There are several Ratchet & Clank games available and let’s face it, they’re all almost identical to each other. So for the series to survive, Insomniac Games needed to bring something new to the table – drop-in/drop-out co-op gameplay.
Of course this is nothing new for gaming, the Lego series of games has been doing it for several years. But for Ratchet & Clank it’s a much-needed breath of fresh air.
It's possible to play All 4 One solo and be assigned an AI controlled accomplice, but expect to do most of the work as they’re only really present to assist in the elements that require some actual co-operation. As the ‘4’ in the name suggests, up to four players can take part in local or online co-op action, and this is where all the fun lies. Once two or more human players are involved, there are no AI controlled characters assigned and the game caters the action to two, three or four players.
The game starts with Ratchet, his sidekick Clank and the bumbling Captain Qwark (now Galactic President Qwark) facing the latest evil plan of Dr Nefarious when a mysterious new threat presents itself and forces previous enemies into becoming allies to escape the clutches of this emergent evil. Our four playable protagonists all have a similar basic move and attack set, but there are some that are specific to the characters’ strengths.
As usual, when an enemy is dispatched or a crate or object is broken, bolts are collected which are used as currency at Weapon Depots. New weapons are regularly unlocked at these depots and, along with the ability to upgrade any weapon, keep the game interesting even when the action itself is getting monotonous.
It really does pay to work together and communicate if all the players are to gain access to weapons at an even rate. It’s all too easy for one player to smash all the available crates while the others are fighting enemies, and because the camera does not zoom out as players get further apart, there is only a certain amount of screen real estate to work with. This means that if one player is after a pile of crates that exists back off screen then everyone else needs to come back for it to be accessed. The same theory of sharing goes for health stations too.
In the heat of the regular boss battles, it pays to keep an eye on health bars as even though there are unlimited lives, there is also about a 10 second stand-down time before respawning. If all the players die in this time then the game restarts at the last checkpoint. Luckily these are fairly regular. This is only really an issue in two-player as the more human combatants there are, the more unlikely they are to all die simultaneously.
With so much happening on screen at once, the game suffers no slow down – but this is facilitated by some dumbed-down textures when compared to the detailed worlds of other Ratchet & Clank games. It’s not a problem though as there really isn’t time to sit back and enjoy the scenery anyway.
The shooting aspect of the game does get understandably repetitive, which is why there is a healthy dose of puzzle solving in All 4 One. These can be anything from individually recognizing an attack pattern of a boss fight to brain teasers that genuinely require team co-operation. There are several battles that, after dying dozens of times, all of a sudden become very simple when a team strategy is realised. The game really players on their toes in this respect.
Humour is always a strong feature of the Ratchet & Clank series and All 4 One is certainly no exception. The gags come thick and fast – some visual that will appeal to the younger set and then there are some slick verbal lines that will have many thinking “did he just say what I thought he said?” All in keeping with the PG rating, of course.
All 4 One is a worthy addition to the Ratchet & Clank stable and, judging by the popularity of the drop-in/drop-out style of co-op gameplay that the Lego series has proven so popular, might just be where the future of the franchise lies.