There was a point back in the mists of time when the PlayStation 2 was at the top of the console pile and Ratchet & Clank was a series to be reckoned with. Each year following the original's release brought a new Ratchet game with enough novel features and improvements to actually be worthwhile which to this day highlights the series' comparatively poor performance on the PS3. Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault does nothing to dispel the feeling that Insomniac are clutching at straws to find new ideas for Ratchet and his robotic friend, and the resultant mess of tower defense and MOBA ideas crammed in to the series' old gameplay formula doesn't do much to justify its own existence, let alone its $20 asking price.
It looks and sounds like Ratchet, but the spark just isn't there.
It’s difficult to describe Full Frontal Assault without listing all the elements it borrows from other games. The campaign is primarily a tower defense game, with generators to protect and defenses that can be purchased to help shield your base. You’re also tasked with destroying enemy outposts in order to activate the “Planetary Defense System,” after which you must hold out for a few minutes while safeguarding your base. The mission structure of buy defenses, destroy enemy headquarters, defend your base for a bit, destroy the other settlement, and then hold out as the game throws relentless enemies at your base repeats ad nauseam and rarely varies enough to make the next level seem more than a palette-swapped version of the last. The tower defense side of the game means that exploration, one of the best aspects of the Ratchet games, has largely been neutered. You’re encouraged to search for bolts and weapon pods around the environment, but as your base constantly remains under threat, you can’t really explore the levels at your leisure.
It doesn't help that Full Frontal Assault is almost impossible to complete on your own. The game is almost entirely multiplayer-focused and actively encourages you to play the short campaign cooperatively. In practice this means the difficulty scales poorly for one player. Each base has two lanes, but every level seems to require you to be in two places at once, and the huge number of enemies the game sends your way soak up an obscene amount of damage. As a result, you’ll spend a lot of your time scavenging for bolts and ammunition to defend your base, as turrets will often be destroyed in a single blow while you will waste a third of a weapon's ammo on a couple of hostiles. At no point does Insomniac indicate that the campaign can be feasibly completed alone.
When played in co-op, Full Frontal Assault can be serious fun, the multiple threats and objectives making for a good co-op experience as there’s a tangible feeling of teamwork between defending your base and taking out enemy control points. However, on no account should anyone go into the game expecting to solo the campaign, because it will treat you like you have a partner along for the ride and beat you into the ground accordingly near the end of the game.
Enemies soak up an enormous amount of damage, making co-op mandatory for later levels.
Full Frontal Assault is still a good-looking game. Lighting and particle effects look exceptional, barring the ugly fire effects, and the game sports the same cartoonish look from Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One that will probably appeal more to the younger crowd. The art direction, as a result, is pretty bland: There are jungles, industrial planets, and ice-covered stages, yet they all lack the novel twist that previous Ratchet games would put on these clichéd settings. Maybe it’s a good thing that exploration is not a huge part of the game, because there’s precious little to see. In addition, the game suffers from serious frame rate issues in the heat of battle. The combination of large groups of enemies and explosions – frequent occurrences in Full Frontal Assault – will slow the frame rate to a crawl.
Moreover, playing Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault isn't especially fun. Series fans will be happy to learn that Insomniac has returned to the traditional third-person controls of 2009’s A Crack in Time after the botched All 4 One, but the tight controls are squandered by the complete lack of interesting firepower. Ratchet & Clank as a series is about guns: big guns, dumb guns, guns that turn enemies into sheep or play Beethoven as you empty them into your foes. In every respect a Ratchet & Clank game lives and dies by its arsenal, and the death-dealing tools of Full Frontal Assault are unremarkable. Old favorites like the murderous bodyguard Mr Zurkon and the Groovitron return, which smacks more of a lack of imagination than fan service, and the other firearms on offer are functional rehashes of the bog-standard weaponry in previous games. Stripped of the exciting and destructive toys that the series is known for, the core formula of a Ratchet game is thrown into sharper relief. In the end, all you are doing is holding down the fire button and running sideways. Without the opportunity to experiment with weird weaponry, Full Frontal Assault makes this fact glaringly apparent.
No sane pod stands between a Lombax and his guns.
Nevertheless, the actual combat is competent. Dodging enemy fire by leaping around and combining different weapons to control a crowd has the same thrill it always had, and the hoverboots that allow you to zip around the level make traveling from base to base enjoyable. Ratchet still controls smoothly and responsively, allowing you to dodge attacks and traverse the levels easily.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with how Full Frontal Assault plays, only that this formula has been done before and done better. Newcomers to the series will find little to complain about, but Ratchet & Clank veterans are more likely to be struck by how dull having wave after wave of enemies run doggedly into your line of fire truly is when compared to the destructive playgrounds that even lesser entries, such as 2007’s Tools of Destruction, provided.
In fact, “dull” is the best descriptor for the trappings that have elevated the series above your ordinary shooters. At their best, Ratchet & Clank games have approached the all-inclusive Pixar quality of being quirky and attractive in order to appeal to the kids while delivering some solid laughs for older fans. Unless you think the main villain shouting “EPIC FAIL” is the height of comedy, Full Frontal Assault is extremely lackluster when it comes to delivering the series’ trademark wit. A couple of jokes hit their marks, but like last year’s All 4 One, the game thinks it’s funnier than it really is.
Qwark at least lends a bit of flavor to proceedings, because he's Copernicus L. Qwark.
More interesting and arguably more perplexing is the multiplayer mode. It’s recommended that you check out the tutorial before jumping into an online match, as a game of Full Frontal Assault can be confusing even if you know what you’re supposed to be doing. A match is broken up into three phases: a recon phase where you capture nodes that serve as outposts and give you bolts, a planning phase where you buy defenses for your base and purchase creeps, and a final assault phase where you try to destroy the enemy’s generators. Matches are frenetic, and the shooting works well when you’re facing off against other people. Defenses are cheaper in multiplayer, so longer, drawn-out sieges are more common and more enjoyable to engage in regardless of whether you’re attacking or defending your base.
Unfortunately, the low player count of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 matches mean the competition lacks the chaos of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal's multiplayer, and the confusing mishmash of tower defense and MOBA elements are hardly intuitive for new players. Most matches involve one team capturing most of the nodes, then utterly obliterating the opposing side during the assault phase. For all its combining of different genres, Full Frontal Assault’s multiplayer feels forced, as if the developers at Insomniac were told to create a multiplayer mode and set about shoehorning disparate elements from other, better games into the core Ratchet gameplay in hopes that they might work.
Though they seem like a cool idea in theory, the MOBA elements such as the creeps don't add much to the multiplayer.
Overall, Ratchet and Clank Full Frontal Assault doesn't live up the quality of previous entries in the series, downloadable or otherwise. The gameplay itself is competent enough, but there’s none of the spark or imagination that previous games had in abundance. It’s a fun co-op experience, and the multiplayer is a novelty that will hold your attention for an hour or so, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Full Frontal Assault is an attempt to capitalize on those players who still have an affection for the series. If you're new to the franchise, there are better Ratchet & Clank experiences to be had, and if you're a long-standing fan, then you'll find it hard not to be disappointed.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign), 2-4 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), PS Vita