Every long running franchise discovers the same pitfall after it releases a number of successful sequels: How do you keep the gameplay fresh without losing the original concepts that made your title standout? This is extremely important when it comes to a series that’s updated every year, like the Ratchet & Clank franchise. More Mad Max than Mario Bros., the futuristic platformer has always placed more value in big guns and even bigger explosions than jumping and squishing opponents. The latest title places even further distance between its platforming roots, focusing more on Ratchet’s firepower this time around. Lock and load your guns and check your wrenches, we’re smashing our way across the universe in Ratchet: Deadlocked.
The plot of Deadlocked picks up immediately after the events of Up Your Arsenal, with everyone’s favorite Lombax Ratchet, his mechanical friend Clank and the nerdy mechanic Al traveling through space. Unfortunately, their ship manages to stray into territory claimed by Gleeman Vox, owner of the Vox network (pun intended). Apart from the numerous channels, merchandise and other business holdings Vox has in his corner of space, his most popular (and dangerous) show is Dreadzone, a twisted Running Man-like show that pits captured “contestants” against the show’s gladiators. Focusing on Ratchet and his success in saving the galaxy numerous times over, Vox captures the trio and forces Ratchet to fight in the Dreadzone to save his friends and his own life.
Unlike previous titles in the franchise, Deadlocked strikes out into different territory – Ratchet is solely the focus of this game, as Clank has been removed from all missions. The deadpan delivery of the robot isn’t completely lost, as Clank serves as a radio operator and instructor during the missions, directing Ratchet towards objectives. Of course, this means that a number of the advantages Ratchet gained from having Clank strapped to his back are now lost – No more gliding to ledges or across massive jumps. Fortunately there aren’t that many massive jumps to worry about in this title due to the layout of each stage; the design of each battlefield is spread out enough to allow you to jump and move without requiring the help of your gear. In fact, with the exception of the swingshot and grind boots, most of your equipment has been confiscated and lost. (The Vox weapons labs considers your gear to be gratefully made donations). However, the Dreadzone organizers aren’t completely heartless, providing you with two secondhand bots to help you in the arenas.
Sure, these two bucketheads aren’t as versatile or as skilled as Clank, but they’re specifically designed to help you accomplish various tasks assigned to you during the show. For the most part, they’ll act as decoys and mobile turrets, firing upon the swarms of opponents that are thrown at you. You’ll also be able to direct them to throw EMP grenades at shielded opponents, hack through closed doors or unscrew huge bolts. These bots won’t necessarily survive every single battle, although you can revive them as many times as you like by ordering repairs for them during a fight. Fortunately, you’ll be able to take them to Al and have their firepower and armor upgraded so they can take and give more damage.
One of the other significant departures is in the weaponry department. The Ratchet series has become synonymous with exotic firearms that perform a number of strange effects on their targets, such as the Sheepinator. Well, kiss those weapons goodbye. Instead, you’re restricted to about 10 separate weapons (apart from your trusty wrench) ranging from twin pistols and a shotgun to a whip. Players will be able to improve these weapons by constant use, adding additional power to every shot. However, Deadlocked also provides new user controlled modifications known as Alpha and Omega mods. Alpha mods are more plentiful (being provided after every weapon level up as well as being for sale at vendor cubes), and work to boost the abilities of your weapons. This includes increasing the number of shots you can fire, the impact an enemy receives from a bullet, or even the gun’s rate of fire. Omega mods, on the other hand, provide specific effects to every shot, such as acid, electricity or ice to every shot. You’ll be able to assign these objects to the guns at will; while they won’t necessarily work for every gun, it does allow you some amount of control over the kind of damage you’ll unleash on your opponents.
Apart from the firearms, you’ll also gain access to vehicles that you’ll be able to use to take our opponents and obstacles alike. The first one of these is the Landstalker, a four legged walker that has machine guns and rockets that can blow up barriers. The hoverbike is a floating speed machine that you’ll use to race around tracks and through rings, occasionally firing upon opponents or targets. The Hovership is the standard space fighter, complete with missiles and lasers, and the Puma is a tank like buggy. These four machines break up the run and gun action that you’ll experience in the numerous missions, as well as serve to be a new way to accomplish a number of the game’s skill challenges. Vets of the Ratchet games are accustomed to trying to pull specific tasks to acquire skill points. These return, along with something known as dread challenges, which are time based or arena based side missions to fill out the single player side of the game.
Gamers will have a number of choices when it comes to the multiplayer side in Deadlocked, one of which takes its cue from another sci-fi movie (in fact, the name of the game itself is an homage to Rutger Hauer’s Deadlock). Players have the option to play the entire game in co-op mode via split screen. The second player effectively takes the place of the robot henchmen previously mentioned, and both players will be able to trigger items like the EMP bombs or hacking doors. Both players have some limitations as well – the ammunition for all the weapons are shared between them, and they can’t use the same weapon at the same time. You’re also constrained by distance – if you roam too far apart, a timer starts counting down and threatens to essentially blow your head off your shoulders if you’re not close enough to your partner.
If you don’t happen to have a friend nearby, you can always take your battle to the broadband arenas. Since Up Your Arsenal, the Ratchet series has featured a sizable multiplayer mode. Deadlocked continues that trend, with the standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes included. The Siege mode from last year has been slightly morphed into this game’s Conquest mode, where you capture nodes for points. Added to these three returning titles are Juggernaut, where one player is insanely powerful and everyone else teams together to try to take him or her out, and King of the Hill, where you have to control a specific area as long as you can. Players will have 11 maps to fight across, and you’ll be able to change practically every single option, including adding vehicles, weapon mods and frag limits. The game also continues its excellent stat tracking from the previous game.
If you’ve seen previous Ratchet and Clank titles, you’ve got a good sense of what Deadlocked looks like. The same visual style from Up Your Arsenal and other Ratchet titles is apparent in this game, with the same facially expressive characters, large explosions and futuristic environments. You’re still treated to the trademark humor the franchise is known for, particularly in the cutscenes, which are scattered throughout the game. You’ll also find that the lighter visuals, such as the extras that you’ll unlock or the added graphical touches like the armor upgrades are unique from piece to piece, and there’s plenty of content available in the game to unlock. The largest ding on the visuals comes when you’ve powered up the weapons and have destroyed a large number of enemies, because the game really slows to a crawl then. At other times you’ll find hiccups in the frame rate here or there. Similarly, you’ll find that the music and the sound effects are pretty much the same as other titles, but the true stand out is the voice over work provided by all of the game’s actors. From the recognizable delivery of Ratchet and Clank to the propaganda spouted by the Dreadzone announce team Dallas and Juanita, these are memorable performances that are hilarious and engaging.
There aren’t many knocks against the title or the formula, but the ones that are there are large enough to be potentially distracting to Ratchet vets. Like I said before, the limit on the number of firearms and equipment makes the game almost seem outside of the Ratchet franchise. While the additional mods makes the gameplay engaging and rather unique, you almost long for some of the funkier firearms now. I know, I’m somewhat spoiled by the other titles. Some of the vehicles could’ve played a larger role in the game as well. Unfortunately, the way the game is structured, these play minor roles and are essentially relegated to side missions.
That’s actually another issue that some people might find, which is that the gameplay is relatively linear and decidedly short. Unlike the previous games where you had a chance to explore worlds that seemed to constantly expand based on the additional equipment you acquired, these arenas are extremely contained and laid out directly. Apart from finding things that aren’t necessarily well hidden, you’re practically going from mission to mission (even though there are a large number of them). That brings me to the other problem, which is that the game is rather short. Experienced platformers can fly through the game in ten hours or less, and while you unlock additional weapon levels on a second play through, you really have an easier time completing your tasks with these super powerful guns. That reduces the challenge significantly unless you have the game difficulty pumped up to the hardest level, but even after a while this becomes pretty easy to finish off.
Overall though, Ratchet: Deadlocked is a solid sequel to Up Your Arsenal. While it doesn’t have the length of the previous titles, the decision to focus solely upon Ratchet this time around makes the gameplay somewhat innovative because you have to adjust your tactics to reflect the loss of Clank. Veterans may also find the loss of weapons somewhat restrictive, but the addition of Alpha and Omega mods are a nice twist on the gameplay, and the true replayability will be found within the numerous multiplayer modes. Platforming and Ratchet fans should find an enjoyable time with this one.