It's pretty evident from the title that Ratchet has ventured himself into a completely new style of gameplay. Say goodbye to Clank, say goodbye to platforming, say goodbye to non-repetitive gameplay. Go on, say goodbye, because none of this is in his latest outing, Ratchet: Gladiator, a rather unanticipated change for the series that'll leave fans somewhat confused with the final result.
Insomniac Games have usually done a fairly decent job with the Ratchet series, turning what appears to be a child's game at heart, into a game that appeals to a broader audience, partly due to it's fascinating gameplay and equally fascinating characters. While the same can be said for Ratchet: Gladiator, a lot of the treasured possessions of the success of the series has been stripped and reworked producing a game that while still looks like your typical Ratchet title, ends with a result that doesn't feel quite as good.
The forth installment in the series picks up shortly after where Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal left off. The gang is basking in the glory of their last victory knowing that everything in the universe is once again safe, until they're suddenly captured by the corporate tycoon Gleeman Vox (a small parody of Fox). Ratchet is later forced to fight for his and his friends' lives by becoming a contestant on the Vox intergalactic reality show called 'Dreadzone', of which pits captured heroes/heroines across the galaxy to fight against one another. Insomniac Games have never been prized for their excellent stories, and the same can be said for Ratchet: Gladiator. The game sees no tie-ins with previous Ratchet titles, and the premises of the game sounds all too corny, but Insomniac have managed to turn what could've been a rather dry story into an entertaining, comedic outing that captures the series perfectly.
At this point, gamers play as Ratchet as he goes from various battle arenas and planets to gain top position in the Dreadzone reality show. As shown from the game's title, Clank plays a very little role in the final game, left rolling out tips throughout the game. Instead, Ratchet takes to the field with two combat bots that accompany him throughout his battles and deaths. Aside from being your backup during battle, they can be issued with commands with your D-Pad. These orders include tossing grenades at enemies, shielding allies, placing destructive bombs on structures or hacking into areas Ratchet cannot access. Although the bots can die rather quickly, they can be revived at any point during the game and as often as you seem fit. Gamers can also customise their bots over the course of the game by buying them new suits and equipment.
Ratchet: Gladiator is primary an action title that has gamers performing a number of arena mini-games and death matches to progress from one arena to the next. Any trace of platforming that was left in the series has now been stripped from the experience, and is now substituted with a rather dry and repetitive set of mini-games, in which it seems almost every mission's objective is to destroy pretty much everything in sight. Each arena is broken up into several mini-missions that'll have Ratchet and crew infiltrating certain areas, destroying buildings or simply destroying a certain number of enemies in a set time. By closing of the game's platforming areas, we are left with a game that features closed off levels where the action quickly becomes repetitive, as it seems all you're doing is shooting. The game is unbelievable linear, offering gamers with little freedom of what they can and cannot do.
The series has often been profound for it's selection of arsenal and has often become the experimental area of the series - having the chance to choose the perfect weapon for your needs. This time round, Ratchet: Gladiator cuts down the arsenal to ten weapons. To justify this shortcoming, however, each weapon can be upgraded by equipping different mods to them. The Alpha mods are the RPG powers of each of your weapons. As you use your weapon you'll slowly gain experience, like previously, and will gain levels for that weapon. As you gain a level your weapon will acquire new Alpha mods that beef up that weapon's attributes, such as ammo capacity, strength of fire etc. The second set of mods are the Omega mods. These sort of make up for the lack of weaponry, as these act as an add-on for your weapons. These include freeze effects, or even a morphing mod that'll transform enemies into cute animals. The only downside to the Omega mods, however, is that it introduces a few balancing problems. For instances, you can take the most weakest weapon, add an Omega mod and have the most powerful weapon available, which leaves the game unbearably easy.
The game introduces a number of vehicles that play a roll in some of the game's missions. For instance, gamers will use a hoverbike to run through rings under time constraints, while on other occasions you'll use this bike to partake in a 'Return of the Jedi'-like speed bike elimination mission against enemies. There is also a cool spider-like machine called the landstalker, which acts as a juggernaut capable of taking out large enemies via its impressive weaponry. Thankfully, all these vehicles are useable during multiplayer, and while they can often be unbalance, they can be enthralling at times.
The game includes eleven different arenas, including ten unique planets and the Dreadzone battle arena. Jumping into each new level gamers will find themselves watching some fantastic, entertaining cut-scenes acting as an introduction to each level and/or each new boss battle you come up against. Aside from your linear missions that drive you from planet to planet, each level includes a number of additional optional missions, as well as acquiring skill points in each level. The additional missions usually consist of running through certain areas with time limits, while the skill points act as secondary tasks that need to be done during missions. For example, you'll acquire one skill point for shooting 20 consecutive enemies just with your pistols, while another maybe shooting down five floating TV cameras. Each level consists of 15 of these skill points. And while some of them are fairly easy to obtain, others will leave gamers hitting the levels again trying to achieve every last one. These skill points act towards unlocking additional items such as new outfits for Ratchet, as well as new weather effects in each level. Aside from you typical 8hr play through, the game offers a very lengthy additional playtime that'll have gamers trying to unlock all the extras, and replaying the game in the challenge mode and acquiring new and powerful weapons.
Unfortunately though, the game is unbelievably easy. There are four different difficulty settings, and even on the hardest difficulty avid Ratchet fans should have no trouble completing each of the missions on this setting, which is a tad disappointing and provides gamers with little motivation to replay the game a second time or complete all of the additional missions. Thankfully, the game features a surprisingly solid multiplayer experience. The game features a Co-op where two players can take on any of the single players missions together, with the expense of losing your combat bots. The two gamers will share the weapons (meaning no weapon can be equipped by both players at the same time) and combat enemies together in a rather exciting experience and a welcomed addition to the series. The game features, once again, additional online and offline multiplayer options. These include all the modes from previously, as well as new modes such as King of the Hill and Juggernaut. Juggernaut has one player being extremely overpowered while all other players must take this character down anyway they can. There are eleven different maps taken from the single-player mode, allowing up to ten players in each match.
Graphically, Ratchet: Gladiator retains the style the series is notorious for. Fantastic use of colour, great use of effects and each of the levels are nicely detailed. The game runs quite smoothly considering the amount of carnage made throughout the game, which is only ruined by slight drops in the framerate from time to time. The music in the game isn't anything compelling, but the tunes do a decent job of creating a rather fulfilling experience. Two quirky announcers, who offer a nice mixture of comedy about Ratchet and other entertaining aspects, narrate each level. Surprisingly though, they don't seem to ever get too repetitive or annoying throughout the game, but rather, offer a nice breath of fresh air.
From what use to be a rather fun and enjoyable platformer/action series has now turned into primary an action title full of repetitive gameplay sequences that grow tiresome quickly. The game has turned a lot of its focus on multiplayer, stripping a lot of the fun from the single player mode and producing a rather repetitive, short and easy experience. In the end, we are left with a rather tedious title that falls too short of expectations.