Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is the 11th game in the Ratchet & Clank franchise. In that time, we’ve seen the series mature, finding its footing and making its mark in the world of the platformer. Having never played them before 2007′s Tools of Destruction, I was floored at both the look and feel of the world Insomniac Games built, instantly falling in love with our heroic lombax and his diminutive robot companion.
With 2011′s All 4 One, Insomniac broke from the single player mold of the previous entries to offer a purely co-op experience, and Full Frontal Assault doubles down on that departure, offering a short co-op campaign as well as the series’s first romp into competitive multiplayer.
Full Frontal Assault starts with a reliable core, made up of what’s come to be the three pillars of R&C games: Running, Gunning, and Quark.
Running/Platforming is the same as it always was, only they brought back the phenomenal Hover boots from A Crack in Time, making jumping/floating/booking a breeze and map coverage extremely fast. Gunning too is pretty much untouched. L1 and R1 work the reticule and ranged weapon respectively, and square returns as the go to wrench/punch/slam-dudes-to-death button. Weapons are all of the classic variety, with standouts like the disco-centric Groovitron, burping Sonic Eruptor, and personal favorite, Mr. Zurkon (“Mr. Zurkon does not deal in bolts. His currency is DEATH!”).
I list Quark as the third of the pillars, and in most cases, I would mean story, though in this case I do mean Quark. The inept and utterly non-heroic hero, as well as former Galactic President of Polaris, is the catalyst for this short form story, as his former number one fan, Stuart Zurgo, goes all Syndrome and decides he needs to show his former hero what a joke he is (while being one himself).
How does he do this? Well, Zurgo, aided by a sometimes funny, always overly cheesy dialogue punctuated by spoken emoticons, hacks into the defense systems of three planets, and it’s left up to the Q-Force (Quark, Ratchet and Clank) to stop him.
And thus we get to the meat and potatoes of FFA… Tower-MOBA-Defense! Let’s break it down.
Upon landing on [insert planet here], the Q-Force sets up home base at the Defense Network Computer, which is run by 6 bright blue generators. These generators need to be defended against waves of Grungarians, who come in sizes from small to TANK! To make this happen, Q-Force leaves the base to gather bolts, which are then used to purchase turrets, mines and barriers to stop those pesky baddies.
But WAIT!!! Just to make it a bit more stressful, you start each level with only your Wrench/Wrench Equivalent. The other weapons are chosen at random from special Weapon Pods that are scattered across the level, with the first one, holding either the Combuster (all levels) or Buzz Blades (all levels after being unlocked on planet three), generously left inside Q-Force Base.
In true R&C style, weapons level up through use, and used they will be, as each level all plays host to a number of objectives outside of base defense that need to be met in order to achieve victory. The majority of objectives are of a “go here-blow that up to open up this-blow this up” variety, with only the 4th and 5th level changing the format (5th level features no defense portion). Success in these objectives, and ultimately the level, offer medals, which are then cashed in for promotions. These are mostly cosmetic in the form of a more heavily armored looking Ratchet, Clank and Quark, but they also serve to unlock different perks… which you can purchase in the, wait for it, competitive multiplayer.
Multiplayer takes the same base defense mechanic from the campaign (protect 6 generators), but adds nodes to capture in the middle of the map. These nodes serve as both weapon pods and bolt banks, with adding bolts to your team’s bank every few second. Split into three phases, the first phase, aptly named recon, involves capturing those nodes and stockpiling on bolts and weapons. Solid shield prevent your opponents from entering your base, though fighting can occur in the open while nodes are being grabbed. The second phase, called the squad phase, is all about shoring up your base. The same turrets, mines and barriers can be accessed and built, and with enough bolts, upgrades can be purchased as well. In a bit of MOBA flair, Grungarians (read: creeps) can also be purchased. They are sent out at the beginning of the last phase, assault, during which time the hard shield drops and access to the opponents base is available.
Full Frontal Assault looks like every other R&C game put out in the last few years, which is to say really good. The planets are all varied in look and feel, and the Grungarians all have that cartoony new age look, complete with big googly eyes. Even with tons of things going on, and two people in the game dealing with different mobs in different lanes all approaching the base at once, there was never any frame rate loss, the action stayed fast and furious all the way to the end. If you’ve played A Crack in Time, then you have a real good idea about how FFA looks and plays.
This is the real quagmire for me. I loved the time I spent with Ratchet and Clank in the single player offerings put out on the PS3, and I am looking forward to being able to play the HD collection soon. There are parts of FFA that capture that essence. The planets have gold bolts to find, tooling around on hover boots over ramps and obstacles, blowing away a ton of tiny Grungars with a single burp from the Sonic Eruptor.
Where it loses me is the reliance on co-op through the campaign. I am very much a fan of single player experiences; playing games for so many years has honed a number of instincts and developed a number of less then admirable habits when it comes to playing with others. It’s something I’m working on.
My mental quagmire comes from the fact that while resented having that single player experience stolen from me, I had a real good time playing a video game with my life co-op partner, my wife. With experiences that didn’t turn out real well in the past (my short fuse + Little Big Planet = I’m not playing this with you), I was hesitant to ask for help, but there came a point when I needed it, and with no matchmaking available for campaign play, she was awesome enough to pick up the controller and blow shit up with me.
So is it fun? It can be. The campaign, even with what limited story it has, was fun, especially sharing it with a friend. The Q-Force was fantastic as always, well written and well voiced, and as cheesy as he was, Zurgo was funny. At one point he hacks the Phoenix II (Quark’s ship) and has TROLOLOLO play on a loop across the intercom. Super cheesy, kind of an odd choice given the dude recently died, but that first instant when you realize just what the heck is playing has me chuckling even while writing this.
The need for co-op still kind of peeves me, as I don’t like being forced into the situation when it’s clear that earlier levels are more the capable of being completed solo. The competitive multiplayer also has some good moments, but after a few matches, the forced split between phases and the over-all length generally leads to one team being dominated and barely holding on for close to 20 minutes. There’s also a real lack of players, leading to some longer matchmaking wait times. This can kind of be avoided when you’re playing with friends, but having to wait it out for ranked matches turned into a bit of a chore sometimes.
I came into this review with a lot of harsh thoughts based on what amounts to “You took my single player away from me.” But after examining what was accomplished, and what was released at a decent price range ($19.99) for the package, I am kinda seeing the value in Insomniac’s latest R&C experiment. I really hope we see a true single player sequel in the future, especially on next-gen equipment, but if this is what we have to deal with in the mean time, waiting might not be so bad.