Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 4: Deadlocked

John continues his Ratchet & Clank Retrospective, getting Deadlocked and living like a Gladiator with the fourth game in the main series.

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Ratchet: Deadlocked (or Ratchet: Gladiator in the EU for no ful­ly ex­plained rea­son) is an odd one out when it comes to Ratchet & Clank games. The last game in the se­ries on the PS2 takes an evo­lu­tion­ary off­shoot from the pre­vi­ous three ti­tles, and in­stead be­comes an are­na chal­lenge based third per­son ac­tion game. The first three games, which we have al­ready ded­i­cat­ed an ar­ti­cle each on, very close­ly fol­low a for­mu­la that works very well for them. Ratchet: Deadlocked keeps some fa­mil­iar el­e­ments from the past, but makes the most changes in one ti­tle of any sin­gle game in the series.

First of all, it isn’t tech­ni­cal­ly a Ratchet & Clank game; you spend the en­tire game sep­a­rat­ed from Clank with your usu­al ro­bot­ic back-pack re­duced to a sup­port role along with Big Al. This se­vere­ly lim­its your plat­form­ing abil­i­ty, as well as al­ters the feel of your usu­al mo­bil­i­ty. Ratchet is snap­pi­er than he is in pre­vi­ous games, and you soon get used to not be­ing able to stretch-jump or glide, but it is a lit­tle dis­con­cert­ing at first. Deadlocked for­goes the usu­al ex­plo­ration and plat­form­ing el­e­ments in lieu of a whole host of sep­a­rate challenges.

Think of it kind of like Annihilation Nation and the Galactic Ranger mis­sions from Ratchet & Clank 3 fleshed out into an en­tire video game. Instead of Clank you are out­fit­ted with a pair of com­bat bots, Merc and Green. Their names don’t come up too much, but they have a de­cent amount of per­son­al­i­ty and di­a­logue of their own.

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Merc & Green, your trusty Combots

Why were all these changes made? Well, it most­ly stems from the premise. As you could prob­a­bly guess from the EU ti­tle, Ratchet has be­come a Gladiator, with all the forced com­bat and de­fac­to slav­ery that comes with it. Ratchet is kid­napped straight off the Starship Phoenix and is trans­port­ed to the Shadow Sector where he is forced to fight for­mer he­roes in or­der to sur­vive in front of an au­di­ence of bil­lions in a show called Dreadzone. Clank and Big Al are tak­en as col­lat­er­al dam­age, but are put to work as Ratchet’s sup­port team, feed­ing him in­for­ma­tion and up­grad­ing his gear. All of them are fit­ted with Deadlock col­lars, the name­sake of the game in US ter­ri­to­ries and dead­ly con­trol de­vices which will ex­plode at the push of a but­ton, or if a con­tes­tant tries to flee. The founder and own­er of the Vox Network, Gleeman Vox, serves as the game’s main an­tag­o­nist, as do the top glad­i­a­tors who you must bat­tle through to sur­vive in the show/blood sport called Deadlocked as you try to find a way out of it all.

Your bots do more than help fight. They are also your main gad­get, de­ploy­ing grind-cables, tak­ing down shields of mount­ed tur­rets, and hack­ing points for you. All in all, apart from the sling­shot, Ratchet has no ac­tive gad­gets of his own this time around. All of this means the game lives and dies on its core com­bat and var­i­ous ve­hi­cle sections.

You can also take a ride in the Landstalker, an all-terrain walk­ing tur­ret with a suit of mis­siles to wreck your opponent’s day. It’s a lit­tle slow, but is sat­is­fy­ing to dri­ve. The Hovership has been up­grad­ed to a com­bat space-ship, but func­tions rel­a­tive­ly the same as be­fore. You will also en­counter a few Hoverbike cours­es, as well as pi­lot­ing a high­ly mo­bile tank-like ve­hi­cle called The Puma on some of the big­ger maps. These are the most var­ied and best im­ple­ment­ed ve­hi­cles in the se­ries; I sup­pose they should be since you will be spend­ing quite a lot of time with them.

Repetition is the main weak­ness of Ratchet: Gladiator’s sin­gle play­er. The main are­na sec­tions that punc­tu­ate the plan­e­tary sec­tions are a wel­come break as they some­times in­clude more var­ied chal­lenge modes and of­fer some ac­tu­al plat­form­ing. Planets tend to be: get all the points, de­stroy all the things, Landstalker/Hovership, maybe a grind-rail, rinse and re­peat. The ac­tion on dis­play here is good, but I wish some of the usu­al ex­plo­ration had been brought to the ta­ble. As it is, the ac­tion can be numb­ing and you find your­self fo­cus­ing on just tick­ing off chal­lenges rather than ful­ly en­joy­ing the game.

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The Landstalker and the Puma

The game style is the least bright and “car­toony” look of the se­ries so far. It still looks styl­ized, but re­sem­bles more of a dark­er graph­ic nov­el or com­ic book. This look wouldn’t be re­tained in fur­ther games, and whilst the game looks pret­ty good for a PS2 re­lease it means lo­ca­tions are far less mem­o­rable than in the pre­vi­ous three ti­tles. The sound­track also had an over­haul; it most­ly con­tains synth and synth-guitar stings as the glad­i­a­tor show’s sound­track. In a an emerg­ing pat­tern, some parts of it can be too of­ten re­peat­ed like the mu­sic stinger for win­ning a match. You will end up re­mem­ber­ing some of the sound­track, but that will be down to raw rep­e­ti­tion rather than mem­o­ra­bil­i­ty. It’s not ter­ri­ble, and it serves the game well enough, but it just isn’t quite as evoca­tive as the themes from the pre­vi­ous titles.

Despite these short­com­ings Ratchet: Deadlocked is by no means a bad game. Its strongest points are the weapon and up­grade sys­tems, and the tight­ness of the com­bat. There is a slight­ly slimmed down ros­ter of base weapons, but all of them are sat­is­fy­ing to use and ef­fec­tive — bar­ring the ter­mi­nal­ly use­less Holoshield Launcher. Why Insomniac kept giv­ing us these anaemic shield launch­ers I will nev­er know, but the rest of the weapons are top-notch.

They can be cus­tomized by a sys­tem of Alpha and Omega (get it?) mods, and each aug­ment and al­ter the func­tion of the weapon in sub­tle to not-so-subtle ways. For in­stance the Napalm Omega mod spreads burn­ing gel every­where and sets en­e­mies on fire which is very use­ful for area of ef­fect com­bat. The Alpha mods add things like ex­tra ca­pac­i­ty, longer range auto-aiming, faster fir­ing, even ex­tra XP, health, and Bolts when en­e­mies are killed. Each weapon un­locks new up­grades as it lev­els up, as well as hav­ing the abil­i­ty to buy mods at ven­dors. Most mods can be used on most weapons, es­pe­cial­ly Alpha mods, which can lead to some in­ter­est­ing se­tups and combinations.

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From right: the Magma Cannon, B6-Obliterator and Dual Vipers

The game also fea­tures co-operative and com­pet­i­tive mul­ti­play­er; you can go through much of the sin­gle play­er with a friend in co-op. The sys­tem is in­ter­est­ing be­cause only one of you can use a weapon at one time so it en­cour­ages di­ver­si­ty in load­outs. Playing it this way made some of the chal­lenges feel a lit­tle bet­ter, and some a lit­tle worse. The mul­ti­play­er was sat­is­fy­ing to play — for what lit­tle I man­aged to play of it. It’s im­pres­sive all these modes were ac­com­mo­dat­ed, but they demon­strate the fragili­ty and tran­sience of on­line modes in some games. When Ratchet & Clank ti­tles fo­cus on pure­ly single-player ex­pe­ri­ences the re­sults tend to be bet­ter (with the ex­cep­tion of the freak­ish­ly good Up Your Arsenal). You can kind of feel the game creak­ing a lit­tle un­der the weight of all these fea­tures this time, but it man­ages to re­tain that core of qual­i­ty and has el­e­ments of its own un­matched in the series.

I think it would be un­kind to call Ratchet: Deadlocked a “failed ex­per­i­ment,” it cer­tain­ly changes things up a bit in the se­ries. It of­fers en­joy­ment if you can put up with a lit­tle rep­e­ti­tion, and it suc­ceeds at what it sets out to do. The game hasn’t aged as well as its con­tem­po­raries, but I still had a blast with it and I didn’t find my­self dis­lik­ing the re­play for this retrospective.

I’ve heard the game be de­rid­ed as the runt of the lit­tler — it cer­tain­ly seems like the most fre­quent­ly for­got­ten Ratchet & Clank game — and I feel that is a lit­tle un­fair. The action/adventure genre has had a lot of de­vel­op­ment in the in­ter­ven­ing years whilst the 3D plat­form­ers have some­what fall­en by the way­side. Perhaps this is why Ratchet: Deadlocked hasn’t stayed quite as fresh, but if you like the Ratchet & Clank se­ries and want a de­cent ac­tion game then you can do much worse than Ratchet: Deadlocked. I wouldn’t call it a clas­sic, but it’s still a wor­thy and in­ter­est­ing en­try in the series.

Favourite Weapon: The Dual Vipers, Rata-tat-tat

Favourite Gadget: Is say­ing the Combots cheating?

Next time we ven­ture into the fu­ture, and lo­cate some Tools of Destruction. 

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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