A less-than-stellar final PS3 exclusive for an iconic gaming duo
The fuzzy alien and his robot buddy have graced our PS3s again, and this time have brought along some friends – yes, Ratchet and Clank are back, and in what is surely Insomniac’s final PS3 exclusive, are once again set to save the universe from total destruction. R&C:A4O is a co-operative platform shooter, taking many cues from the classic Ratchet and Clank games by introducing colourful enemies, crazy weapons and interesting characters into a more streamlined experience. All 4 One is set after the events of the Future trilogy (the previous PS3 titles) as a standalone title, which is a good thing for the series because, to be honest, All 4 One ain’t so great. Let’s start with a massive positive however – co-op in general rocks, and it’s good to see a developer creating a title as a pure co-op experience, rather than merely drop another player into a single player environment. And with A4O, the best bit is that the co-op works well in a variety of ways – single player with AI buddies, split screen and online, there’s plenty of ways to get into the multiplayer swing. The shame is, then, that the actual gameplay of A4O focuses on one of the weakest elements of the R&C series – the gun combat. Yes, the guns always had a good and interesting variety, but the real meat of the best R&C titles was the skilful blend of platforming, puzzling, exploration, and varied locales, and to be fair, the shooting bits were less fun. And this is where A4O places the most emphasis of all. Gone is the skilful platforming and wide levels, to be replaced with what is essentially a series of linear corridors with pop-up enemies – yes, R&C has gone Call Of Duty on us, and this shows us gamers how truly poor the shooting was before. Using the same control scheme, enemies can be locked onto with the press of a button, then spammed with fire as you jump about like a monkey on a pogo stick. It just gets a bit old quickly. And this gets compounded by a simple flaw – the first blaster (the Combuster) you receive is sufficient to use for the entire title, as it does the most straightforward job – it shoots bolts in a straight line. Later guns would have worked well in the open platforming of previous games, but here the wrench is unbeatable for close attacks, and the Combuster dominates from the first level. All weapons can be upgraded, for some longevity, but to be honest, there isn’t a huge amount of point. There is some cool combinations to be had when playing with more players, but often once you’ve seen a weapon in action, you’ll go back to the Combuster. The puzzles are also less than stellar, often consisting of one person standing on a switch to let the other through, or perhaps one person distracting a gun while the other flanks and attacks – it’s basic, and a long way from the head scratching gems of Crack in Time. It just lacks the polish, intelligence and class we have come to expect. Visually, A4O is pretty good, however, and the art direction has certainly hit the balance between previous games. The awesome little gun trailers are still in (and by far the best thing in the game), the characters look bold and clear, and the enemies have a good dose of variance in style, if perhaps not in attack patterns. However, the pulled out viewpoint makes everything that bit smaller, and as a consequence, it somehow feels less in-your-face than previous games. The sound still rocks however, with great hammy voice acting and cool variance in the weapon sounds.
Quark and Nefarious certainly steal the show once again
And yet despite all the downers, All 4 One isn’t a terrible game – in fact, it’s pretty good, just overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of the previous games in the series. The co-op is the key to it all – offline and on your own, it’s a very stale and lifeless game, but the addition of a real pair of hands controlling one or more of your comrades makes for some fun. Screaming across headsets or living rooms, a lot of the fun is in the execution – it’s a real blast planning the attacks on enemy boss characters, and often the quips between characters in game will spark a bit of further banter – Quark and Nefarious certainly steal the show once again. It will most likely initially disappoint long term Ratchet fans, but perhaps that’s partly the point – I was a little fearful that Crack in Time might start to alienate newcomers with the twisty plotlines and ever enhanced controls, and this does reset the balance. The characters still shine brightest, and the combat is as rigid as ever, but I found that bringing in a total newb made the teaching as much fun as the playing, and the game does improve once you get over the initial disappointment. So, my last words on the subject – at least it still has Mr. Zurkon.
The Bad: Loses most of the best elements of Ratchet and clank titles; platforming nearly non existent; feels less epic; despite variance of guns, there’s little need to use them all; overall a bit lifeless