PS3 Review – Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One

Ratchet & Clank are back for yet another new adventure, but this time they’re bringing some unruly allies along for a four player cooperative experience in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One.

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is the tenth game in the franchise, making this a very long running series, but it continues to entertain fans through a mix of platforming, puzzling, and destructive combat with incredibly unique weaponry, which has always been a franchise staple. However, All 4 One takes things to a new level by being the first R&C game to introduce cooperative play, and as a result several distinct changes accompany it.

The story starts out with Ratchet and Clank escorting the newly appointed President Qwark to receive an Intergalactic Tool of Justice Award (See: made-up), which of course wasn’t earned, but Qwark plans on accepting anyway. Unsurprisingly this leads to Dr. Nefarious springing a trap, which quickly backfires, landing him in an awkward situation where he must fight along side our usual heroes in order to survive. The excuse is a bit flimsy, but necessary in order to get our four player combat boots on.

The first thing many fans of the franchise will probably notice is the locked in director’s style camera, which remains fixed for the entire game. Since four players can hop in for a game online or locally Insomniac has ripped camera control away from the players in order to maintain a fixed field of view for all four players to remain within. This also causes levels to be far more linear than past R&C games, with the camera always making it obvious where you’re supposed to go next. Sometimes there’s a short branching path to find hidden bolts or other collectibles, but most of the exploratory elements of past R&C games are now gone. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s also a necessary trade off to maintain four player action on one screen without splitting it up and lowering frame rates.

As a result of this camera change the right analog stick is now freed up from camera controls, and is now mapped directly to the weapon wheel – which is the next drastic change that takes some getting used to. As usual there’s plenty of unique weapons to find while fighting zany creatures and berserk robots, so despite requiring some adjustment this actually makes switching weapons incredibly quick and easy. There’s also multiple pages of weapons on the wheel, so the d-pad can be mapped to hotkey weapons of choice, and gameplay pauses while switching (as long as all players enter the wheel at the same time), so after a short learning curve this setup becomes quite useful. The trade off for this is that aiming at a particular enemy is a bit more difficult, since your character must now face them before locking on with the L1 button, or the game will simply pick the nearest enemy for you.

Most of the weapons seen in the game have appeared previously, like the Combustion Blaster, Plasmabomb Launcher, Arc Lasher, Warmonger rocket launcher, and of course my favorite, Mr. Zurkon. Many are simply renamed or re-imagined versions of previous weapons, such as the Arc Lasher was previously the Plasma Whip, and the Critter Strike replacing one of many enemy transforming weapons in the series. Some new weapons are especially made for co-op though, such as the Darkstar Fission Tether, which creates an electric net between players while firing an electric charge forward, and the Thundersmack that deploys small combinable thunderstorms. Any time two or more players focus on a single enemy while using the same weapon a charge will be built up, which makes a distinct sound while appearing as an expanding circle around the enemy. Once built up to a certain point the charge explodes, often times causing secondary effect, such as damaging surrounding enemies, or in the case of the Frost Cannon freezing a large group of enemies instead of just the target. This is especially noticeable with the Thundersmack, which eventually culminates into a huge lightning storm that hits every enemy on the screen when used as a team. As a result you’ll always want to work with your buddies to use the same weapons when facing tougher enemies. This is also where the previously mentioned aiming difficulties become a big nuisance, since in many situations it becomes quite difficult to get both players focused on the same enemy during the more hectic battles.

Unfortunately, there aren’t as many weapons or upgrades as past games either, but there’s still plenty here, and the new co-op mechanic helps inject new life into how battles are handled. Each weapon only gets three upgrades – ammo, power, and elite – which are each purchased with a successively larger number of bolts. To add a little variety to the mix each character also acquires their own unique weapon midway through the game. Ratchet gets the Dopplebanger that acts as a decoy Ratchet for enemies to shoot at, while Clank gets the Zoni Blaster that can drastically slows down any enemy it hits. Qwark can be equipped with a “Quantum Deflector”, which is just a fancy term for a shield, and Dr. Nefarious receives a Cloaker that turns him temporarily invisible, letting him sneak up on enemies for a surprise hit.

The cooperative elements extend far beyond weapons in All 4 One, with crates that require two people to open it, multiple switches that require teamwork to hit in the correct order, and other small puzzles. These elements really come together when players acquire the new main gadget, the Vac-U. Once acquired it becomes permanently mapped to the circle button for easy access since you’ll use it constantly. The Vac-U applies suction to crates, bolts, critters, small enemies, bombs, and even fellow players, making it handy for grabbing collectibles quickly, and launching bombs or even other players at enemies and switches. Quite frequently you’ll be required to suck up a fellow player (who must jump into the Vac-U) and launch them into a switch. Meanwhile the launched player must tap the melee button mid-air to hit their target. This maneuver is also handy for getting up to high platforms, across large pits, or even attacking opponents with a powerful slam. As a result the Swingshot gets a major upgrade, since it can be used at any time to zip towards another player, who may have just been thrown across a large gap and can act as an anchor (this is really handy if you fall off a platform and need to save yourself!).

All 4 One also introduces a few other gadgets, but unfortunately they’re far less fun and handy to play with, and for the most part feel tacked on for the sake of forcing players to switch to a new device. A Glob Lobber shoots gooey globs that temporarily weigh down platforms or barriers, while a Quakehammer can be used to mine away specific rocks and walls in the way. Finally a Reflector will block lasers and reflect others, which actually becomes the best of the bunch with multiple players since reflections from player to player can get a little crazy and confusing. It provides a bit of a new way to work together, but since switching to them felt clunky even right up to the end of the game, they’re more of a pain to use than fun. Each gadget is clearly meant to encourage more cooperation, but after gadgets in previous games like the OmniSoaker which allowed for creative puzzles, they just feel a little disappointing.

All 4 One isn’t just about cooperation though, and it also presents a little bit of what Insomniac has dubbed “co-opetition”. Basically, you can compete with your allies throughout the levels by trying to collect the most bolts, the most critters, and make the most kills. Players also get bonus points for cooperative actions, which total up along side other categories at the end of the level, where a “winner” is declared for receiving the most overall points. This results in bonus bolts, and certain awards like “Noob”, “Bolt Master”, “Zookeeper”, or even “Squishy Destroyer” for meeting certain requirements.

While offline All 4 One works nearly perfectly, with only slight AI hiccups from time to time that are almost completely negligible, but playing online is a different story. Getting into a game is easy enough, with the ability to host your own or search with filter options like level, difficulty, if cheats are on or off, and even which characters are available to play as. To my dismay though it doesn’t take long to run into glitches that only seem to pop up while online, like the director’s camera getting stuck at odd angles preventing you from moving on or even seeing the area your standing in. Weapon vendors seem to have major issues as well, and randomly prevent players from purchasing weapons or upgrades, and at the very beginning of the game has a chance of preventing players from exiting the vendor, forcing them to quit the game. Some puzzle elements tend to be buggy too, with several instances where grab-able objects refuse to be picked up, halting all progress in the level as a result. Besides those issues, frequent connection losses can also cause major frustration, but luckily drop in drop out play makes getting into a game a breeze, only requiring players to reach the next checkpoint or reload the previous one before new entries can play. A 19MB day one patch was issued when the servers launched, so hopefully another patch will arrive soon to fix the bugs, but in the meantime it’s a shame the co-op experience gets so disrupted while online.

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One definitely caters to the cooperative multiplayer aspects, but despite that it doesn’t overlook the solo players either. Playing by yourself gives you an AI partner to help through battles and puzzles which require more than one player, and for the most part this AI partner works incredibly well. He’ll always take the form of Clank, who rides on your back when not required as usual. However, picking Clank results in Qwark as a partner, who hilariously still folds up into a backpack shape and then rides on Clank’s back. When approaching a puzzle your AI partner will take action once you’ve done the first part or hit the first switch, by running over to the next switch, part, or necessary position to catch something. Standing still and holding the Vac-U will cause him to jump into it automatically, allowing you to launch him and then tag over via the Swingshot.

In battle the AI partner will almost always switch to the weapon you’re using immediately in order to get the co-op explosive bonus. However, this is also the only aspect where I ran into issues. Late in the game, he’ll often refuse to switch to the more advanced weaponry unless it’s potent against the foes at hand. In some ways it’s smart, since he’ll usually use the best weapon for each scenario, but it can also be frustrating when you simply want to play with a different gun and get the co-op bonus while shooting it. As a result you’re usually better off playing with buddies, but the game still works great without them too.

For the most part, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One carries over all the series staples that have made it such a success for so many years, with a huge variety of weapons, enemies, and scenarios to encounter, while adapting it all for the co-op experience. Despite linearity the pacing is incredibly well done, and often mixed up with sliding sequences, jet packing areas, a water skiing scene, and even a part where players must work together to steer an inflatable raft, or an out of control taxi. The storyline feels cliche by boiling down to a big bad mysterious enemy threatening the universe while our heroes are stuck saving it. Dr. Nefarious’ inclusion in the adventure also stops making sense after the third level, but it’s easy to ignore while blasting away at enemies with your friends. Plenty of tongue in cheek lines are still written into the dialogue, with characters often quipping about situations encountered as you play, keeping the adventure lighthearted and humorous in classic R&C style.

Overall, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One makes the transition to the co-op realm quite well, even if there are a few trade offs as a result. The great looking animations are still accompanied by well done voice acting, and environments consistently change for colorful and beautiful aesthetics even though most of the game is spent on planet Magnus. Throughout the 9-10 hour campaign All 4 One continuously delivers tons of fun in many different ways, making it a great game to pick up and play, especially if you’ve been itching to have some friends over to blast your way through waves of maniacal robots. If you’re looking for a single player experience it’s still best to pick up R&C titles from the Future trilogy on PS3, but for fun cooperative gaming you just can’t go wrong here.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Co-op focus in every aspect of gameplay

+ Classic R&C weapons, enemies, allies, gameplay variety

– Clunky aiming scheme, gadgets feel tacked on

8 out of 10