games in the series, and hoped this would be more of the same. Sure enough, this game doesn't disappoint. Within minutes I was blowing everything on screen to smithereens with impunity.
The core action is pure free formed shooting and melee, with a bit of platforming, and some vehicular sections as well. Take the core gameplay of Devil May Cry, add a little bit of Jak and Daxter with just a pinch of Contra and players can get a sense of what to expect in Deadlocked. Fast, frantic, over-the-top action is really at the root of why this game is so much fun. There is a distinct methodical feel to the action in Deadlocked. There is nothing quite like the experience of having Ratchet launch a round of heat seeking missiles at four distant targets while entering a well fortified area, switching to close range weapons, dispatching hordes of approaching foes, only to observe your original targets explode upon being tagged by the missiles you launched. Once players get into this groove of balancing close and long range attacks to keep all of the on screen enemies at bay, they'll feel almost invincible, that is until the AI takes it up a notch. Even at one difficulty up from the lowest setting, this game presents quite a challenge.
One would think that with the sheer amount of on screen action that the controls for the game would boil down to simple button mashing until all foes are eliminated, but that simply isn't the case, as I found out early into playing the game when doing so resulted in several retries. You really have to be strategic about how you plan your entry into certain arenas in the game, choosing your weapons and how you time your attacks both short and long range; which is a nice touch because one gets the sense that every weapon counts. It is the skill with which one uses their weapons and melee attacks, and not how quickly a player can push the X button that determines the ultimate outcome. As with all the other entries in the franchise, the designers have kept the controls very tight and responsive, which adds to the enjoyment of the action. It feels as if the controls are a little tighter than the last entry in the series, but I'm sure most will say the difference is negligible. Players even get a chance to pilot an array of vehicles including crab like tanks, and hover boards to name a couple, which adds a healthy bit of variety to the overall package (more on that later), all of which control very well.
Early in the game players are given two robots, which they can battle along side, which seems cool on paper, but ends up being a pretty innocuous feature. You probably won't even notice they are there for the most part. I certainly didn't end up finishing a fierce boss battle only to thank my lucky stars that I had two robots with me. You are supposed to be able to issue strategic commands to these knuckleheads via the directional pad, which ends up not having much strategy to it only because half the time the commands can only be issued at specific points in the game, making them more context sensitive than anything else. If they had never included these guys, it wouldn't have affected the game in my opinion; in fact that reminds me of Crank. Okay, there are specific areas where you will actually need these guys, but to me it just seems like the game creators' time would have been better spent giving Ratchet the means to get to where he needs to go on his own.
The presentation shows a high level of technical polish, and the overall concept and story line are par for this genre of game if not overly original. The narrative for the game borrows heavily from storylines like "The Running Man", which portrays a world of the future where the inhabitants are all such savages they seek entertainment in real world death match style game shows. The game format may be a little off putting at first because it's not necessarily linear in presentation.
Players are initially put through a fast but helpful tutorial, which is represented as a qualification round for the tournament Ratchet ends up participating in throughout the game. Players are then sent to a mother ship of sorts, which acts as a hub between all of the different planets that they will compete upon. As the player advances he or she unlocks new planets to compete upon, which in turn pits them against new enemies and bosses. It's worth noting that you cannot bypass an extremely repetitive and annoying cut scene that plays when you change the planet upon which you are competing. The point is that the game is not presented in a totally linear fashion; so much as it allows players to choose which of the numerous different planets to compete upon. Defeating certain boss characters or completing key objectives in each arena generally rewards players with a brief cut scene that moves the story along, but where players compete is totally at their discretion.
Each planet or level has a list of specific objectives that must be completed a la Tony Hawk, and players can replay any section of the game as much as they wish in order to complete all of the tasks. Players can gain skill points, new weapons and upgrades for their weapons several ways. Bolts are the currency in the Deadlocked universe. Players use these to buy new weapons and mods for their weapons, however using a certain weapon frequently will result in an upgrade to the power of whatever weapon they happen to be using. The beauty of being able to revisit a certain level as may times as one wishes means that one can theoretically upgrade their weapons and gather bolts to their hearts content, although those looking for cooler weapons will have to advance to new arenas to do so.
I enjoyed the format, although it did make things a little boring after playing for a while. I didn't really care about advancing the story line along, so ultimately I was just playing in order to upgrade my weapons. Love it or hate it, many games similar to these including one's like Jak and Daxter have begun to include features in the wake of these expansive Grand Theft Auto type games. Some of the levels players will experience are suedo free roaming vast areas, which involve some sort of vehicular combat. There just really isn't a whole lot of depth to these levels, leaving one to wonder if these were sort of after thoughts and tacked on to the original concept. Thankfully, for those who enjoyed the platforming elements of previous entries in the Ratchet and Clank franchise will notice that it's all fully intact.
Another wonderful aspect of the presentation that has carried over to Deadlocked is the sound. The real stars here are the sounds for different weapons and the huge explosions that generally follow the bleeps and blips of certain weapons as they are employed against the onslaught. The audio really immerses the player in the action, giving one the sense that they are right in the middle of an epic firefight. In a nice touch, your robot companions will periodically make comments to you regarding objectives or sometimes just for the sake of sarcasm. As useless as these guys are, it was amusing listening to their banter while in the midst of battle. You may ask yourself how robots managed to get New Jersey accents (probably watching Sopranos re-runs). Overall the sound was above average and really lends to the credibility of what the game is trying to accomplish.
Long time fans of the series may be disappointed to find that Insomniac has gone in a slightly different direction with regard to the game play that they've come to love in past iterations in the series. More, however, may find this entry more accessible because of a larger variety of gameplay elements in the game. Overall, Ratchet: Deadlocked will appeal to veterans of the series while at the same time allowing first time players to wield their destructive instruments with ease right out of the gate.