Insomniac Games' newest Ratchet & Clank title originally began life as a two-player game, but eventually grew into something bigger. Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a PlayStation 3 action-adventure that rewards cooperation, but also encourages griefing your teammates.
That team is a motley crew of friends and enemies. In All 4 One, series mainstays Ratchet and Clank will, of course, be playable. That was the original goal - let Ratchet and Clank fans take control of both. They were then joined by heroic comic relief Captain Qwark and perennial villain Dr Nefarious. The quartet has been brought together - kidnapped - by the Creature Collector, a vast interstellar machine and transported to the Planet Magnus.
To escape, they must work together. Insomniac Games plans to play up the internal tension between the characters at every opportunity. The studio's Chad Dezern says that despite Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One's cute exterior, "there's a bit of spite and mean-spirited-ness as you're playing through it."
We watched four Insomniacs play through a portion of All 4 One, working together to traverse platforms - occasionally playfully tossing each other into bottomless pits - and fight a big boss named Commander Spog. He sent Ratchet, Clank, Qwark and Nefarious into an incinerator via moving platform at one point. The group was forced to dodge jets of steam and maintain the balance of that platform by shifting their collective weight from side to side.
The group also worked together to traverse floating platforms by using a tool known as the Vac-U. Each player was equipped with the vacuuming gadget which could suck up a partner, then launch him across gaps. The launchers could attach to the launchees with an energy whip, pulling themselves to the other side, completing the cooperative platform jumping.
The Vac-U can also launch teammates into the air for a Mario-like stomp. It's a tool that you'll use extensively, but just one of several gadgets that you'll use to overcome obstacles, Insomniac says.
Another is the Boltergeist, an energy creature that players can pass back and forth, launching it at unpowered machines to switch them on.
Players must cooperate in battles and boss fights. We watched as Insomniac took down a group of laser turrets by causing diversions, flanking those guns from the side, with another player whacking those machines into nothing but collectable gears.
We were shown a boss battle that required the use of the Vac-U to launch partners onto switches that couldn't be reached by jumping onto them alone. The vacuuming gadget was also used to pick up bombs and launch them at a giant robot, which eventually died in a shower of gears.
Sometimes the team-based play is nothing more than standing on a quartet of switches or turning a big crank with four handles.
A few of these cooperative actions caused numbers to appear on the screen, granting a player +10 or +15 points. Insomniac says those points, which appear to be either experience points or some sort of spendable currency, will "incentivise coop play", but it ties into some gameplay feature the developer wouldn't talk about yet.
The developer is Insomniac Games' relatively young North Carolina studio, but many of the people at that studio have worked on each and every Ratchet & Clank title to date. All 4 One is being penned by series head writer T.J. Fixman and the developers there work closely with the original Burbank studio. So expect it to be a Ratchet & Clank game, only one you can share with a friend or family.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is planned for release in late 2011 on the PlayStation 3.