So we are stepping away from the main titles onto a side-game. Not just shown through being a side-story, but also in gameplay as we shift from the platformer and third-person shooter genre, to a multiplayer focused, overhead shooter. This made it the hardest review for me to get started on. Why? I simply did not have anyone who wanted to play it with me and that is strange. I found someone to test the multiplayer for Kingdom of Paradise, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, the Jedi Knight games and even Ratchet Gladiator. Finally I found someone who could be of support, since online-play was not helping me at all. After playing through the entire Kingdom Hearts-series, I was ready to go back and get through the last couple of Ratchet and Clank-games as well.
Like a phone call without purpose
For reasons not worth explaining, Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark (who is now a president) and the bad guy from previous instalments, Dr. Nefarious, team up to defeat a greater evil. I am sorry for sounding so shallow, but the story is really that uninteresting. They try to establish a plot with a poor twist towards the end, but the heroes never interact with the new threat until the very end. All the major events are told through expositions from a communication device, which is a terrible choice in storytelling since this is not an audiobook, but a visual and interactive medium. The minor cutscenes that appear after certain checkpoints don’t help much as they are either unnecessarily elaborating about the minor events that occur or simply just there for comic relief.
At the very least, I can praise the humor the game offers. Most of the comments are enjoyable and especially from Captain Qwark, who is still as silly and pretentious as always. The other characters are likeable, with Dr Nefarious being an unlikely team member, but a fun one nonetheless. Sadly, the plot is hammered in and feels only added for the sake of having a story that takes itself too seriously at times.
Story Score: 4/10
Aiming so low
After choosing whether you want to go on- or offline, you will be set in a third person shoot-em-up with a stationary camera that moves accordingly and automatically to the action. What you have in term of movesets is very basic, with a 3 hit melee-combo, a double jump, and a ground-pound being present. This, alongside a boomerang attack, won’t be very useful except for context sensitive moments for activating buttons to proceed or the basic foundation of platforming.
By picking up bolts from defeated enemies or destroyed creates, you can buy weapons from shops to deal more damage against enemies. However, despite the weapons being different in designs, they simply became underwhelming. They don’t feel unique enough to be memorable, despite one being a rocket-launcher and another being a frost-canon. You can even purchase one ammo, damage,- and special upgrade for each of them, but with nothing interesting added. The reason for this, is that enemies don’t vary in concept or have any form of challenge, making weapons rather something for dealing as much damage as possible, than for clever uses such as inflicting conditions. Throughout the game, I only used my pistol until I had to change my gun when ammo was depleted. It was not until the last 2 areas that I had to use all of my weapons to deal more destruction since the enemies became damage-suckers. Again: I only took notice in how much damage I dealt since nothing else mattered.
This made the game become very monotonous and downright dull. Even worse is how wasteful the multiplayer is. Since its not balanced with multiple characters in mind and the fact that you won’t share bolts, it does not focus well on co-op gaming. In fact, it is more tolerable to play it alone than forcing a friend to join in. You can’t even make good strategy or personalize characters by purchasing different weapons, as you will deal more damage through a mechanism in the game by using the same weapons. Not even the characters themselves are different, so the choice is just cosmetic. At least there is a fun ranking- system at the end, where you get titles depending on what you did, such as how many times you died or killed someone. But I ended up going solo with one AI-character that was a decent partner, despite getting a bit confused at times about what to do.
The lackluster shooting will be a big focus throughout the game, but there are also plenty of underdeveloped forms of variation added as well. There are stages with poor gimmicks combined with the shooting aspect to create the illusion of variety, such as platforming that became automated and puzzles that come down to pressing 4 buttons. However, the worst are outside of the shooting. You have QTE-segments with swinging from certain flying orbs being most common, steering a taxi left and right, and some that occur only once, with the worst being a spaceship-section that you must steer slowly in a 2D-stage.
The only ones that were somewhat entertaining, were a minor grind rail-segment and one jetpack-part, as you had simple controls, but had to dodge obstacles at high speed, making them more intense. Sadly, these were short-lived and not particularly grand, due to lacking variety or challenge. Even specific guns tried to add something outside of the dull shooting, such as one that was basically a jackhammer used only for specific rocks. However, the game is too linear, so puzzles become tedious tasks where the solution is obvious. They are also usually only used for one stage, with the exception of the Vacuum. Speaking of which, this odd gun was only used for collecting extras that you can’t pick up otherwise, making long jumps, and for healing a fallen party-member. This perfectly shows how unfinished the game is, as you should have been able to pick up the collectables and items by simply walking through them, the long-jumps are context sensitive, and you can revive a party-member by simply waiting as well.
Adding to these idiotic design-choices, are tutorials that teach mechanics you have already used, and uneven physics. It was so bizarre to have my jumps being normal, but shots being dragged to the ground while I was in an elevator. Then there are also some glitches that can make you shoot up in the air, suddenly have invisible walls, and getting shot in certain cutscenes. I can only count about 5 minutes that made me enjoy the game out of the 9 hours it took finish. Besides the fun bits mentioned earlier, the first boss was creative with fun patterns and cool variations that stepped up the challenge. There was nothing else I enjoyed as the shooting was downright uninteresting and the variation it tried to add was even worse.
Gameplay Score: 1.5/10
At least this shows quality
For as little effort that has been given to the game in the other aspects, it is surprisingly visually pleasing, with a lot of different areas to visit that have some neat details in the background. The snow-planet will have shifting sceneries with the boss of the stage following you, while an urban location will be constructing and placing tubes as you grind on them. These are details that make this game very intriguing and while some areas can feel copied due to flat level-design, there is enough variety to make them feel different. The characters are a bit stiff with few animations to them, but well designed. The enemies are a mixed bag as most are robots you will fight multiple times, and generic ones at that. Luckily, there are some naturalistic creatures for each area and they have diverse and quite unique design to them. The cutscenes still look good, both the CG and the few paper cut-out scenes, but they don’t have much purpose as they are short and don’t really show much when they appear. Still a nice effort as the CG is still technically impressive.
While the commentators on your communication-device do not serve much purpose, the general voice acting is great, with funny dialog. Every character has something unique to say when an event occurs, with Qwark being a favorite of mine to listen to. It is also a nice touch that characters that are controlled in the stages, are the only one who will have some dialog or comments. Unfortunately, the guns have very uninteresting sounds to them and have quite low volume. Maybe it is for the best as you will be firing just about all the time, but there is no satisfaction to shoot even rockets at enemies, which is simply terrible. On a high note, the music is outstanding, with lovely compositions that mixes symphony and techno, creating a grand soundtrack. Michael Bross, whom you might know from a couple of the Oddworld games, recreates the lovely atmospheric tones that Ratchet and Clank is known for since the second game, and it is a blast to listen to them. From the intense moments with fast violin and techno-beats, to the more ominous tracks, it is a shame that so much effort was put in this installment.
Presentation Score: 8/10
You can use the disc as a frisbee
Skill points return for giving you in-game achievements and aren’t much better than the normal kind that wants you to defeat X amount of enemies with Y specific weapon. A new way of getting the Ryno protosuit has been added, where you must vacuum up pets to pay for entrances in puzzle-stages to acquire pieces of this robot-armor. These can be enjoyable as they try to be fast paced puzzles, but they are too easy to finish and the Ryno is an underwhelming reward, especially since it’s easy to find and only really causes more damage than the average gun. I was actually hoping for the cheats to be enjoyable, but there are only 3 to unlock and do not make it worth replaying any of the stages.
The only thing that was actually worth collecting, were the Hero Bolts for skins. These are very cool extras, but like with skill-points and Ryno-pieces, they are too easy to acquire. Having it also so that only one player can snag the collectables and not being able to share, makes the co-op aspect much less worthwhile as someone will call it quits when it becomes a competition on who gets to collect what.
Extra Score: 2/10
There are some aspects of the hectic shooting that could have worked if they put more thought into it, but as we have seen, it seems like Insomniac really does not know what to do with the franchise at this point. While Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One isn’t without any production-value, it is shallow and downright uninteresting. If there were any video games that could prove to me they were a waste of time, this would have been it.