Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One Review
One stellar franchise has always allowed us to relax and smile. It’s challenging without being frustrating and colorful without being kiddy. It’s genuinely humorous and often highly creative and inventive. It’s Ratchet & Clank and we’ve already seen several top-notch iterations in the PS3 generation; they’re all worthy adventures and great fun for all ages. But I have to say, despite a solid attempt at cooperative entertainment, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One seems to sacrifice a few too many elements for the sake of the multiplayer boom.
The graphics are about what you’d expect: vibrant with plenty of clean, pleasing special effects and effective backgrounds. As I’ll talk about later, many of the set pieces are fantastic, and the team always excels when it comes to creativity and variety. However, one of the biggest sacrifices Insomniac was forced to make involves the graphics: clearly, they had to scale them back in order to support the co-op concept; this visual presentation is vintage Ratchet, but it just doesn’t have the same refinement and flair as the single-player-oriented title, A Crack in Time.
The audio has always been great in these games and with the exception of a few less-than-invigorating pieces of music, All 4 One comes through in fine shape. The voice performances are great and you never get tired of the wisecracking and wry one-liners. Having many of the main characters from the franchise involved is a bonus in this respect. The soundtrack isn’t bad; it just doesn’t seem to have the same sort of impact I remember from past iterations. And as humorous as some of the dialogue is, too many lines are repeated too often.
This team-based adventure features the ol’ duo, Ratchet and Clank, who are always enjoyable. They’re joined by two unlikely allies: Captain Quark and the evil Dr. Nefarious…how could Ratchet’s arch-enemy become a friend, you ask? Well, partly so Insomniac could give us four characters for four-player co-op fun, and partly because…well, we’re not entirely sure. Whatever, they’re all funny. Quark has been elected president for some bizarre reason, and you just have to laugh at his self-congratulatory, over-the-top false bravado.
As for the gameplay, it’s the standard combination of third-person shooting, platforming, and puzzle-solving, the latter being more entertaining when playing with friends (more on that in a minute). The biggest problem I have with the game involves that shooting mechanic: in past entries, you have full control; you can aim manually or use a lock-on feature. In this game, the developers took a slightly different approach to allow for a more accessible style that supports multiple players. It works but only to a certain extent.
Firstly, the camera sits above the action at all times, and the right analog stick selects your weapon. Then you just utilize the lock-on feature; it’s your only option. Unfortunately, this auto-lock-on element doesn’t always pick out the best targets, so you’re frequently switching around and asking yourself, “why would I want to target that first?” The AI isn’t bad, as they will often fire at the same target you’ve got in your crosshairs – thereby resulting in the filling of a special meter that deals more damage – but this isn’t refined enough, either.
The purpose of all teammates aiming at the same target is obvious; Insomniac wanted to encourage cooperative teamwork. I understand that. But this also results in a rinse-and-repeat scenario where you and your friends approach the same enemies in the exact same way. And while we’re on the subject of drawbacks, I have to mention the new upgrade system. Before, we’d just keep using a certain weapon and it’d get more powerful. But now, you use bolts you’ve collected to upgrade your guns, which seems perfectly logical, but it doesn’t encourage the same kind of experimentation.
That all being said, the weapons are still a joy. Insomniac makes the best weapons for their games; R&C and Resistance have the most creative, diverse and effective weapon inventories, and All 4 One is no exception. You just gotta love these crazy firearms, some of which are devices Dr. Seuss couldn’t have imagined on his best day. And there are so many of them! Although the new upgrade system doesn’t force you to keep switching back and forth to power up each weapon, you still want to use ‘em all.
The rest of the gameplay is fine. There’s solid, reliable control behind the platforming and despite the fixed camera that can be problematic (again, a result of the new multiplayer angle), this quest is accessible. Plus, the creativity doesn’t end with the weapons; there are some tremendous set pieces that see your heroes dealing with all sorts of obstacles, and that includes saw blades, giant robots, and jetpack sequences that add nice flavor to the package. The designers really keep you into the game by delivering a fair amount of variety and diversity.
As you might expect, although you can play by yourself, playing with others is preferable. The camera gets even more annoying when you do, though, and as mentioned above, the new targeting and upgrade systems make the gameplay feel more erratic and restrictive. Many of the puzzles are well-designed, the various gameplay sequences (many of which include vehicles) offer an appreciated change of pace, and there’s always plenty to see and do. But this overall shift and scaling back for the sake of multiplayer…I dunno, I’m just not feeling it as much.
The Good: Humorous, charming atmosphere. Plenty of creativity and variety. Co-op gameplay is fun. Several puzzles are very well designed. Animations are fluid and control is solid.
The Bad: Scaled-back graphics. Camera and lock-on problems. Shooting mechanic feels bland. New elements feel more like sacrifices.
The Ugly: “Stop trying to lock on to that enemy!”
10/24/2011 Ben Dutka