When a franchise needs change, I’ll happily support the idea. Ratchet has had his fair share of games rooted in a similar vein, so, even though ending the series on the fantastic A Crack in Time would have the best decision, developer Insomniac opted to have a different spin on the popular series. Co-op is the main focus of their newest title, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One and it does a great job of showing the change isn’t always good.
Ratchet, Clank, and the buffoon Captain Qwark start the tale out by being summoned for some sort of mysterious award on a foreign planet. Feeding on Captain Qwark’s stupidity and ego, it was only a plan for Dr. Nefarious to summon Qwark to finally kill him. Nefarious’ plan goes sour and quickly turns on him, leaving him to fight with Ratchet and the crew rather than against them. A menace even worse than Nefarious shows up, meaning Ratchet obviously has to save the people of the galaxy again and this leads him from planet to planet to hopefully stop the people behind this mess.
That’s about the extent on what I could absorb given on how bad the story is told to the player. The frustratingly unskippable cutscenes do some sort of work telling you of what is going on, but it can seem disjointed and sloppy at times. Case and point, sometimes an Infobot diary will literally appear out of nowhere relaying you the message on where to go. It’s as if Insomniac needed some sort of reason to shove the players into the next destination but didn’t have a meaningful way of showing it. Events even get more jumbled near the end, leaving the “WTF” feeling for almost the entirety of the game. Ratchet, Clank, Nefarious, and Qwark are still (like always) good characters with funny dialogue, but not even their charisma and character can carry this meaningless story out of the dirt.
The first commandment of the Ratchet and Clank Testament reads something along the lines of “Thou shall have intense, accurate shooting and ridiculous weaponry.” Chalk up All 4 One for going to hell on this account because sadly neither are really in effect here. Firing the weapons is bland, completely mindless in more ways than one, and infuriating at times. There is no manual aiming, so locking on is the only way to shoot which leads into mashing the R1 button until you see explosions. Simplicity completely takes over as this takes little to no skill and can even be bad due to the non-optional lock-on mechanic. Locking on has a complete mind of its own which is a cardinal sin for all of gaming. I imagine it’s a hard thing to program for, but there were countless times where it had me firing at a distant, unwanted enemy or even my teammate. If you’re anything like me, you’ll either be daydreaming or getting peeved by the shooting, which is the ultimate downer in a Ratchet game.
The RPG leveling mechanics were always a definite highlight in the previous titles. Gaining levels through usage was a brilliant idea that encouraged experimentation and showed off how badass the firearms could be. The carrot on a stick is mysteriously no longer present in All 4 One. Instead, you now buy your upgrades with the bolts you earn. This seemingly unimportant change greatly soils the addictiveness of this game by having you just lean on the most effective weapon. Past titles would have me switching from inventive weapon to another ridiculous armament, but now I felt pigeon holed into just switching when I ran out of ammo (which happens fairly frequently). Technically there is choice, by the incentive to switch up styles is almost gone leaving the game to feel even more limited.
Co-op hasn’t helped the combat in any pleasurable ways, but some of the puzzles are reasonably neat. Hitting switches and activating certain objects in unison has good feel to it, even though they aren’t really difficult to figure out. The AI actually does an okay job at being a partner. He can be stone stupid sometimes, failing to get subtle hints on where to go and getting stuck, but he usually gets the job done. If you play in co-op, you will only have your stupid friends to blame.
Camera controls have also taken a hit. The perspective is fixed overhead, which sounds fine, but it can lead to headaches. If you know something is just off the screen, you can’t move the camera to get that bolt or box. That isn’t the main problem (as it would be hard to have four people control the camera) but it doesn’t always give a good view of what is going on. You’ll get cornered by enemies, be hit off screen, and become a little frustrated that you can’t at least change it. I would always hit the right stick to try to subconsciously move the camera where I wanted it, but this is the cumbersome way to switch weapons, leaving me open and left with a less-than-optimal view of my surroundings.
Mechanics aside, there are just odd co-op quirks to the game that leave me puzzled. For one, weapons and bolts are tied to specific character, meaning that if you want to switch out due to tiresome repeating one-liners, you’ll have to start over from square one. Consequentially, if someone joins your game after you have initially started, they will begin with only the pea shooter while you carry the other weapons without any sort of trading system. Unskippable cutscenes also begin most sections and since you can only start at the beginning of a section regardless of checkpoint status, this can lead to you redoing up to twenty minutes of tedious work along with rewatching the cinematics. Odd and just plain stupid design choices like these left me bewildered and they greatly damper the accessibility and enjoyability of this whole title.
The three previous Ratchet & Clank titles (Tools of Destruction, Quest for Booty, and A Crack in Time) have always been complete stunners on the PS3. Beautiful and varied colors would amaze and set it self cleanly aside from the browns and grays of realism. All 4 One still retains the glorious color palette, but some of the beauty was lost in translation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the color in the inventive worlds, but it doesn’t look as good from a technical aspect. Backgrounds are blurry, objects have lower resolution textures, and some objects can just look a bit rough or flat.
In the old Ratchet & Clank games, hours would fly by like minutes but in All 4 One minutes would seem like hours. It took me a long time finally struggle through all the way to the horrendous last boss but that is probably more because it couldn’t hold my attention for longer than two grueling hours. All 4 One has some of the charm of the previous installments, but almost none of the fun, polish, or addictiveness. Everything here is worse or just plain bad when compared to any other game in the series. Change doesn’t always have to be good and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One exhibits this with flying colors. Let’s just pop in A Crack in Time again and pretend this never happened.
+Ratchet and the gang are still likable
+Some interesting co-op mechanics
-Shooting is ultimately bland and mindless
-Upgrades are remarkably downplayed and the lock-on is shifty
-Camera can be a problem
-Doesn’t look as good as its predecessors
-Story is told terribly
Final Score: 6/10