Outside of the more tactically minded shooters, "co-op" is fast becoming one of the most abused terms in gaming. Lots of games boast about it but few offer a genuinely co-operative experience. Sticking two players in a gameworld and occasionally asking them to press buttons at the same time to open a door shouldn't really count.
For the latest Ratchet and Clank game, the tenth in the series, Insomniac is hoping to put things right. As the name clumsily suggests, it's a game designed especially for four players.
The concept is that one of Dr Nefarious' latest gadget-fuelled attempts to defeat Ratchet and Clank has gone spectacularly awry, resulting in Nefarious, Ratchet, Clank and hapless cowardly superhero Captain Qwark being snatched up by something called the Creature Collector. In the tradition of everything from The Defiant Ones to Enemy Mine, former enemies must work together to escape a common foe.
The game is playable in a drop-in and drop-out online mode or as a single screen local affair. The switch to co-operative play has meant that the third person viewpoint of old has been swapped for a more overhead camera. It's appropriate, really, since one of the game's many touchstones would appear to be Gauntlet - that early pioneer of four-way action gaming.
Octonok Village is the stage chosen for our demo, taking the quarrelling quartet through a seaside location and culminating in an impressive boss battle against a gigantic octopod creature.
It's a frantic mixture of combat, resource collection and mild puzzle solving that should be instantly accessible to most. There doesn't seem to be any particular advantage in playing as one character over another, so success depends on skill rather than being the first to bagsy the favourites.
Co-operation at its most basic can be found at level checkpoints, where all players have to tag in for the game to proceed, but Insomniac's love of wild weaponry ensures that there's more to it than that.
The weapon wheel will be familiar from previous Ratchet games, but now you have four players unleashing mayhem. Of the weapons available for our short playthrough, each has immediately obvious co-op benefits.
At the more obvious end of the scale is the Warmonger, a beefy rocket launcher with devastating power. More intriguing is the Thundersmack, which creates lightning clouds that automatically start zapping nearby enemies. All weapon use is cumulative, so if everyone starts using the Thundersmack, you can build up an enormous black cloud capable of delivering massive shocks across the screen.
For those who prefer a support role there's the Arclasher, a whip-style gizmo that can be used to pin enemies in place so that your team mates can go to work on them.
One notable example of how these weapons can work in combination comes when you need to power up a generator to open a pathway to the next area. Slug-like Slorgs are slithering around, and can be electrified and then corralled into a receptacle to supply the required power. Grabbing, frying and shoving – when all four players are working to a common goal, it's a truly co-operative experience.
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