Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 4: Deadlocked
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.
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.
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.
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.
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