Implementing drastic changes to a beloved series (whether it be gameplay or design centric) is a risky move that’s often harshly scrutinized by fans of a franchise who despite calling out for innovation seem to simply beckon for more of the same. Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is Insomniac’s second recent multiplayer focused re-take on the classic Ratchet & Clank formula, but does it add substance to the time-tested franchise fans already love? Or does Full Frontal Assault use multiplayer as a crutch in ways reminiscent to last year’s Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One?
First some explanation is necessary—how do Full Frontal Assault’s new tower defense elements work? Essentially you have a base or “QForce” with an array of generators that you have to defend from enemies who will attack from two different paths leading into your base. You’ll need to do a lot of hands-on work to defend your QForce, but you’re able to curb the battle in your favor via purchasable turrets, mines, and barriers which you can deploy along the two previously mentioned entrances. Between enemy waves you’re jetting across the map to activate “key nodes” to eventually enable access to what serves as a final micro-stage in the already large level.
This is all a lot to take in (and only a very brief explanation of some of the new mechanics,) but what really surprised me was how complimentary this gameplay design overhaul is to the core Ratchet & Clank experience residing within Full Frontal Assault. I adored Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, but often you felt drastically overpowered, and the weapon leveling system put you in a position where you danced around enemies using a weapon that wasn’t particularly effective for the given situation, but you used it simply to upgrade it. In Full Frontal Assault you’re slowly given weapons as the level progresses through weapon pods scattered throughout the stage. This forces you to utilize weapons you may otherwise disregard, while keeping your weaponized god-complex in check. Since players will want to make the best use of their time between enemy attack waves, they will find themselves using their most effective and/or devastating weapon at all times, while jetting to their goal by making use of the absolutely required swift and speedy hoverboots. Even Ratchet & Clank’s currency (bolts) finally becomes significant, as you’ll find yourself shredding through enemies to salvage bolts to upgrade your QForce’s defenses. I often found myself taking on a particularly powerful enemy ill-equipped (I hadn’t accessed enough weapon pods at the time) that I could have avoided, but chose to tackle in order to liberate the precious bolts residing within their tin hearts.
Despite the bevy of changes there’s still a ton of classic Ratchet & Clank hallmarks spread across every aspect of Full Frontal Assault. Franchise favorite weapons including the “Sonic Erupter” (AKA: the revoltingly effective belching frog shotgun) and Ratchet’s crude companion in cartoon carnage, Mr. Zurkon, make their comedic return. The new mines, and turrets used to defend your base are also based off of existing Ratchet & Clank elements including Groovitron and Chrono time mines. Weapons take on new life-saving purposes under the new formula as well—what a life-saver the enemy-preoccupying Groovitron was when massive tanks were storming my base. I also found myself surprised how much of the original mechanics are worked into Full Frontal Assault’s new design. Insomniac impressively managed to weave series staples like platforming, grind rails, and gold bolt collection into Full Frontal Assault’s tower defense dynamic.
While I fully believe Full Frontal Assault is an effective fresh take on Ratchet and Clank, some may find themselves frustrated by having to occasionally babysit their base. As tense, and panic-inducing as the defense mechanics are, I occasionally found myself frustrated and wanting to progress forward outside of the base rather than bullying baddies daring to cross my border. I don’t believe this mechanic every fell to the dreaded “repetitive” category. However, the final boss was one of the most tedious wastes of time I’ve ever experienced in gaming. The actual goals, and objectives surrounding the boss are clever in design to a degree, but the poor repetitive execution absolutely butchers any joy that can be derived through this final confrontation—comedic voice-work aside.
The campaign is a substantial blast with a hilarious antagonist that brings more humor per hour to Full Frontal Assault than arguably any previous entry in the series. The campaign can be played on or offline with a friend, whereas competitive supports up to 4 players online. The competitive multiplayer in Full Frontal Assault resembles the main games tower defense structure re-worked for multiple players. This works very well, and has you not only fighting fellow gamers, but AI minions as well, this makes the gameplay much less intimidating than otherwise strictly being faced directly against other players.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault’s presentation is beautifully buttery smooth as you’d expect from a Ratchet & Clank title. The colorful visuals are quite impressive, and make Full Frontal Assault one of the best looking PSN games you can buy. That being said, the title is based off of All 4 One’s graphics engine, which doesn’t seem to support the super-high textured visuals enabling a pixar-like behind the shoulder close-up when aiming as seen in Tools of Destruction, and A Crack in Time.
Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault is a game that Ratchet & Clank fans need to grab, and a great title on it’s own mechanically sound merits. A very short list of flaws are barely able to tarnish what amounts to a hidden gem among a busy holiday retail season filled with blockbuster AAA titles. And it’s only $19.99 to boot, plus it earns you the Vita version via Cross-Buy when it eventually releases in 2013.