GDC Preview: Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One

March 8, 2011Written by Corey Schwanz

Ratchet and Clank are back, and this time they’re not alone. All 4 One was announced over six months ago at gamescom last year, but has only made few, if any playable appearances. Fortunately for us, GDC 2011 was one of those places.

Innovation in the video game industry is a tough gig. The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been around since the tail end of 2002 and, for the most part, hasn’t really changed much since. And why should it? With solid core gameplay mechanics, a hilarious cast of characters, and beautiful graphics to boot, what more could a game audience want? Instead of giving us the same game with a new skin, Insomniac Games has completely thrown Ratchet, Clank, and their friends all on their heads with the brand new installment All 4 One. The radical shift in game design is easily noticeable due to the fact that A4O is being developed by Insomniac’s North Carolina studio, as opposed to the mothership location back in Burbank.

We’ve seen the trailers and demos of A4O‘s gameplay for quite some time now, but how does it play? Old fans of the R&C franchise will find themselves right at home as soon as they pick up the Dualshock. While each of the different characters – Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, and Dr. Nefarious, all have different ways of performing actions, all of the moves seem to be the same. At this point at least, there is no difference in choosing the characters in the beginning other than an aesthetic preference. If you really really wanted to play as Qwark but weren’t able to select him fast enough, you won’t be missing out on any exclusive gameplay mechanics.

As cooperative gameplay is the entire premise of this game, it’s implemented in all sorts of different ways. Not only will you be competing for bolts between your fellow players, but certain co-op actions will reward you as well. Either activating a two-person switch or demolishing enemies with a two-ended plasma wire will earn you co-op points, all tallied up at the end of the level. Many enemies are difficult to destroy on your own, while some of the gigantic boss battles actually require you to team up with another player to actually defeat such foes.

A new tool introduced, a weaponized vacuum, is used for sucking up bolts, and even friends and enemies. It’s exact functionality was a little shaky when playing with it, and James Stevenson from Insomniac told me it’s one of the new elements that is still being tweaked. Currently to suck up a partner you put the vacuum into position and have the other player jump on, then control their exit from the device. It was done this way to prevent players from sucking up their friends then shooting them off platforms without their control, but in the midst of a hectic battle it feels inefficient. James said that Insomniac may implement both types of control in the upcoming game, kind of like toggling a “friendly fire” mode on and off, but for now they are still working out the balance.

Communication is key in All 4 One, so while same-screen multiplayer will probably be the most fun way to play the game, online will be the most practical. Only the single-console version was available during this demo, so something like lag wasn’t available to test. But as for playing the actual game, it’s a complete riot. It’s a co-op game, but competitive in the style of old-school arcade beat ’em ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the recently released X-Men Arcade on the PlayStation Network. As mentioned, players will be beating their friends to as many bolts as possible, but they will be doing so until the very end of the stage. If a player dies they can be resurrected by another person, with the added price of half their bolts. In a particularly hard part of a stage, players will find their bolt counts switching swiftly from person to person, with no guarantee who will have the most bolts after the battle. I’m glad to report that I was the Bolt Master of my particular demo, and after such hard work to earn that title, I had an overflowing sense of pride. If the entire game can deliver on those types of experiences, then we’ve got a winner here.

Insomniac seems to have accomplished an impossible task. After seven flagship titles, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One has created something so new and so fresh, that it’s unbelievably reminiscent of the first time anyone ever took control of the loveable Lombax and his robotic partner. By taking a risk and moving the franchise to a new direction, gamers will be the ones rewarded with laughs all around.