With the Ratchet & Clank series celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, a brand new title was always going to be in the offing, and being huge fans of the series we certainly had no complaints when Full Frontal Assault (Q Force in Europe) was announced. Like Quest for Booty before it, FFA is available as a downloadable title or budget priced retail title, giving broke gamers ample opportunity to add one final title to their holiday lineup without breaking the bank, but, curiously, Insomniac Games has decided to tinker with the format that has made the series so successful in a bid to freshen things up this year – something that hasn’t been the success they will have hoped for.
What made us fall in love with the Ratchet & Clank titles was their masterful execution of the combat/platform genre. Players were rewarded not only for gunning down hordes of enemies, but also for taking the time out to explore the beautifully crafted levels and discover the various goodies hidden away on the path less trodden. That’s quite simply not the case with FFA, and it’s to the detriment of the game, particularly for players looking for more of the original formula. We’ve certainly got no problem with developers making changes to their franchises in order to modernize them and offer long time fans something a little different, but it feels as if Insomniac has veered a little too far off track here.
FFA’s core gameplay remains similar to its predecessors. The action takes place via third person perspective, and you’ll still be doing plenty of platforming, swinging and shooting as you take on wave after wave of enemies, but rather than letting you explore the game world at your own pace, taking all the sights and sounds in, this time around you’re burdened by a strange little tower defence style mechanic. As a member of Q Force (Commander Quark’s galaxy saving team of law bringers), you’ll be able to choose from Ratchet, Clank and Quark (and an assortment of other characters from the series in multiplayer) before jumping into the disjointed feeling action.
Each level starts from the Q Force base, a set of generators, crates and weaponry strategically placed in each level. In order to arm yourself you’ll need to discover the location of various weapon dispensers, which must be unlocked via a simple mini game that tasks you with stopping markers at certain points on a gauge. If you’re successful, you’ll unlock a new weapon for that level – but only for that level. While your weapon progress stays with you as you progress through the game, you’ll still need to unlock each weapon every single time.
It’s this kind of repetition that hurts FFA… a lot. And it’s not helped in the slighted by the tower defence elements of the game, either. Rather than encouraging you to explore, you’re essentially tethered to the Q Force base at all times, being recalled regularly as soon as it comes under attack. Be too tardy in your response and your generators will be destroyed one by one – lose them all and it’s game over. It’s not in the slightest bit fun, to be honest, but it’s something that you’ll simply have to put up with if you’re going to slog it out.
That's a big if though, because truth be told, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is far from the most exciting game we've played this year. The tower defence dynamic, while definitely a semi-interesting concept, just doesn't cut it within the context of the series. It's too big a deviation from the accepted R&C norm and it's not doing the series any favours. As we said when we opened this review, we're huge fans of Insomniac's work on the franchise, but of late it would appear that the developer has lost its way a touch. Churning out sequel after sequel of copycat games is no better an idea than trying to shoehorn new features in where they just don't work - there's got to be a middle ground somewhere that can both appease long term fans and draw in newcomers, but wherever that middle ground is, it's certainly not close by any tower defence style gameplay.
Okay, so we're not that impressed with the disjointed, stuttering nature of the single player campaign, that's certainly clear, but what about the multiplayer modes? Players can opt to play through the campaign with friends, either locally or online, or delve into competitive gameplay instead. The former does actually see something of an improvement in performance, mainly because you can share the duties of tracking back and guarding the Q Force base with a friend. Staying in communication while taking different routes is arguably the best way to approach the cooperative campaign, but it doesn't seem to be what Insomniac had in mind when they created it. Regardless of that, though, it does work reasonably well in places, even if it's still blighted by the same problems as the single player approach.
The competitive online play is a curious one. Pitting you (or you and a friend) against another player (or two) things become even more disjointed as the gameplay is broken down into several phases. First, you'll recon the area, capturing nodes as quickly as possible to prevent your opponent getting hold of them, then you'll recruit some nasties to go smash things up for you before, finally, you go on the all out assault in a bid to thrash your enemy's base and destroy all their generators.
It's close enough to the single player campaign that you'll be able to figure things out pretty quickly, but it's quite a bit different to anything we've played before - we honestly don't know what to make of it. If you come up against a decent couple of players and you've got someone trustworthy beside you, it's a real hoot, otherwise it's a bit of a mess. The issue is further compounded by the fact that there's nobody playing the bloody thing at the moment. it's been out for a week now at this stage and we've not yet managed to get into double figures for games that didn't involve people we actually know personally - not exactly the most encouraging of starts for the game, but given the quality of titles launched in the last month or so it's probably not all that surprising.
Ultimately, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault was an attempt to try something different with a franchise that has probably seen its best days come and go. While we'd love to get our hands on another title of the standard of the first four games in the series, it's looking increasingly unlikely. Between this and All 4 One it's clear that the multiplayer approach either doesn't work, or needs some serious, serious work in order to pull it all together.
If Insomniac finally takes this as being a sign to get back to basics with the series then it might just have been worth it, but otherwise there's not a huge amount to recommend here. If you're a dedicated fan then, yeah, it might be worth picking up just to keep your collection going, but it's certainly not the finest moment the series has seen. It's uninteresting, has some serious design flaws and, despite being well presented, just doesn't feel like a Ratchet & Clank game.Note: The PS Vita version of the game comes as a free addon for those who do purchase this, but since it's not available yet, we've no idea if it'll make it a slightly more enjoyable package. As soon as it goes live next month we'll give you the full low down!