Stop me if you've heard this one before...
Our universe consists, and to a certain extent, is built, off of mind-boggling mysteries and all-important questions. Is there a god? Are there living organisms in outer space? Is that chick down at the 7-11 checking me out, or do I have spinach in my teeth? How the hell is Keith Richards still alive? And most importantly, how do the sleep-deprived developers at Insomniac Games push their imaginations and creative juices above and beyond the expectations of their fans, to dish out award winning games on the yearly basis? Many suspect CIA involvement, possibly a deal with the devil. My guess would be daily routines consisting of unhealthy amounts of Motorhead, possibly a Tarantino flick or two, and lots of crank. Illegal or adrenaline enhancing substances aside, Insomniac has maintained a level of consistency and, frankly, perfection that makes those other yearly releases look like a half-powered crotchetizer to the fully upgraded R.Y.N.O. that is the Ratchet and Clank series. Question is, three games into the series, and yes the third time was most definitely the charm, how much more room is left for improvement? Most would think only disappointment is up ahead. Is this roller coaster still chugging up the track, or has the inevitable drop-off revealed itself?
All good things must come to an end, suffer a franchise-crumbling transformation, or undergo a series of several nitpicks and tweaks until the final product is only recognizable by a few lingering memories. Three phenomenal games in, Ted Price must’ve had a vision from the future and found out the third choice was a good one and went and disrupted the space-time continuum and removed “platformer” from “action-platformer”, split the titular characters of Ratchet and Clank up, inserted a generic Running Man storyline, and erased many of the recurring characters and inside jokes. What really frightens me though, is that in spite of all these modifications, Ratchet: Deadlocked still kicks immeasurable amounts of galactic ass.
Deadlocked‘s storyline (which Ratchet and Clank usually excel in) is quite derivative. The very first R&C brought together a lombax without a cause, and a witty little tin can on the run, to form what is now one of the best platforming duos to date. A nefarious (oh a foreshadowing pun) chairman, bloated in ego, yet frivolous in height, sought to make a super-planet from chunks of others for that relationship-diminishing, war-starting thing we call money. Ratchet and Clank’s second adventure, Going Commando, fleshed out characters, adding more pride and less spunk in Ratchet, and less dependency and more brashness (which would later grant him a hit television… excuse me, holo-vid, show) in Clank. Highlighting the whacked out sense of humor of the Insomniac crew, your main mission was to wipe out a ferocious group of small, fuzzy Furby-knockoffs called the “proto-pets”. Up Your Arsenal, the third and brightest iteration, truly showcased Ratchet as becoming not only an already inconceivably capable soldier, but also a newly appointed sergeant. The maniacal, mechanical, mentally challenged, evildoer Dr. Nefarious and his terrorizing battalion of goopy, slushy aliens, the Thyrranoids, laid waste to any planet that came within their grasp in hopes of galactic conquest, and later revealed Nefarious’ pure hatred for all living life-forms (or as he puts it, “squishes”) as he attempted to turn the universe into one big petting zoo for brainwashed robot slaves.
With this immensely rich background full of unforgettable characters (who doesn’t love Captain Qwark? If you are one of these people please drop me an e-mail with your name, address, and list of fears) and indefinable humor, you’d expect nothing less but more of the same. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Following their recent defeat of Nefarious and the restoration of peace and justice in the galaxy, Ratchet, Clank, and their friend Al (of Roboshack fame) now patrol the galaxy keeping sure all is well. But after robot assassins board their ship and kidnap the trio, they’re taken to the lawless, dark-side of the galaxy—the Shadow Sector. As prisoners of Gleeman Vox, a ruthless, warlord of sorts, looking out for himself and his business only, they’re enslaved at an outer space facility and are forced to compete in an undignified, merciless reality show where the many heroes of the galaxy are thrust into battles where the winner is not determined by points racked up, pride earned, or glory made—but by not dying. If either of them decides to get tricky and try to make a run for it, the “deadlocked” collar around each of their necks will prime and detonate, ending any hopeful sequels or spin-offs.
The premise is simple and lacks depth, cutscenes are unfocused and far too sparse, and the oddball humor, while definitely there, is kicked to the curb nine times out of ten for the more serious tone the game was tagged for having (fans fear not, the “mature” tone was a bit of an overstatement; the game’s storyline is a bit more, for the lack of a better word, serious, but nothing that’ll cause a double take). Characters, while not in the abundance as usual, are indeed a bit more business in the front and less party in the back, but still hold a sense of creativeness we come to expect from Insomniac. Vox is devious and shark-like; he looks like he’d rather take a chunk out of his best clients’ arms rather than negotiate contracts. And the ever confident, top-dog of the league, Ace Hardlight, is cunningly slick, but his arrogance and horrible action-figure sales keep him from being the poster boy he so desperately wants to be. (Not to mention his hair is the worst thing ever seen on someone’s head since Bono in the “Two Hearts Beat As One” video.) Since the game is essentially a series of arena battles and missions, it sports two announcers: the slightly egotistical ladies man, Dallas, and the seductive, possibly dominatrix, Juanita. While both announcers are often times knee-slappingly hilarious, as with any game featuring announcers, they begin to repeat earlier jokes and ramble aimlessly.
Longtime fans will be a little unnerved by the lack of originality in the premise, but the meat of the meal, in this case the action, will not only fill you up but keep you coming back for seconds, thirds, and possibly leftovers (makes an excellent cold-cut sandwich). Mercenaries, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Crimson Skies, Quake, and Burnout 3: Takedown, all high-intensity, explosive games, but let me tell you, those games are about as volatile as a snail in a field of salt compared to Deadlocked. Ratchet leaves no destructive premise to the imagination, and wades in every explosive body of water. You’ll get two heaping helpings of mass chaos, overflowing side dishes of testosterone, and a lovely mixed green side salad, with ripe grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, a light drizzle of robust Italian dressing, and crouton grenades! In the words of the immortal Brett Michaels, “I want action!”
New to the R&C clique are modifications (or mods as the kids say it). Going Commando featured a very shallow mod system and Up Your Arsenal implemented certain mods with upgrades, but Deadlocked truly takes the cake. Two types of mods are available, Alpha and Omega. Alpha handles simple things, such as ammo capacity, speed, impact, so on and so forth. But Omegas really amplify the action. Run-of-the-mill mods such as shock, acid, or ice are coupled by ingenious additions such as time bomb, and the series constant morph-o-ray. These not only add more explosions, carnage, and hysteria, but also a bit of comical relief when you slap a morph mod onto your ridiculously over-sized and over-powered rocket launcher. Speaking of bad transitions, Deadlocked features a not so out of this world amount of weapons, ten in all. Now, if you want to rant about how the upgrading (which have slowly progressed from two upgrades per weapon, to ten, to an unreal 99) and mod systems add almost entirely new weapons, go ahead, but ten for a game such as this… I mean come on! A weapon set of less than a dozen is quite disappointing, and not so pleasantly-surprising.
Vehicles have been injected with an extra level of manliness, as the landspeeder-esque hover bike from Going Commando is now a metallic He-Man name-taker of a vehicle. In addition to the hover bike, a turret equipped ATV, spider-tank, and revamped hover ship fill Deadlocked‘s action expectancy ten-fold. An addition of two robotic comrades assisting you in every mission eases some of the tedious tasks (such as turning bolts and opening locked doors), but do little in terms of taking down the hordes of assaulting enemies. One big addition that I can’t quite come to grips with is the fact that Clank is no longer riding shotgun on Ratchet’s back. He just serves as a sort of “man on the inside”, as he is required to stay at your residential headquarters. Not being able to use Clank as a way to extend jumps or hover to safe landings is very different and frustrating at first, but with time it’ll become slightly less irritating. In general, this game lacks many of the elements that made Ratchet and Clank a great series. Now don’t get me wrong, Deadlocked is fantastic and should be enjoyable for just about anyone, but the lack of characters such as Captain Qwark and the Janitor, the fact that the superb collecting has been eradicated almost completely, and skill points devoid of any originality or skill leaves the game with a certain feeling of emptiness.
I feel I may have been a bit too harsh with Deadlocked. From the viewpoint of a gamer that has never played a Ratchet and Clank game, this is a magnificent title sure to please. It has more going for it than most could ever hope for: intense action, a deep weapon system, enough eye-candy to make your eyes water, sound effects almost too great for a game staring a furry commando, and characters nothing short of brilliant. Longtime fans will immediately compare and contrast, nitpick and spot every single thing that doesn’t live up to expectations. The game is short, yes, I’ll give you that, and if you’re a seasoned player of the originals you’ll most likely leave a trail of smoking metal in each level without taking a hit. But there’s no denying the game’s presence. I’ll say it again, I can’t express how much I love this franchise, and the few things I felt were left out or cut short do irritate me, but if you are willing to drop the inflated expectations you have, what is left is a game not to be missed.