Insomniac Studios has done an excellent job over the last few years with the Ratchet & Clank series. Not only did they create a fantastic must-play franchise out of what could have been a boring me-too character game, they've topped themselves with each sequel. Keeping that same high level of quality going couldn't have been easy, and my hat is off to them for what they've accomplished. In fact, I almost feel guilty for writing this review. But, even the mightiest developer needs to slow down from the breakneck pace of game making once in awhile, and that's basically what I see Ratchet: Deadlocked as—Insomniac taking a break.
More like a gaiden (side-story) or a quickie mission pack, Ratchet: Deadlocked has the same cast of characters and the same basic structure, but feels little like the three games that came before it. Most of the platforming and adventure elements have been stripped out, and what remains is straightforward shooting action with a few vehicle levels thrown in for variety.
Fans of collecting big-barreled firearms will not be disappointed with the upgrade and modification system present in Deadlocked. Powerups can be mixed and matched between weapons to customize a favorite gun with more ammo, a faster rate of fire, or secondary damage effects like spawning pools of lava or wild storms of electricity. After beating the game, even more options open up.
It's true that nobody does third-person shooting and crazy weapon variety the way that Ratchet & Clank do it, but there was more to the success of their games than that, and it shows in Deadlocked. The story is bare-bones, what little platforming there is feels rough and not as effortless as it has in the past, and perennial favorite Clank has been kept strictly to the cutscenes. The voice samples from the announcers repeat far too often, and the interesting gadgets that used to play a significant role are now treated as afterthoughts. Annoyingly, each level ends with an abrupt stop at the exact second I achieve my objective—not only was this jarring, it felt representative of the whole experience, rushing me along before I noticed there was nothing left to see.
Everywhere besides the weaponry, it feels like corners have been cut and shortcuts have been taken. Even the actual shooting itself feels under par since Deadlocked tends to throw large groups of enemies into the mix instead of the carefully designed layouts of previous games that encouraged strategic choices when choosing guns to maximize damage. I flew through the game in two days, and when all was said and done I could barely remember anything about it besides pulling the trigger at full speed to hold back wave after wave of enemies. It's true that some levels sprinkle a little spice by limiting weapon selection or adding certain rules to the fights, but it was never very engaging or interesting. Also, I definitely give kudos to Insomniac for including the ability to play co-op out of the box (even though splitscreen bites) but there's just so little to the experience that even co-op couldn't save Ratchet: Deadlocked from feeling like half a game.
I have no problem with developers wanting to capitalize on assets and concepts that have already proven themselves to be golden. I don't need people to completely reinvent the wheel every time they want to put out a new game. Insomniac has put an incredible amount of effort into this series, and they deserve to cash in a little bit. However, in all fairness, Ratchet: Deadlocked should have been put out at a bargain price (around $20 sounds right) and labeled as an add-on or mission pack instead of positioned as a full-priced title. Deadlocked just doesn't cut it as the next addition to a premier series, and I can't see the content offered justifying a $40 investment—the disc is more like an inflated business transaction than a real sequel.
Disclaimer: This review does not take online play into account.