Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault Review
Admittedly, Ratchet & Clank has gone through a bit of an identity crisis lately. Which isn’t to say the games that have strayed from the standard formula have been bad; they've just been different. Granted, they may be subpar in some respects, especially when compared with the cream-of-the-crop R&C titles, but hey, Insomniac is trying something new. …I’m just not sure implementing a strategy mechanic was the fresh take they should’ve adopted. I question that.
Visually, Full Frontal Assault is colorful and solid. As is typically the case with all entries in this venerated series, the production values are quite high. There aren’t any major graphical bugs to worry about, the frame rate is almost always consistent, and the design and detail is something special. The only problem here is that it almost feels like the team must’ve felt a little constricted; they couldn’t produce those large, engaging levels created for platforming/action glory. So in some ways, depending on your view, it almost feels like the latest entry isn’t as technically proficient simply due to its new gameplay style and structure.
Same goes for the audio, by the way. Without a big focus on story, we don’t have nearly as many plot-related segments and as such, fewer lines of dialogue and non-interactive scenes. That seems to be the current trend in the industry today; less non-interactivity and more storytelling in real-time, which can work. But here, there just isn’t much of a story to begin with, and that makes the game feel sort of empty. Those great voices exist; they’re just not heard often enough. The sound effects are nice and crisp and the soundtrack is okay (I’m just a little disappointed with the score), but all in all, the visual and audio components are decent.
First and foremost, this is a multiplayer-oriented adventure with only a brief campaign that can be played solo or with split-screen online or offline co-op. I know, doesn’t sound much like Ratchet & Clank, right? Well, in that respect, it isn’t. And I can understand why the fans might rebel. What’s R&C without that lengthy, engaging, humorous single-player quest? And there’s only one multiplayer mode to keep us entertained, too. But at the same time, one has to take into account the game’s price; it’s only $19.99 so for that budget price, you do get something that could – feasibly – hook you for quite a few entertaining hours.
The competitive multiplayer here is either one-on-one or two-on-two, and the goal is always the same: Take down the six generators in your opponent’s base while trying to keep at least one of yours up and running. There are three phases: You attempt to capture nodes in the first, purchase necessary bonuses in the second, and launch your assault in the third. The first phase is officially known as Recon, where you boost across the area (your rocket-propelled boots are a big help) and defeat node defenders, so you can claim those nodes as your own. This nets you weapons and currency; i.e., those familiar bolts.
The more nodes you have, the more bolts you acquire, and those bolts can in turn be spent on upgrading your base’s defense in the second phase. Strategy aficionados might find the purchase options familiar, as there are turrets and mines to help you repel the enemy attack. The main strategy element is relatively simple and straightforward— You can either spend all your money on upping your defense, trying to ensure that your generators will be very difficult to reach, or if you’d rather take the offensive approach, you can spend bolts on amping up Ratchet’s attack capabilities. Balancing these two concepts is the key to success.
There are a surprising number of tactical choices and the action is always fast and furious. But it almost always comes back to that one decision; i.e., do you hunker down and defend or do you strike out and attempt to secure a quick victory? To me, this makes the experience a little too simplistic for something that’s supposed to be mostly strategic. That being said, it’s always fun to play, as there’s always something to do. There isn’t a whole lot of waiting around in this game, especially if you opt to go on the offensive more often than not. It’s just that, even for the budget price, it feels a little…you know, bare.
There’s only the one multiplayer option, which is a tad disappointing. That one mode is plenty robust and can even be addicting at times, but it’s just not enough in my honest opinion. Plus, the balancing does seem a little off, as it seems far too difficult to catch up if you get behind in any given match. Momentum plays such a huge role; perhaps too big of a role. I did like the increasing power of the wacky weapons you earn as a match goes on, and the control is reliable and accurate. Zipping around on those rocket boots can cause the camera to go a little squirrely at times but beyond that, there isn’t much to complain about.
There just isn’t much to applaud, either. For a strategy game, the AI isn’t great, and despite the available choices, it does feel somewhat limited. On top of which, this is such a drastic departure from the standard franchise feel and style that it’s difficult to recommend to long-time fans. I’m not really sure who the developers are targeting with this product; the veteran followers wanted a traditional action/platformer (which they certainly didn’t get) and the strategy aficionados will likely be disappointed at the lack of depth when compared to other offerings in the genre. Besides, a fantastic action/strategy blend already exists in the form of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That one is a really impressive and effective mix.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault has a lot going for it. Some of that patented genuine humor is evident, the weapons are always a creative highlight, and constantly balancing your offense and defense is both challenging and rewarding. But there just isn’t much else involved. The characters seem muted and downplayed (due to the story taking a back seat), the single-player offering is a definite disappointment, and there’s still only the one competitive multiplayer mode. I guess it’s not a bad option for twenty bucks but I just can’t imagine hardcore R&C fans really loving it.
The Good: Solid technical elements. Weapons are always creative and super cool. Fast-paced, well-designed strategy gameplay. Good control. Strategy is accessible and interesting. Can be lots of fun with friends.
The Bad: Story is mostly lame, and single-player experience is definitely lacking. Only one multiplayer mode. AI can be dense. …this isn’t really R&C, is it?
The Ugly: “Getting pretty sick of games ditching single-player for the sake of multiplayer. Just sayin’.”
12/27/2012 Ben Dutka