GerbilMechs 162: Declaration of Independence

29Nov05 (Monthenor): So just last week I was thinking that we had been having a rather mild winter so far and then winter was like oh SNAP!

I have recently had the misfortune of playing two sequels of previously great game series, both of which did exactly two things correctly.

Ratchet: Deadlocked has a sickness that is easy to diagnose. It's right there in the title: after three games of "Ratchet & Clank", the new game shoves Clank to the side, along with most of the humor/plot/weapon/world development of those games. We are immediately and unceremoniously removed from the galaxy crafted by the developers and shafted into a lame commentary on reality shows and corporate greed. Hooray!

Maybe I'm just remembering the previous games poorly, but I seem to recall that Ratchet & Clank would land on planets, upon which were goals, but that these goals could be approached in any order and you could explore in and around a bunch of other terrain. Am I wrong? Because that's what I was expecting, and instead the game gives me a selection of missions, each tied to a specific planet but just as easily represented as a file hierarchy. Here is the file IcePlanet->HackingMission->ShortCourse. Here is SpaceStation->Race->Hoverbike. Each mission presents a small, restricted set of terrain suspended in impassible walls/pits, puts you at one end, and yanks you out of the other end as soon as the mission is complete. Is this what platforming has truly become?

I understand what happened, I really do. The developers are trying to crap out a Ratchet game every year for the holiday season, and big worlds take time. I should have seen it coming: Deadlocked is just a greatly expanded version of the Battle Arena sidequests in the last Ratchet & Clank. Somebody saw how easy it was to put together lots of little bite-sized missions in tiny rooms and retooled the game around it.

This tenuous connection with the previous games is all we get, sadly. Only two supporting characters from the last game make a notable appearance, Clank and Al. Ratchet himself is covered in generic badass armor for most of the game, covering his face and completely removing his tail. Did the developers need to save polygons that badly, that they hid our hero's tail? Each other game has detected save files from the game before it and allowed you to buy some of the old weapons...but not this one. I saved an Up Your Arsenal file from last year because I knew it would come in handy. Denied! Even the script lacks the free-flowing humor of the other games, instead presenting an incredibly forced one-note tune about Fox -- sorry, "Vox" -- television.

What did Ratchet: Deadlocked do correctly?

  1. At the very end of the game, after even the credits, there is a small but hilarious cutscene pandering to people who beat the last game. Excellent...but why did we have to wait so long for a connection?
  2. The Landshark. You can purchase different skins for your character if you get bored with Ratchet's generic armor. And you will! The Landshark is a bipedal great white shark wearing superhero tights, which I won't apologize for believing is awesome.

Please please please play the the previous game instead. Ratchet: Deadlocked is a big step backwards for the series.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland was a delightful departure from the story-heavy Tony Hawk Underground games for the first couple of hours. After that period, once all the moves were unlocked, there was a vague sense of dissatisfaction that slowly settled over the whole game. My brother was the first to put it into words: "This's all so damn easy." And it is. Every goal is a cakewalk compared to some of the crazy stuff we had to do in TH 3 and 4. "Grind this rail and make a jump." Done. "Do three fliptricks over this ledge." Done. "Get on top of the building and spraypaint something." Done, already. None of the goals lasted longer than maybe thirty seconds so the frantic pace of the game distracted us for a while, but ultimately there was no challenge.

And then! Then! I was three beers into an evening and absolutely demolishing some peanuts while the game blathered on about some skate park or gang or whatever, and then! I had to complete one goal to gain access to the next section of Story Mode: "Join the Black Widow skate gang". Okay, I thought, I'll just do this and move on to the new city. The Black Widow leader made me do a rather difficult skateboarding task...and by difficult, I mean I had to retry about ten times. Then I had to take on a simple spraypainting task around the city. Finished. Then I had to ride the damn bike and impress somebody with my tricks.

Up until now, over halfway through the game, I had completely ignored the (I believed) optional bike because, hey, Tony Hawk game equals skateboarding. So I fetched the bike and gave myself a crash course in its moves. I did some simple grinds and flips while meandering back to my goal. Figured I could fake it enough to pass the goal and then never use the bike again. When I got to the man I had to impress, I was informed that in fact I would have to first go somewhere else, some undisclosed location to talk to this other guy to go through the bike tutorial. The tutorial! Forced upon me!

At that point I yelled rather loudly, "Do I play Tony Hawk to ride a bike, fuckers?!?", turned the game off, and shoved it into the GameFly return envelope.

I told you above that each game did two things right. What stood out in Tony Hawk's American Wasteland?

  1. Classic Mode: Separate from Story Mode, Classic Mode accurately captures what made Tony Hawk 3 so great. Two minutes, a list of goals, and a few city blocks to play in. This mode is all too short but underscores exactly what sucks about the later TH games.
  2. The graffiti editor. I initially thought that the spraypainting was going to be annoying, but how could I resist a fully-featured graphical editor with layer support and fonts?

That is how I represent, goddamn game!