There’s a lot to love about Ratchet & Clank games: they’re light-hearted, they’re challenging, they gracefully merged platformer gameplay with RPG leveling mechanics and, most importantly, the developers aren’t afraid to try new things. If it weren’t for this desire to iterate and improve, we wouldn’t have weapons that level up, time-bending puzzles, giant Clank segments or the off-the-wall weapon variety that the series is known for.
In Full Frontal Assault, like All 4 One before it, Insomniac is trying to combine classic Ratchet & Clank gameplay with another genre altogether. For All 4 One it was the cooperative-competitive experience we’ve seen in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures and New Super Mario Bros., and in Full Frontal Assault it is active tower defense which we’ve seen in Orcs Must Die! and Sanctum.
Ratchet fits nicely into his new genre, because so much of the base is the same. The shooting feels familiar, there’s room for the zany weapons like rocket launchers, freeze rays, burp guns and my personal favorite, Mr. Zurkon, and platforming fits in as well. You’re not creating mazes to keep the enemies from approaching your base, but you are building turrets, putting up walls and laying down mines to help you take out the waves. Sometimes you can afford to be confident and let your creations do the defense while you’re out retrieving weapon pods or capturing nodes, but how you spend your money is important, and it will affect how you’re able to split your time.
Unlike typical tower defense, Ratchet not only needs to defend the Q-Force base, but he also needs to decimate the invaders. Dropships arrive on a timer, and create waves of enemies that move toward and try to destroy the Q-Force generators. Lose all six generators, and it’s game over. In between waves Ratchet needs to accrue money and ammo, capture control nodes and eventually take out the enemy base to bring the current planet’s defense grid back online.
Everything about Full Frontal Assault feels like it was designed for multiplayer. There is a campaign, and it’s fun to play, but the whole concept was designed around two human players. When playing multiplayer everything is broken up into phases. First you’ll go out to capture control points, money, and ammo. Then you’ll build turrets, walls, mines, and unit generators. After that, both sides’ units will leave their respective bases and attempt to wreak havoc on the enemy facility and equipment. Players have to decide whether to help their units on offense, hang back on defense or trust their plans and continue scouting and securing points. The multiplayer supports one-on-one and two-on-two matches, and it’s actually a lot of fun.
I miss a lot about the traditional Ratchet & Clank titles though. The sense of wonder is gone, because you’re learning set maps instead of always jetting off to the next planet with different challenges and enemies. The weapons are present and accounted for, but you have to unlock each weapon on each map. It doesn’t matter that you were holding four weapons when the last single-player level ended. When you start the next one, Ratchet will only have the wrench available to him.
I like Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, and I like Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. What I really want, though, is another full-blown platforming adventure where I always have a weapon once I find it, the levels are new all the way through the game and everybody is more concerned with designing for solo play. Until then, though, Full Frontal Assault is fun, even if a focus on multiplayer isn’t what I wanted out of the series.
Pros: Multiplayer is very fun, feels like a Ratchet & Clank instead of a TD game with a Ratchet paint job
Cons: Weapon leveling is persistent but weapons themselves are not, single-player feels like training for the multiplayer