Preview: Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One Beta Impressions

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Insomniac Games is going all-out guns a-blazing this holiday season, releasing two big titles for Sony’s PlayStation 3. Resistance 3 has released to solid reviews and lots of positive word of mouth (VGBlogger’s review of R3 is forthcoming).  The second title coming soon from Insomniac is a new Ratchet & Clank title, All 4 One.  As the title would suggest, the game is largely a four player experience (although it will be fully playable in single player).  Due out next month, Insomniac has released a beta presumably for online testing, but I secretly think it is to help spread word of mouth for a title that could otherwise get lost in the huge list of holiday titles.

So what is in the beta?  Two levels from the game, one early in the game (probably even the first level due to the tutorial nature of screen icon explanations) and one later in the story (due to the sheer volume of weapons at the player’s disposal).  As with all previous R&C titles released on the PS3, the game looks gorgeous.  Like watching a playable Pixar movie, players take control of Ratchet, Clank, Quark or Dr. Nefarious, and set out smashing boxes, jumping throughout the environment, speeding down rails, and shooting enemies with an ever growing arsenal of weapons.

Particular to A41, is the fact that you can play with four people locally or online, or any combination of both online and local.  My first few attempts with playing online games were not optimal as the game screen goes black and nothing happens, then a few seconds later the game pops back to life and gameplay continues.  Hopefully the synchronization between two or more online players is smoothed out with the final release because the current process almost gives the impression that the PS3 is frozen.  Aside from the first day of the beta where joining online games was sketchy (I’m guessing systems on the back end weren’t fully turned up yet) I’ve found that playing online games is a good overall experience. Playing locally with my son, within a minute of starting a level we had two additional random players join and the level played as smooth as if all four of us were sitting on my couch.

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Like LittleBigPlanet, and many other PS3 multiplayer titles, the online community can be hit or miss with having mics enabled to chat.  My online game time found all other players joining my games devoid of mics, but Insomniac has meshed the character’s typical banter throughout the level with verbal hints or commands to help drive gameplay without needing mics for online players to communicate with each other.  While it would be nice to chat with other players, it is also nice to see the game smartly adapt and verbally give clues without everything flashing gold or having big arrows pointing out the obvious.

R&C games have always had a large, humorous variety of weapons.  A41 does not disappoint in this area.  One of my favorite weapons is the Critter Strike which concentrates a beam on an enemy and depending on their strength, shortly after being hit will turn into a pig. There is nothing quite like a screen full of snorting pigs.  

The method for switching weapons is a bit different from the past few games and will take some getting used to.  Previously the weapon wheel was brought up by pressing the Triangle button and selecting a weapon with the right stick.  With that control method, once the weapon wheel was closed the right stick then controlled the camera.  In A41, the camera is controlled by the game and bringing up the weapon wheel is done by simply moving the right stick.  Initially this was very frustrating.  Mid battle, I would want to move the camera to get a better view, not be able to, and suddenly change weapons instead.  After playing through a few times this instinct to want to move the camera has fortunately waned.  Bringing up the weapon wheel pauses the game while playing with local players but does not while playing online.

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There are several meta game components going on while playing the actual game.  Bonus points are given to players for working as a team, either by having everyone target the same enemy for a quick defeat or solving puzzles together.  Additionally, collecting bolts is a competition of sorts as well.  Every item destroyed, be it crates or enemies, explodes with bolts.  Bolts are the currency to purchase weapons (and presumably upgrades to weapons as is the norm for R&C games) but bolts also act as a measure for who is “winning” in the level.  Death penalizes players by reducing the amount of bolts collected and at the end of the level a leaderboard is displayed showing who had the most kills, who collected the most bolts,  as well as who died the most often or who worked best as a team player.  Insomniac has added cute titles assigned to each player at the end of each round and my son got a huge laugh when he saw that he had gotten the most kills in one of our online games while I was labeled a ‘Noob’. Apparently I had died the most.

All 4 One was not a title that I had previously had on my list of “must have” holiday titles, but after playing the beta and seeing that online gameplay integrates so smoothly with local players, I can’t help but want more.  Two levels that are long enough to satisfy for the time being, but leave the desire to want more is a huge win in my book for Insomniac.  As they say, “The first taste is free.” While I do think that the online sync process can be improved and hopefully Insomniac gets good reliable feedback from this beta, I think largely, as stated earlier, that this beta is more a sly way for positive word of mouth promotion. It’s working!

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.