Ratchet: Deadlocked brings the daring duo of Ratchet and Clank back for their fourth game. This time they are shanghaied by malicious media mogul, Gleeman Vox, and Ratchet is forced to participate in an event known as DreadZone — a reality game show where contestants are run through treacherous gauntlets and deadly gladitorial combat — while Clank and their eccentric companion, Al, are kept by the wayside to provide tactical support. Many other heroes have already met their doom within DreadZone’s battle arenas, while others are still being held captive. Now it’s Ratchet’s turn to face the challenges, and Vox Network’s omnipresent cameras are there to broadcast his every step to the trillion eager viewers in the Shadow Sector. With his usual assortment of destructive weaponry, Ratchet is ready to give DreadZone spectators a show they won’t ever forget.

DreadZone is not a pretty event, and Ratchet: Deadlocked manages to capture the gloomy, gritty nature of the sport with its choice of colors and lighting. It’s a marked contrast to the cartoony designs of the characters, but done well to evoke a proper mood for the game. The choice of darker backgrounds also helps to make explosions stand out more, which appealed to my more inhibited, primitive nature (Ooh, shiny). One of the game’s unlockable cheats even makes shiny things shinier.

The overall look of the game, however fitting, did not present anything that particularly stands out as innovative or unique. I managed to tax the PS2’s GPU a number of times by the sheer number of particles, monsters, and bolts I had on the screen at a time. I was struck with a moment of maniacal glee the first time it happened.

The game’s camera left a bit to be desired. Ratchet: Deadlocked is in part a platformer, and for a feeble platform gamer such as myself, I rely heavily on visual cues rather than instinct and reaction. There were several times where the camera followed Ratchet as he jumped into the air, obscuring the landing point from view, and making it difficult for me to judge distance and timing. There were times this was exacerbated by the control scheme (see below).

I was also underwhelmed by the display for the game’s cooperative two-player mode. The view is a split into two windows, skewed a bit to make them a little more easily distinguishable. However, by designing it in this fashion, the viewing area for either character was eye-wrenchingly tiny. There were significant portions of the screen not used in either display, and details were rather difficult to make out. Perhaps the image would be sharper with the game’s support for progressive scan, but I was unable to test that feature.

I tend to judge a game’s music by the extent to which it sticks with me after I’ve finished playing it, and the soundtrack to Ratchet: Deadlocked didn’t leave me humming any of its tunes after I turned the PS2 off. To its credit, I found that the music, mostly heavily synthesized guitars and drums, was quite adequate for setting the mood, and never did it stand out in a dischordant fashion or become frustratingly repetitive.

What I did enjoy was the voice acting, especially throughout the cutscenes. The dialogue was witty and engaging, and the banter between many of the characters was amusing. The in-game banter, most especially the random looped dialogue, eventually became overly repetitive — a fear I normally associate with music — and I began hearing the same one-liners over and over again.

The sound effects were also instrumental in helping to set the proper mood for the game. While the foley effects weren’t much more than weapon fire and destructin, there’s something appealing about having the bass from a chain-reaction explosion creating sizable ripples in my glass of water.

While I may be a poor platform gamer, I do pretty well with action shooters. As such, I found the arena battles and combat of the game pretty simple to get accustomed to. Firing controls and aiming were quite forgiving, especially when weapons could be equiped with modifications that make aiming easier. Shooting and weapon changes could be handled with the shoulder buttons, making it easier to rotate the camera and move the character without thumb-numbing maneuvers.

On the flip side, there were some particular platforming levels that really frustrated me. Most of the time, the platform jumping was a fairly simple task that didn’t require too much effort. However, there were a few times that necessitated me having to rotate the camera with the right analog stick, and quickly press the X button to jump before Ratchet ran into something or plunged to his doom. I can’t count the number of times that I pressed the wrong button in a panic, or I accidentally pressed too hard on the stick, which brought the mini-map up to full display on the screen and completely obscured my view. Jumping onto certain rails was an exercise in precision, while swinging via swingshot sometimes found Ratchet rotating around aimlessly in every direction except the one I wanted to go. This part of the game was certainly not for me.

As the stage was set for the game, I immediately thought of The Running Man, the 1987 movie starring the likes of Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Richard Dawson. The game shares a similar plot, premise, and even specific elements to the movie, so the overall story wasn’t really all that appealing to me. However, it lived up as a game that lets you simply run around blowing lots of stuff up.

Aside from the standard fare of platforming and action shooter games, there are a number of vehicle-based missions available as well, namely in the form of a couple of different timed races and shooting galleries. There are also a large number of skill objectives to satisfy at each planet that can be used to unlock cheats.

What is the most different in this game from its predecessors is a much more modular weapon system. There are still a wide variety of weapons to choose from, but now each one can be fitted with different modifications to vary their effects. First are the Alpha Mods, of which each weapon (except for the wrench) can be outfitted with up to ten, one at each level of the weapon. Basic Alpha Mods include increased firing rates, larger ammo capacity, and improved aiming, while advanced Alpha Mods include increased bolt earning and continual healing. Also available to each weapon is an Omega Mod, a more powerful modification that adds a powerful effect to each shot, including: acid, for continual damage; shock, for an extra area of effect punch; and morph, which can change most enemies into explosive farmyard animals.

Someone could probably speed through the game in less than 20 hours and be done with it, but there really is quite a lot of material to be unlocked for future replay value. There are also a lot of secondary objectives that can be done throughout the game, which can keep a completionist busy for a very long time. There’s also a challenge mode that becomes unlocked once you have beaten the game once. In the challenge mode, more powerful versions of the weapons you had now become available for purchase (similar to the Gold Weapons of previous games), and enemies become stronger. Two-player co-op mode and online multiplayer options expand this value even moreso.