Oh Insomniac Games, if only all developers were as motivated as you. You have delivered a new quality title every single year of the Play Station 3’s life cycle. Let’s count them.
- 2006: Resistance: Fall of Man
- 2007: Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
- 2008: Resistance 2, AND the downloadable Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty
- 2009: Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time
2010 Was the first time in five years the company took a break, but then they made up for that by releasing two full-length games in 2011. This September, we saw the release of Resistance 3, a more than superb capper to a surprisingly unique trilogy of shooters, and now, Ratchet and Clank All 4 One releases along side the already raved-about Batman Arkham City as something more suiting for a younger, more casual audience. A ballsy move to be sure. Can this series’ timeless charm and consistently high quality keep it in the running against such a juggernaut of a contender?
Now I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I love the Ratchet and Clank series. Just about every single entry thus far (save for maybe Deadlocked) has been a perfect combination of platforming, shooting, exploration, wonderfully refreshing writing, memorable characters, and the most unique library of weapons in all of video games, bar none. Likewise for the series’ latest installment, 2009’s A Crack In Time. In fact, I loved that game so much and how well it concluded the R&C Future Trilogy that I would have been perfectly fine with that being the very last game of the series. And as All 4 One begins, it almost sounds like Ratchet himself agrees with me.
It all starts with our Lombax hero and his diminutive robot partner Clank confessing their retirement from the hero business, leaving matters concerning the still-at-large Dr. Nefarious in the hands of Solana Galaxy’s newly elected president. Unfortunately, said president happens to be our very own inept super hero, Copernicus Quark (don’t ask how he got elected, I really couldn’t tell you), and wouldn’t you know it, it doesn’t take long for him to botcher things up and lead himself, our long time heroes, and their greatest adversary, all to get captured, dragged to a galaxy far from anywhere any of them have ever been, surrounded by creatures unlike any they have ever witnessed, forced to band together against a force unlike any they have ever… well you get the point.
The first thing people should know about this game is that it is an unusual derail from the original Ratchet and Clank’s single player adventure formula. All 4 One was built from the ground up as a 4-player Co-Op Platformer, and the gameplay is made to take advantage of that new game type. You and one to three friends take on the roles of Ratchet, Clank, Quark, and/or Nefarious to uncover the secrets behind this whole new Galaxy that’s being converted into a breeding ground for giant alien monsters.
After playing through a good chunk of the game myself, I can say that the co-op aspect of this game works very well. Battles and puzzles are made to take advantage of multiple players working together. You can play with others either offline or online, but seeing as entering a game already in process means your partners have to reboot to the most recent previous checkpoint, that can get a little cumbersome, so I didn’t bother much with that. No, this is a party game in the works, and playing with your buddies in the same room is where it’s at. I played with just one of my friends, with another watching on the sidelines, and that alone was a lot of laughs. There is a very simple joy that comes from combining weapon attacks for an extra powerful blast.
The weapons themselves, while nothing new, come in a very wide variety. Among them you have your classic automatic combustor, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, fire ice and electric guns, a highly dedicated miniature assist mecha named Mr. Zurkon, and not to mention the welcomed return of the critter creator (it turns your enemies into pigs. No joke). In addition, each individual character has one unique weapon all their own, though they all seem to be various forms of defense mechanisms. For instance, Ratchet gets a decoy gadget that allows him to drop targets that divert enemy attacks, while Dr. Nefarious has a cloaking devise that will turn him invisible so he can sneak-attack enemies from behind.
Then there is a whole slew of assist gadgets used to help you traverse the vast platforming realms. These include items like the grappling hook used to tether onto fellow players as you swing across chasms, while another one of the more frequent items is the vacuum gun, which will allow you to pick up your partners and
throw them off cliffs to their death launch them across distances normally unreachable.
While I appreciate the franchise for taking risks and trying something new with it’s formula, All 4 One does have some serious missteps that are sure to turn off the more hardcore dedicated fans of the series, first being the weapon upgrade system. In previous games, weapons leveled up with use and experience, whereas in this game, all ammo and power upgrades are collected through purchase. What this means is that players are no longer encouraged to cycle through each of their weapons like they were before. Players can simply spend all their money upgrading one or two of their weapons, and that is all they will ever need.
The second problem is a little more generic. Every aspect of the game seems to be toned down for a younger audience. There are instructions for the simplest of tasks, such as what health boxes look like. Many of the quote/unquote “puzzle sections” are so easy that they are hardly puzzles at all. Then there is the writing. While not bad, and it does have funny moments, when put side-by-side with the series’ edgy, unique, and brilliant origins, the dialogue here feels disappointingly mild.
The best way to sum up All 4 One is that it is the Post-Trilogy-Party Game. A good example would be when Naughty Dog completed their third Crash Bandicoot game on the PS1, then decided to make their fourth game a kart racer, Crash Team Racing. Naughty Dog then went on to follow that same formula with their Jak series on the PS2. To a certain extent, Insomniac attempted this formula on the PS2 as well, following their first three Ratchet and Clank games with Ratchet Deadlocked, an ill-fated response to the rise in popularity of online competitive multiplayer. Is All 4 One as much of a let down as Deadlocked? Not entirely, but it does share a similar stigma of being the slump after a perfectly satisfying climax with their prior installment.
Despite the game’s faults, my friends and I still had a blast with this game. The co-op platforming and shooting sections work like a charm. There are also plenty of additional gameplay types like jet-packing and rail-grinding challenges to break up the monotony and keep the game fresh. The campaign itself is quite lengthy, so there is plenty of content to keep you and your friends busy competing for who can snatch the most bolts for some time.
If you have kids with a PS3 and are looking for a good gift this Christmas, you can’t do much better than All 4 One. If you are a series regular, level your expectations accordingly, grab a friend (or two or three), and take a load off. If you’re new to the Ratchet and Clank franchise, might I suggest opting out of this installment and starting with either Tools of Destruction, or if you have a PS2, go out and find copies of the second and third installments, Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal.
Seriously, do Ratchet and Clank games have the greatest sub-titles or what?