For years, the Ratchet & Clank series has been crying out for co-op and from what I’ve played so far, it was a great call for Insomniac Games to finally run with it before they put all their efforts into the multi-format Overstrike. After playing the beta recently, I was worried about a few bugs that required a game reset, but I’m happy to report they were nowhere to be seen with this latest build of the game that took place in the same levels.
Ignoring the usual heroes, Ratchet and Clank, we opted to play an offline two-player game as the showboating Captain Quark and the er nefarious Dr. Nefarious, the two characters that have provided some great laughs over the years. Players will find the action very similar to the older games with every character having shooting and melee skills, complete with their own version of Ratchet’s Comet Strike, where they throw their weapon, only to have it boomerang back to them, which is great for smaller enemies and crates.
With players sharing a single-screen, the right stick no longer controls the camera. To make up for this, the weapons have a light degree of lock-on and the right stick now brings up the weapon wheel. The game will only pause if all players are looking at their wheels, which is a balanced way to do it and will avoid unwanted stoppages while the other players agonise over weapon choice.
The camera seems to be doing a good job of tracking players as long as they move together. A section that required some jumping over moving platforms needs everyone to go together or they risk being pushed off the edge of the screen. Fortunately, the platforms are big enough to accommodate your team.
New co-op mechanics involve using a vacuum gun to pick up and propel your friends over gaps and then holding Triangle to tether yourself across to them. Some items can only be opened with all players pulling on something or shooting it together. Another section has you falling through a tube, with the aim to manoeuvre yourself above active fans to raise the team to the top. You must link hands though to create one mass to keep gaining height. A brief vehicle section has players running from side to side inside a taxi-platform to steer it away from obstacles, with it moving quicker when everyone worked together. This will be a great experience with friends and hopefully playing with quiet new players online won’t throw up too many difficulties if they don’t want to work as a team or are just plain rubbish. You could always use the vacuum gun to fling them off a platform for a tough section. No?
Even the boss fights require teamwork, such as sending your mate up to a high-placed switch to lower an enemy’s shield. These tougher fights are where you’ll also need to rely on resuscitating each other. Thankfully you can still move and jump around while carrying them and charging their health metre. As expected, if you all die, then it’s back to the nearest checkpoint.
Players collect bolts individually from crates and any supplied by destroyed enemies automatically fly towards the player that finished them off. These bolts can then be used to buy weapons at the stores; hopefully there will still be upgrade options, as it would be a shame if Insomniac has dumbed the game down.
Most of the weapons will be familiar to fans of the series. With the blaster taking on the small fry, while grenades -complete with essential aiming arc- are great for taking out enemies hiding behind cover. Flamethrowers and ice rays act as backup (when you’ve run out of ammo for the rest) and Devastator rockets are like old friends for taking mighty chunks from a boss’s health bar. Each character will have a unique weapon or skill too: Quark has a Quantum Deflector shield and Nefarious has a Cloaker, which makes him invisible until he starts attacking. The latter wasn’t any use for these levels, but maybe it’ll serve a purpose at other stages of the game.
With the final game set to feature up to four-player co-op with a handy mix of online, offline or both setups, this could be an essential title. It should but Little Big Planet’s co-op platforming gameplay to shame. More importantly, if it sells well enough, it may convince Insomniac to return to their PlayStation exclusive series once they’ve completed work on Overstrike.
Ratchet & Clank will be released on PS3 October 21st.