The Ratchet & Clank games on PS3 have been pretty great. While the developer, Insomniac Games, is better known for the Resistance series, I've felt that the Ratchet titles have been far superior. It makes me kind of sad to say that I found Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One to be somewhat disappointing.
All 4 One takes place a short while after the events of Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time. Ratchet and Clank have decided to retire from the hero life but agree to accompany the blundering Captain Qwark, who is now Galactic President, to an award ceremony. Naturally, Qwark falls into a trap set by Dr. Nefarious, who returns to the series after his apparent demise in the previous game. Gathering these four characters sets the stage for a new co-op adventure, with a heavy focus on online, four-player co-op. It's not a bad idea, but I didn't care much for its execution.
You select from these four characters when you start a game, and you can choose to play offline or online. If you play offline solo, you'll always have an AI partner that usually ends up being Clank; if you play as Clank, then your partner becomes Qwark. I've found that the best way to play is in the offline, local two-player mode.
If you opt to play online, you can jump into a number of player-hosted lobbies. There are a lot of people playing this game online, and I had very few issues connecting with a group. Connecting with random folks made this a really chaotic experience that's not very fun. Unlike traditional beat-'em-ups, where there's less focus on cooperation and more on beating the heck out of everything on-screen, All 4 One uses a number of devices that require everyone to be on the same page. If you have a dedicated group of friends to play with, your experience will be far better. If you don't, I'd urge you to skip the online portion completely.
I'll give you a few examples of my online misadventures. Throughout the game, you'll come across a number of sections that require all players to perform the exact same task, but in different parts of the screen. Sometimes this involves using a jackhammer tool to bust open the floor beneath you, sometimes it involves swinging around on a grappling hook, and other times, it requires all players concentrate their fire on one foe. Actually getting a group of random strangers to do this is as frustrating as all get-out.
It's also really difficult to prevent online griefing from ruining your experience. If one player walks away from his controller, the rest of the group is kind of stuck where they are. You can attempt to kill the other player by sucking him into your vacuum weapon and shooting him into a bottomless pit, but that isn't always a possibility. I really wish the screen would force players to advance when the majority of the group starts to move in a certain direction. As it is, you can boot idle players, but if you want new players to take their spot, you often need to go back to the last checkpoint to allow them to join. Otherwise, they need to wait until the next checkpoint to come into the game. Drop-in and drop-out play would have been really great here.
There are a couple of positives to the online side. One is that while the game is a co-op experience, you're still competing against the other players. At the end of each section in a level, the game tallies up the total bolts collected, animals found, and enemies defeated for each player. The best player gains some type of bolt bonus, which is handy since all of the in-game weapons cost bolts to buy and upgrade, often taking 40,000 to 50,000 bolts to fully upgrade. The other side of the online play is that the filters for finding a game are great. You could search by friends, level, subsection of a level, and which characters have already been claimed by players. A lot of games gloss over their search options for online play, but Insomniac definitely got this much right in All 4 One.
Offline play is still the way to go. My friendly AI partner was more than competent, aside from the few random occasions when he got stuck on objects. Playing this game locally with two players is the dream setup. It makes the co-op stuff less of a hassle, and you can easily communicate with a person who's in the room with you. A lot of folks playing online don't have microphones or headsets, and this game begs for communication.
All 4 One certainly reminds me of a Ratchet & Clank title, but the content seems toned down to make room for the co-op experience. There are a number of stages, and the game lasts for about eight hours, but the stages are very easy, and the enemies pose little to no threat. Even boss encounters are a breeze, and the story isn't particularly integral to the lore that was established in recent titles. Surprisingly, the game even glosses over the fact that Nefarious is willing to team up with his most hated adversary. The focus is more on the side characters who are introduced here, so plot-wise, this game serves little purpose.
While I found the gameplay to be fun, I didn't care for the weapon selection. Generally, the Ratchet games have great, really inventive weapons to use, but some of the weapons you'll unlock here are useless for many encounters. In particular, the thunderstorm-generating weapon sounds great, but its effectiveness is limited. It's difficult to aim above enemies — even the larger ones — and even when the upgrades were maxed out, the gun doesn't pack much of a punch. Other weapons are similarly limited, like a basic flamethrower with extremely short range, or the doppelganger, which distracts enemy fire — but that only seems to work half of the time. I constantly found myself reverting back to using the basic blaster, as it's the only consistent weapon of the bunch.
Another complaint about the single-player mode is that it tries to introduce a lot of gimmicks for different stages, some of which work well while others fall flat. One involves piloting a boat by using your vacuum tool to manipulate one of four propellers. These propellers control your propulsion and direction, and although it was functional, it was also really tedious and boring. Others are more dynamic and thankfully not as long, such as a series of platforms that you can bounce between after you've been transformed into a rolling ball. The little inconsistencies in the design drag down the experience over time, and you get the feeling that they tossed in a lot of random stuff that had been sitting on the backburner for previous titles and ended up with this hodgepodge of a release.
On the visual and audio side, All 4 One looks and sounds great throughout. I don't think the visual design shines as much as the previous titles, which were a near-Pixar quality at times, but this game contains a ton of vibrant colors, great creature design, and enough variety in the settings to distinguish the stages. The soundtrack is pretty decent, too, featuring an epic score produced by composer Michael Bross, who worked for the Oddworld series. His unique touch fits the Ratchet & Clank universe extremely well.
I can't help but feel slightly disappointed in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. Everything sounds like a great experience on paper, but the execution of the online side seems poor. As I mentioned, I'm sure this would be a far better experience with a group of dedicated players, but my experience hinged solely on random pairings. It isn't very fun trying to coax cooperative play out of strangers. There are certain things that could have been added to the design to make allowances for even the worst online player to become passable online buddies, but without those features, co-op play is more like a chore than anything remotely enjoyable. If you play the game offline or locally with a friend, you'll enjoy All 4 One. It's not a fantastic Ratchet & Clank experience, but it has its moments.
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