Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One
There are seldom few platforming titles that can approach the charm and quality of Insomniac Games' stellar Ratchet & Clank series. However, their first foray into the realms of cooperative play simply doesn't hold up to their otherwise incredible track record. Although it's not for a lack of trying.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One begins with Nefarious falling into his own trap, leaving him no choice but to join up with Ratchet, Clank and President Qwark to escape the huge monster he unleashed. This peaks the interest of a mysterious creature collecting ship that nabs the lot of them and begins terrorising the planet in search of more creatures. The unlikely team are freed, acquire some fancy new weapons and tools and band together to track and stop the ship. It's a basic and light-hearted plot that can't compete with previous titles in the series for quality, but as a device for cooperative drop in and out hi-jinx it does enough to carry the adventure to its conclusion whilst remaining simple enough for all to enjoy, regardless of where along the narrative they join. And despite its simplicity the main cast's dialogue is still highly amusing and brilliantly delivered further complimenting your compulsion to play.
Travelling across nine locations with four or five levels a piece, variety is a strong point in your adventure. You'll visit locations such as cities, floating islands, snowy slopes, forests and docks as you battle menacing foes. Meanwhile varied mechanics have you doing far more than just platforming and shooting. You'll find yourself grinding on rails, manning turrets, equipping jet packs and even water skiing. However, despite the variety on offer there is a problems with certain elements being dished out too soon, making the pacing a real issue.
At one point a whole host of new guns are given to you that force you to watch back to back tutorial videos. Score tallies crop up seemingly at random on larger stages and far too many narrative and new enemy cut-scenes interrupt the action. It's a jarring break of immersion and flow. Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One sometimes feels like it's trying to force a singleplayer experience on four cooperative players and it leads to a far more tedious game than it should be.
Whilst the narrative occasionally feels geared towards the singleplayer experience the actual gameplay is unquestionable in-service to multiplayer. Whether you're activating switches, moving items, floating on rafts or in combat, the level design and mechanics are at their best when you're working with others. The vast selection of weapons can all be upgraded with bolts and gain a powerful charged shot ability if all players target a single enemy with the same gun. Your new vacuum gun allows you to pick up and throw teammates as well as revive them, and the new tether ability allows you to pull yourself to another players. Of course with four players, tons of enemies, bullets and energy blasts filling the screen, multiple abilities and three weapon wheels to shift through, things can get overwhelming, leading to more than a few cheap deaths. At least the framerate - impressively - keeps up with the action and the visuals remain consistently bright, colourful and crisp, sporting the quality of presentation fans would expect from a Ratchet & Clank title.
Complimenting the cooperative play is also a competitive element worked in wjere you and your teammates compete for bolts, critters and kills. At the end of each level your scores are tallied and rewards are dished out, adding a nice dose of bragging rights competitive play to an otherwise cooperative title. Additionally you'll want to keep an eye out for as many critters as possible to access the puzzle challenge rooms which grant parts to a powerful rhino suit. Hero bolts are also strewn across levels that grant new costumes.
The drop in/out feature works well for easily jumping into games online or for friends to simple sit down and dive in locally. However, loading screens break the action as new players join online that far too often lead to a system crash. In fact quite a few bugs and issues plague the title.
The camera often compromises your view or gets stuck altogether , slow motion effects make jumping a dangerous task, cheap deaths from the level design and plenty of almost game breaking fails in the physics engine or even random sudden deaths for no reason at all make playing through Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One a frustrating affair. Other issues include sound effects that stop working, bugs that prevent you from purchasing or upgrading weapons in the store, teetering glitches and cooperative devices forcing players out of their slots and causing further cheap deaths. The sheer amount of bugs and questionable level design is shocking from such a well established studio. It's a real shame, as the rest of the package screams quality.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One has the potential to be one of the best Ratchet & Clank titles. The humour is still top shelf, with excellent voice acting to boot, and the concept of cooperative multiplayer is excellent, and at times it really does shine. However, the bugs and missteps with level design mar the experience too severely for it to realise this potential, and no amount of charm can change that.