They say hindsight is 20/20, and it seems to be especially true with game reviews. Last year I played and reviewed Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One... and I liked it! I gave it a pretty good score at the time, but as I look back over my review history, it's one of the titles I really, really wish I'd have been more critical towards. I don't consider it a poor game, but I do think we need to send a message to Insomniac, and that message is: “It's time to get back to real Ratchet and Clank games.” Why? Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault, that's why.
Full Frontal Assault is certainly enjoyable, just like every other Ratchet and Clank game to-date. Every minute is full of a symphony of explosions and the clanging of bolts; enemies are still fun to dispatch, guns are fun to fire and level up, and traversing the levels with the hover boots and the ramp pathways is an absolute blast. The controls are stellar, save for some occasionally stiff camera work, and the game performs flawlessly even when there are hundreds of items and effects on screen. And, of course, the graphics are as crisp and pretty as they've ever been. Despite all of that, Full Frontal Assault feels lackluster compared to other entries in the franchise. It's a fun distraction, but lacks the depth and drawing power of the five main entries in the series.
I often found myself wanting to play A Crack in Time or Up Your Arsenal instead, or at least I was reminiscing about playing them. That was a time when each entry in the franchise was new and awe-inspiring. With Full Frontal Assault, by contrast, it feels like Insomniac are resting on their laurels. If this continues we may only have a few more entries before we say goodbye to our favorite Lombax forever. Insomniac hasn't done anything significant with the franchise for years, and knowing that they've passed the torch on in the case of Resistance doesn't bode well for Ratchet and his friends.
This time around, Ratchet, Clank and Quark are all off on the Starship Phoenix II. Quark, now voted out of office, is desperate for approval and looking to find a way to reclaim his place as a galactic saviour when a disgruntled ex-fan of his hijacks the defense units of three nearby planets in an attempt to soil Quark's name. The three heroes (or two heroes and one patsy) must go to these planets to restore the defense systems while also making advancements against the enemy's forces, and that's where the main gameplay mechanic comes into play. Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault is a tower defense game, but it never forgets its roots. The main focus is still on blowing enemies up, collecting bolts, upgrading weapons, and a hint of exploration, but you're periodically expected to go back to home base to use the bolts you've acquired to erect defenses so that the enemy can't penetrate through your lines and attack your power cores. Each of the 4 main levels require you to balance offence and defence so you're constantly advancing on the enemy while still ensuring their waves of forces don't make it through your defenses. Trust me, you'll want to play with a friend if you don't want to get bored of constantly going out to capture a node, only to return in-between missions to defend your base. Unfortunately, only two players can play together (as opposed to three), despite Ratchet, Clank, and Quark all being playable characters.
For some inexplicable reason you have to re-acquire each weapon every time you play a level. This makes sense from a gameplay perspective, but it's narratively incoherent. Once you've explored and obtained enough weapon nodes, you then have to go get the key nodes, which are the power sources for the enemy's shields. Once you've taken over these locations, the enemy base opens up and you have to attack it and clear out its defenses. Once that's done, you can teleport back to base to defend yourself against the last few waves of enemy forces. If you can withstand their attacks, you win. The first three levels are all like this, while the fourth eschews the key nodes and enemy bases for weather control units that simply have to be destroyed. Sadly, that's all there is to the game. Four levels and an admittedly fun boss battle. It's pretty repetitive and follows a distinct pattern of weapon acquisition, key node offence, enemy base offence, then home base defence.
The whole game took me about five hours to complete, but it feels even shorter than that because of the distinct lack of plot and the fact that a large chunk of that time will be spent exploring and devising strategies. Luckily, Insomniac had the foresight to give players plenty to do while actually playing these levels. Each level includes a set of medals to acquire, gold bolts to find, and skill points to earn. The gold bolts are just standard hidden items, but the medals will actually net you higher ranks and player bonuses, while the skill points feature over 100 challenges to complete, and achieving them will unlock cheats and special unlockables for you to play with. There are also time trials and speed runs to beat, some of which will require absolute perfection and persistent tenacity to master.
If the campaign isn't what you're looking for, then you can try something more competitive in the form of multiplayer. The game is specifically designed to cater to competitive play. The basic gameplay online is the same as it is in the story mode, but you have the additional ability to use your bolts to summon waves of enemies and vehicles that auto-attack the enemy. Matches of 1v1 or 2v2 are divided into three segments: recon, squad, and assault. Recon mode lets you go out and capture nodes or attack other players as they go for the nodes; squad phase is when you beef up your defense and buy units to attack enemies; and assault phase is when the summoned allies and teammates stay at home to defend or assist units in taking the enemy's base.
Getting bolts is pretty easy in online matches, you can either go around and break boxes, or take over the nodes strewn throughout the level by beating them into submission and doing the same timing based puzzle that is used to get weapons in the campaign. Each of these nodes will send you bolts periodically, so it's not only important to obtain them in the first place, but to keep them and defend them against the opposing team. Without the nodes, you will have no money to attack or defend. Each round is ended when all of both player's purchased units are killed and both bases are deemed 'safe'. To win, you must penetrate your opponent's defenses and destroy all 6 of their power cores. It's an entertaining take on multiplayer, but it's also very simplistic and there aren't many people online to play with. I occasionally waited upwards of 30 minutes in a lobby before a single opponent showed up.
Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault is disappointing. It features everything you're likely to love about the series, but there's just so little of each element that I can't help but be saddened by what's happening to the franchise; it really feels as though Insomniac have given up and are moving on. Gone are the days of clever marketing, grand tales spanning across galaxies, and creative weapon design. There's no denying that Full Frontal Assault is generally fun, but it represents a series heading in the wrong direction and frankly even $20 is too steep a price for such a short, inconsequential game. Insomniac, I beg you to return to the glory days that once made this series so fresh and fun.
This review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy of Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault.