The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been one of the longest-running Playstation-exclusive series, with several entries on the PS2, PSP, and PS3. Last years’ entry, All 4 One, took the basic gameplay the series was known for and tweaked it to incorporate four-player co-op, receiving a mixed reaction from fans and critics due to its divergence from more traditional games in the series. Now, to celebrate the famous pair’s 10th anniversary, Insomniac Games has released Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault.
You may have noticed that press releases have described the series’ creators’ latest offering as a return to the standard gameplay players are used to, but that isn’t completely true. The reality is that the game is much shorter than other series entries (hence the cheaper $20 price tag), and that it also throws a twist into the gameplay in the form of a tower defense-styled mechanic. The result is a fun game, but also one that feels much more limited in scope and depth than many would hope for.
Taking place shortly after All 4 One, this iteration sees the titular heroes cruising the galaxy with their longtime buffoonish ally Captain Qwark, who has lost the Galactic President title he held in the last game, and complains of the boredom he faces without evildoers to fight. Luckily for him, a masked villain contacts the trio and announces his scheme of commandeering various defense bases on nearby planets. The trio immediately scrambles into action and speeds its ship to various planets, creating small bases of operations on each one and setting out to take out enemy troops, which will help them reclaim the taken outposts.
One of the series’ trademarks has always been a distinct sense of humor and personality, and while that’s still present in Full Frontal Assault, it’s also greatly reduced as a whole. While the previous games generally had several cutscenes for each level as the characters met various NPCs, there are only enemy drones to be found in these levels, and it’s possible to go through more than one stage without a cutscene after the initial plot is set up. Fortunately, what is there does work, and there’s even a bit of a new feature in how your character of choice will spout certain lines depending on their current situation.
The basic controls are similar to classic Ratchet & Clank games, making use of light platforming and a lot of third-person shooting, which is heavy on strafing left and right. Our heroes’ beloved arsenal of outlandish weapons now offers a mix of a few new gadgets and several rehashed weapons from the previous games, such as the destructive AI-controlled robot Mr. Zurkon, who continues to unleash funny quips dealing with the death and destruction he plans to dole out.
This time around, the world structure and level layouts are dramatically different. While the levels in previous Ratchet games were generally linear and straightforward, the maps here offer more branching paths to explore and more open environments to deal with. This is due to the way basic level goals are set out. You start out at your base and have to find enemy nodes, take out the troops protecting them, destroy the generators blocking the entrances, and then reclaim and reactivate each one to beat a level. The catch comes in the fact that enemies will frequently be trying to pull similar attacks on your own base.
Expectedly, the series’ trademark bolt currency returns, and is both strewn across the landscape and obtained by defeating enemies, but the in-game money isn’t used to purchase weapons and ammo this time. Instead, bolts are spent on buying defensive items for your base. These include barriers to temporarily prevent enemies from entering, various proximity mines, and defense turrets that provide a steady offense until destroyed. Your main concern is the six generators powering your base. Enemy hordes will try to take them out, and if all six are destroyed, it’s game over.
Instead of buying weapons at a single vendor, you’ll find them in mechanical pods scattered throughout each level. Running up to each pod and pressing the Triangle button activates a brief timing-based minigame where you try to wait for the right moment to press the X button when a cursor falls within a certain range on a line. The better your timing, the more bonus bolts you’ll earn, as well as more choices for the weapon you end up receiving from the pod. Though this system generally works well, I did find that the pods were sometimes hidden too well, which led to frustration.
Though the game starts to ramp up significantly in difficulty by the third level, it has a generous and frequent checkpoint system, which is activated every time you take back a node or destroy a wave of invaders. If you want to make things easier, two players can tackle the story together, but the co-op is not mandatory like it was in All 4 One. In fact, the game works perfectly fine as a solo experience.
The main problem with the campaign is that things feel too brief and condensed overall. There are only five levels, plus limited exploration, and while some elements such as leveling up weapons are thankfully kept, there aren’t any secondary aspects or mini-games. What’s there is perfectly serviceable and good fun at points, but one expects a meatier experience from a console Ratchet & Clank game.
The series continues to offer lush, detailed, and imaginative environments, along with playful and exaggerated character models that are for the most part appealing, though Ratchet’s off-putting redesign from All 4 One appears again. Additionally, the in-game voice acting and music are quite good. However, despite ultimately providing a more compact experience, you wouldn’t think it looking at the game in motion. There’s no reason to think that Insomniac skimped on nice presentation just because the size of the project was smaller.
Multiplayer is once again a major component here, and while there are some tweaks to differentiate it from the campaign, it works well. The gameplay is divided into a repeating cycle of three phases. The first, Recon, has the two competing players traverse the environment, where they can take over whichever nodes they find first. Those nodes will automatically add bolts to each players’ inentory over time, with the amount for each player dictated by how many nodes they own. Going further, the second phase, Squad, has the player return to their base and not only purchase defenses, but also AI-controlled units that can be sent to attack the opposing base. Lastly, the final phase, Assault, sees the troops sent out, and each player can choose to stay behind and help defend their base or accompany their own troops into battle. The first player to destroy all of the opposing team’s generators wins the match.
Generally speaking, the multiplayer works quite well. It definitely feels less like an afterthought than in previous games, such as Up Your Arsenal for the PS2, and more like All 4 One in that it’s much more of a substantial and essential part of the game. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of any sort of levelling or unlockable perk system, both of which players have come to expect thanks to games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Different player skins do exist, but they have to be purchased as DLC. Thankfully, Sony reps have confirmed that, while future levels and modes will be incorporated at some point, they will be free via patches. It’s nice that the content players must pay extra for is only cosmetic.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is a fun diversion, and those into multiplayer will find even more to enjoy about it. Granted, with that being said, it’s not one of the crowning jewels of the long-running series. Insomniac deserves kudos for doing something new and mostly pulling it off, and it was a smart decision for Sony to make the game much cheaper for purchase. However, as I mentioned above, I was left wanting more content. Still, the game is definitely worth checking out, though you shouldn’t expect as grand an adventure as you’ve had in the past with this beloved duo.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of the game.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is worth checking out, but don't expect as grand an adventure as the series' previous releases offered.