Insomniac had a choice with Ratchet & Clank: stick with the tried and tested formula that we’ve seen in the previous games and aim to better A Crack In Time, or choose to take the series in a new direction – pleasing those that had become tired of the blend of third person platformer, shooter and adventure yet taking a big risk with the possibility of losing Ratchet’s appeal. As you should already know, Insomniac chose the latter approach, with the third full PS3 instalment being a more linear, enjoyable co-op experience as opposed to another interplanetary solo journey.
All 4 One is all about change; rather than being a game with new improvements on an old formula, it’s different approach to what we’ve seen before in a Ratchet game. Not that it doesn’t have any new features; it tries a lot of new things, though most of these mechanics are sadly in exchange for some great old ones.
Perhaps the biggest new feature is the reason behind that big four in the title: four player co-op, playable both offline and online. All 4 One is based around the idea that shooting enemies, solving puzzles and platforming with your friends is a lot of fun – and it is. You’re given a choice of four character’s from the Ratchet & Clank Universe: the titular duo themselves, along with the idiotic Captain Qwark – now oddly Galactic President – and Doctor Nefarious, a former antagonist forced to tag along to defeat the bigger threat at hand; the Creature Collector.
All of the characters are balanced, and they’re all quite similar – although each has their own version of the melee attack to use and a unique weapon to buy.[drop]When it all comes together, it’s marvellous; as well as working together to complete each level, each character competes to earn the most bolts, kills and points, with scores and a winner displayed at the end – this adds a competitive edge to the game and when you’re saving your bolts up for a new weapon, things can get hectic. You’ll only ever need two characters at a time (though having four certainly helps with disposing of enemies and also ups the entertainment), so there’s no need to worry about getting stuck if you can’t gather three friends for a game.
And if you want to play the game on your own? Then that’s not a problem: you’re still able to play solo and it still plays like a Ratchet & Clank game should (bar the lack of camera movement) – the main difference is that Clank has finally decided to be more than a backpack and he’ll jump off your character’s back and help you dispose of enemies or complete a co-operative section (if you’re playing as Clank, however, Captain Qwark will bizarrely shape himself into a backpack for you). It’s all quite fine to play until the AI decides that it doesn’t want to play nice; this has happened several times when I was playing.
The biggest problem with All 4 One, however, is that it feels like a stripped-down Ratchet & Clank game, with many features changed to fit in with the co-op approach or missing entirely. There’s a big change in the way the levels are handled – you won’t get to travel through space, to different planets, as you could in A Crack in Time; it’s a much more linear affair along a driven path. Also gone is the ability to aim and move the camera with the right stick – that’s the weapon wheel instead now; it makes sense but it makes it quite difficult to change targets. It all feels like a step backwards for the series, sadly.
Some of the new features are actually quite great whilst others fail to meet the mark. The sidescrolling sections, for example, are a lot of fun and a refreshing change of pace, yet when these sections are coupled with jetpacks and obstacles, it drags on for too long and gets boring quickly. Ratchet and friends can collect Critters, which unlock puzzles involving getting these creatures to the end of the level by modifying pipes; these are good fun but are few and far between, with only six in total. You’ll also be able to collect bigger bolts – Hero Bolts – which unlock extra skins for your character.
Superb weapons have always been a massive part of Ratchet & Clank’s appeal, and All 4 One hasn’t changed any of that – there’s still an expansive arsenal for the gang to play with. Melee weapons make a welcome return after their absence in the previous game and amongst all-new weapons there’s some new modifications of old favourites, too – a revamped rocket launcher dubbed the Warmonger, the hilarious Mr. Zurkon and, yes, the series staple that is the RYNO is back and better than ever. New weapons are great, including the Omegatech Frost Cannon – a weapon that freezes foes similar to Resistance’s Cryogun – and the Thundersmack which releases a thunder cloud that constantly zaps the enemy.
The way the weapons combine is excellent – if two or more players fire the same weapon, it will gain an exponentially faster rate of fire and culminate in a large, explosion dubbed an Overload; the Thundersmack will even turn into a storm and the Frost Cannon will freeze enemies in close proximity. A notable absence in the weapon roster, however, is the Groovitron – you won’t be able to make your foes dance whilst you destroy them. Each character has their own weapon, too – Ratchet can fire a dummy target; Clank can slow down enemies; Qwark has a reflective bubble shield and Nefarious has a cloaking device for sneak attacks.
Unfortunately, leveling up weapons is gone and instead you can only buy upgrades with bolts – each weapon has an ammo upgrade, a power upgrade and an elite upgrade, which improves it completely. Instead of your weapons getting stronger as you use them, your character levels up as you play, getting more bolts as he progresses through the levels, yet nothing else; health will always stay the same. The lack of weapon levels leaves little reason to be diverse with your arsenal instead of just using your favourite.[drop2]The team have gadgets to help them get past certain obstacles throughout the game – the Swingshot returns, renamed as the Hookshot: this grapple allows you to swing on things with the triangle button and makes the platforming even better. Of all the new gadget additions, including a pneumatic drill, a reflective shield and an item that fires purple goo, the biggest addition is the Vac-U – a new device which sucks in bolts, allows you to throw your partners across big gaps and activate switches.
Even with Insomniac aiming to avoid repeating themselves with this new direction, it’s quite a repetitive game itself – dialogue isn’t the only thing that’s constantly repeated, with hordes of enemies being thrown at you near the end of the game. The bosses, too, whilst fantastic to fight against co-operatively, mostly have the same approach: fire at the boss, whilst dodging his attacks and then deactivating his shields if needed – the ones that change this formula are very welcoming and rather enjoyable for it.
Oh, and there’s a story in between all of this shooting and platforming. It isn’t very clever and the way it’s told pales in comparison to the excellence of A Crack in Time and Tools of Destruction before it. The fact is that if you don’t have a four character team at all times, then the story feels disjointed and it’s a mess; even if you’re only playing with Ratchet and Clank, Qwark and Nefarious will still show up in the cutscenes and make comments about their journey – a journey they inexplicably disappear from when it’s time to actually play the game. It’s really handled poorly, even though the bond between the characters, prominently between Nefarious and Qwark does save it somewhat.
As for visuals, the game is an interesting one. I don’t think it looks as good as Tools of Destruction, a five year old game, in some respects – the game’s style opts for a more animated approach, with a vibrant colour palette across many environments, which looks great, yet it’s all somewhat low-res; the game can be very blurry and out of focus at points. It’s just not nice to look at sometimes, yet fantastic at others, with great lighting at one particular moment and fantastic snow effects at another. And the sound design? Well, it’s definitely there; it’s nothing special but it has been worked on and it shows.
- A bold new direction with some well-realised ideas
- Brilliant fun co-operatively
- Weapons are as awesome as ever
- Some of the visuals, the lighting in particular, stand out
- Brilliant sections unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Ratchet & Clank game
- Online and offline co-op works smoothly
- Most of the features have been done before – and better – in the other games in the series
- Ends up getting quite repetitive
- Interplanetary travel is gone and it’s very linear
- Some of the new features don’t work and some great ones are missing
- Story is pushed aside and doesn’t blend with the game itself
- Some graphics aren’t nice to look at and it all seems quite low resolution
The truth is that All 4 One is missing a lot of stuff that it could have – that it should have – there’s no arena, for example, which would have been incredible in co-op. But, yes, most of that can be pushed aside because it’s such a different approach to what a Ratchet & Clank game usually is. Some people might not like that – I know I didn’t at first – but you’ve got to give it to Insomniac for managing to make a good game, albeit nowhere near as good as A Crack in Time, with this much focus on co-operative play.
The weapons are still awesome and it’s a very big adventure; it’s easy to overlook some of the missing features when it’s this much fun and it’ll keep you coming back again and again for more.
And I say some because I don’t think it’s possible to forgive the lack of the Groovitron.