Being shown a game by a developer, someone that’s invested considerable amounts of time and energy into what they’re demonstrating before you, is a slightly surreal experience: you watch, you listen, you take notes and you try to decipher what it would be like to actually have a go. Thankfully, neither Insomniac nor the latest Ratchet and Clank title, subtitled All 4 One, are like that: this is a game that draws you towards the nearest Dual Shock, the drop-in drop-out gameplay a perfect marriage for a studio always willing to just let you play.
And so we did. Guided by an experienced player or two, All 4 One is a silky, joyous affair that seemed to flow smoothly as we battled and platformed our way through a good half hour or so of the game. Featuring the recognisable visages of Qwark and Doctor Nefarious alongside the eponymous heroes, this all new installment into the Ratchet and Clank series (albeit not one part of the current trilogy) is a skewed departure from the norm, the higher, fixed camera making way for the multiplayer is one aspect, but it’s the co-operative requirements that really set it apart.
It’s all very clever: combine your weapons to amplify their power beyond their sum; work together to propel each other over chasms using the new vacuum item and – most importantly – try to keep each other alive as resources are necessarily shared. Equality is key to Insomniac’s vision: end of level bonuses are divided up fairly between players, but the highest scoring player nets an additional bonus for their troubles which leads to playful competition but never at the expense of ensuring everyone has the same goals. In the sections we played, this was absolutely the case.
Levels flowed nicely, new puzzles and elements were introduced smartly and gradually so as not to ruin the pacing, and the checkpoints seemed numerous enough. But it was with the game’s weapons, something of an Insomniac favourite, that All 4 One really kicked into gear – they’re just as good as we’ve seen before and already showing plenty of variety. Combat against the level’s enemies is quick and decisive, the Warmonger rocket launcher just a flick of the weapon wheel away, and the aftermath of a solid bit of teamwork: bolts aplenty, the post-scrap dash for the metallic trinkets all part of the fun.[boxout]It’s a great looking game, at least in the section we played through. The landscapes are very much Ratchet of late, and although the frame rate’s currently half what we’re used to on the recent PS3 adventures it’s still smooth enough at thirty, especially given the chaos on-screen during the busy periods. The controls were slick too, although remembering which button did what in the heat of the moment let to some unintentionally humourous restarts.
All 4 One’s great fun – it’s not going to set the PS3 alight on release but it’s a solid game that’ll appeal to socially minded gamers, and Ratchet fans will dig the fan service. We’re just happy we actually got a go.