[GDC 2011] One for... Themselves?

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One pits some unlikely comrades in a game that as much cooperation as competition.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 12, 2011
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When it was announced that Insomniac Games was finally working on another Ratchet game, there was something of a mix of emotions that came with it. For one, A Crack in Time was easily one of the best games in the franchise's history, but the near-relentless pace at which the company was pumping titles out was definitely starting to put some wear and tear on the Lombax/Robot duo.


And then it was announced that it wouldn't be a game out of Insomniac's Burbank headquarters, but the first project birthed at their new North Carolina dev house. As it turns out, having things being developed on the other side of the country may indeed have helped the studio to deliver something completely new, but we weren't aware how new until we finally got the chance to sit down and play the game at this year's Game Developers Conference.

Actually describing All 4 One isn't exactly the easiest thing to do. Series mainstays Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark and Dr. Nefarious have had to form an uneasy alliance, and the result is sort of a co-op platformer that's as much about messing with friends as helping them. You don't have to grief other players, of course, but it's clear that months if not years of playing the game internally has turned some of the staff members into playfully evil co-op partners as we discovered.

The first thing that we noticed upon hopping into our little demo session with a couple other Sony folks to round out the foursome was how the controls had changed a little. The right stick no longer controls the camera, instead allowing players to quickly swap between available weapons (which, yes, still level up, so no worries there). With camera control entirely in the hands of the developers, the various environments found in All 4 One are given a bit more of a chance to shine. To say that the game looks good is an absolute understatement; it looks fantastic, and now there's far more in the way of cinematic pans and guided focus around the locales thanks to Insomniac being able to essentially point the camera wherever they want to highlight the next bend in a pathway or just go for a little slow-panning ocular zing.

No matter who is actually chosen, there are couple of constants. The first is that all four characters are given a handy little tether that is used as much for making combined swinging jumps as it is a way to sort of "reel in" on other players -- a technique that becomes invaluable when jumps that require two players leave others stranded back on the platform. This is something that comes up fairly regularly when combined with the Vacu-4000 vacuum gun, a means to both suck up bolts and some baddies and fire them out, but also a means of pocketing allies and then shooting them in visually-displayed arcs over wider chasms.

The two used in tandem allow for a multitude of possibilities, but the most common example was just as we'd mentioned before: suck up a friend, lob them over to another platform and then everyone else tether-reels their way over without any real worries -- well, not unless someone decides to move at the last second and send someone else plummeting into a pit. The jerks. Then again, sucking someone up and spitting them out into the pit is just another way of playfully screwing with the idea of getting constant help, and we'll actually admit that it did make things rather interesting. The Vacu-4000 can also be used to lob players at enemies (say ones protected by a forward shield) that kicks off a short little QTE where the lobbed player has to quickly press the Square button to turn their simple means of locomotion into a slam attack.
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