Yesterday, we got a new look at Insomniac Games' Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, a sneak peek that started with series heroes Ratchet and Clank speaking with a plucky little munchkin, the kind one might see chubby cheeked and adorably voiced in a Pixar movie.
Our heroes, Ratchet and Clank, along with the far less heroic Qwark and Dr. Nefarious, were chatting with this little girl, explaining how they wouldn't be able to save their planet. They just wanted to get off this stinkin' rock and go home. Let the proper authorities deal with it, Ratchet said, they're too tired to clean up whatever mess affected these people.
Ten Ratchet & Clank games in, who can blame them? But this is the moment when animated heroes find the will to pick themselves up, strap on an arsenal of weapons and set off on adventure.
It helps that this Ratchet & Clank game may be the most refreshing and the most inventive we've seen from the series, with its cooperative (with a little competitive) four-player set up. This is a game stuffed with great platforming ideas, smart co-op mechanics and charm. It's playable solo or with three friends, online and offline, easy to jump in and out of.
After developers Insomniac Games moved from showing some early cinematics from Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which they proudly called "a CG movie that you can play with," we got a look at this multiplayer Ratchet & Clank game's new gameplay.
It started with a new level dubbed Octonok Reef. Our heroes, Ratchet, Clank, Nefarious and Qwark, were riding a big orange raft outfitted with four turbines as they lazed down a wide river.
If you know anything about Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, you know that each player is equipped with a vacuum tool called the Vac-U 4000. Normally, it's used to suck up creatures, bolts and other characters. Here it was used to spin the blades of each turbine, requiring four players to work in concert to guide the raft downstream, to avoid mines and to steer toward crates stuffed with items.
Insomniac called it "an extremely democratic vehicle." It reminded me of the arcade game Toobin' with each player controlling a single extremity to progress. It looked, like much of All 4 One, madly fun.
We were also shown a battle with one of the many mini-boss monsters in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. This one was called the Shard Beast, a many fanged monster that, like most things in All 4 One, requires the careful cooperation of four players to take down efficiently. Insomniac did so using the game's Dark Star Fission gun, an energy weapon that works better when everyone's using it at the same time.
And when everyone's doing things like using the same gun to dispatch a bad guy, the game rewards players with points multipliers. It's something to consider when fighting for the collectible bolts that spew forth from enemies and crates. Wind up with more bolts than your teammates at the end of a level and you'll be able to buy better weapons, stuff they can't play with yet.
Speaking of weapons, they're obviously an important facet of Ratchet & Clank games. This one is no different. You'll have access to plenty in All 4 One, including the simple single-shot Combuster, the missile-launching Warmonger, the electrical charge spewing Thundersmack and the Arc Lasher, a energy charged whip. I saw Nefarious use a cloaking device to hide from enemies at one point. A Qwark on my time used a Quantum Deflector Shield for coverage.
You'll be able to flip through all these weapons and accessories with a pop-up weapon wheel, accessed with the right analog stick. Each player has his own wheel, for easy selection.
Each character has his own unique weapon skill too. Ratchet can deploy decoy versions of himself with the Doppelganger to draw enemy fire—which is abundant. Clank can deploy time-slowing bombs to slow enemies. We're not sure what unique abilities Nefarious and Qwark are capable of yet.
After walking us through all of those features and showing more raft-based gameplay, Insomniac took us to another location, the Terawatt Forest. Here we encountered the game's Guardians, massive robots the size of buildings that can also be hijacked and ridden by Ratchet, Clank, Qwark and Nefarious. This section was on-rails, each player seated in his own turret, while the Guardian stomped through the Terawatt Forest. This felt more like an amusement park ride, the type of jostling, bumpy thrill ride one might experience at Disney World while enjoying Star Tours or sitting on the shoulders of the Iron Giant.
On the back of that massive Guardian, our heroes aimed and shot at other more threatening Guardians, shooting them in weak spots in their hands and near their hearts. It was a beautiful but brief ride, a little roller coaster of action that culminated in some more traditional cooperative platforming.
We got to taste some of that gameplay for ourselves, replaying through a level that we'd seen previously at Gamescom, played then much better by Insomniac than my team of four. We also got to sample Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One's stereoscopic 3D which seemed capable enough as 3D goes, but only made the experience more visually confusing for me. There are a lot of characters, bolts, gunfire, weapon wheels and narrow platforms to watch out for. Stereoscopic 3D was more of an interference visually for me than a treat. But if you're a 3D TV owner, this is something else for you to play.
Beyond that, we also got to go hands on with a game level we hadn't seen before, Seaside. Here we walked on narrow planks and plunged to our watery deaths often, easily losing track of where we were. Its easy to start paying attention to what your teammates are doing, getting lost in the visual spectacle of All 4 One, which is packed with bright, colorful scenery.
We rode on the backs of big alien turtles, dodged angry tentacles and fought electrified fish, flushing them down holes and knocking them off the edges of docks to defeat them. We failed often, especially during boss battles, when teammates were electrocuted by cartoonish angler fish as they were trying to revive us.
Dying often didn't really rub me the wrong way, however, as the game is forgiving, respawning your character quickly and checkpointing frequently, so that you can continue to shoot wildly, leap from platform to platform, launch your friends with a Vac-U or latch onto them with your energy tether. This is a delightfully chaotic multiplayer adventure, full of Gauntlet style collaboration—move forward and attack smartly—with very clever puzzle mechanics layered on top.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is planned to hit the PlayStation 3 this fall.