I admit, I didn't expect much of Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One. Yes, I love the series, and I actually liked Ratchet: Deadlocked (the previous multiplayer-centric game in the series), but something about All 4 One turned me off. I'm not sure if it was the different, fixed perspective or my own perception that the reliance on co-op play would handicap the singleplayer experience, but I was worried. After only a few hours with the online multiplayer beta, I can honestly say my expectations have been quite positively altered.
The beta contains two levels, the first of which starts off simply enough, by explaining how to jump, attack, and defend yourself. As the level progresses, you're also introduced to the new game mechanics you'll be using, mostly focusing on your co-op moves and the subtle benefits of teamwork. This continues into the second level where you learn more moves and get more weapons for your arsenal. Ratchet, Clank, Quark, and Nefarious are all going to be throwing one another, swing-shotting together, healing each other, killing enemies in unison, and competing for bolts and bonuses throughout the levels to determine who was the best team player. Like most co-op games, it's got competitive elements as well as cooperative elements, so it's a nice balance. It's all very basic Ratchet and Clank fare, but I'm kind of surprised at how well the game incorporates the new mechanics without shoving your face into it.
I also noticed that the emphasis on teamwork and puzzle solving helped to return the game to its platforming roots. Sure, there's still that frenetic mayhem that the series is known for and crazy gunfights to boot, but I spent as much time figuring out how to get doodad B into slot 1, which I felt was a nice way to even out the pace. The puzzle and co-op sections aren't challenging, at least not in the beta, but they're still well done and they flow together seamlessly without seeming like a gimmick. It works really well, but the camera is still kind of unnerving. With the camera on a rail instead of being controlled by the player, it doesn't exactly lend itself well to the shooting elements you're used to, but it does free up the right analog stick to chose from your weapon wheel! There is no strafe-lock, nor is there first person mode, but your colored cursor will appear around an enemy and you will shoot that without fail, allowing you to jump and dodge while still aiming. It works well but it's also really confusing, especially when you have three or four players on screen, with their various cursors and fire crossing one another constantly.
All 4 One is all about the Co-Op, and since a lot of people are likely to be playing online, it's nice to know that the lobby interface is simple and effective. You can join a game, or you can create your own lobby and erect your own filters to decide who plays and who doesn't, much like other online shooters. While making lobbies and finding lobbies was easy, joining games seemed to be based on luck. Sometimes the game would sit there for ten minutes trying to load a level or join up, and when someone else tried to join my game, there was a small chance the game would get stuck at the loading screen, but once all the players were there and playing, there were no issues. The game played with no lag and the action never slowed or glitched in the hours I played, just be patient. Then again, it is a beta, so I think there's a good chance that will be fixed or at least streamlined by the time the actual release happens.
But if you're not into playing Co-op (perhaps you dislike laying online or you don't have a good internet connection), don't worry, you can play alone as well. You still need to do all the same co-op tasks you would while playing with a friend, so Clank jumps off your back to help with any co-op action that's needed to be done. The beta levels didn't have any puzzles that couldn't be solved by 2 people, so it worked but lacked that charm that came from 2-4 player. Either way, the game supports any combination of 1-4 players, local or online.
To get through the two levels, it took me about two hours, including the time taken to find or make a lobby and mess around with the settings, so that's not bad for a beta. There was practically nothing in the way of story so I can't speak much about the plot of the game, but it's looking to be better than I originally expected. The gameplay took some getting used to but didn't take long to adjust, and the perspective worked better than I expected. As far as I can tell, it's shaping up to be a legitimate Ratchet and Clank game that just happens to have a heavy co-op element to it, so if you're into the series, you have something to look forward to come this October.