After 09’s Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, developer Insomniac has experimented with various side entries while attempting to maintain the charm of the series. Their latest title, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, was released in celebration of the 10th anniversary of our favorite Lombax hero and his robot companion, but the combination of run n’ gun gameplay with real-time strategy and tower defense elements make this entry a hard pill to swallow for veterans of the series.
Following in the footsteps of previous budgeted entry Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, Full Frontal Assault delivers a paper-thin plot centered around the destruction of the Planetary Defense Centers set up by Q-Force. The annihilation of these subsystems have left the defense systems of some nearby planets deactivated and open to attack from Zurgo, a former fan-boy of the interplanetary defense squad. While familiar in premise, the unique series humor is sprinkled in, but not quite enough for my taste. Most of the narrative is enforced through minor cut scenes, and the game is never fully realized as a story-driven affair.
The setup is simple, but the gameplay immediately differentiates this title from previous Ratchet & Clank titles. Played out like a tower-defense title, each of the three planets consist of self-contained, arena-like levels where you must defend a base with six fragile generators from countless swarms of enemies that approach you from two paths. The concept seems simple as you run around collecting bolts to purchase mines, barriers, and turrets to help defend your generators. Regrettably, your stationary defensive weapons are ineffective and grossly underpowered – forcing you to babysit each unit. Sprinting back and forth between your base and current objective while smashing infinitely-spawning crates to collect bolts and ammo while activating key nodes to power up your planetary defenses quickly becomes very laborious.
The aliens you face progressively get tougher, so upgrading Ratchet’s arsenal with different weapons is important if you wish to be successful. Chances are that if you are interested in Full Frontal Assault than you are familiar with the zany weapons associated with the series. By activating “weapon pods” that have been scattered throughout each level you are given a one time option to purchase a new weapon, before the pod shuts down and you will need to locate a new pod if you wish to use a different gun. Franchise favorite weapons including the shotgun-like Sonic Erupter, the rambunctious Mr. Zurkon, the high-powered Warmonger, and disco-infused Groovitron Mine have returned. Each will increase in power as you continually use them, making it fun to utilize different weapon combos to see which fits your play style best. Unfortunately, you’ll need to unlock every single weapon again once you start a new level.
Thankfully traveling through the detailed levels made of endless ramps, rails, and jump pad are immensely fun when using Ratchet’s lightning-fast Hover Boots. Environments are full of color and vivid textures, with each planet radically different to the previous. It was odd to see a few technical glitches surface such as environmental pop up, minor slowdown, and characters spawning in front of my eyes, but the game is still a stunner to look at amidst those minor issues. Controls are very responsive being familiar to previous titles and easy to learn for younger ones. The camera is also easy to use and can be operated remotely, which worked perfectly with no noticeable flaws. The soundtrack is your usual affair with vibrant songs and various space themes running throughout the game. Although nothing is really memorable compared to previous soundtracks. Voice Acting is superb again with all the actors returning; the trademark banter between the three main characters is strong as ever.
Although the extremely short campaign may be a bit lacking, but its multiplayer components are where the game really shines. The main story campaign with a friend either locally or online, making it easier to get through even the toughest waves of enemies. The online competitive mode has you and a friend defending their own base on opposite sides of the map, with the goal to wipe out all of your opponent’s generators before they take out yours. Matches occur in three phases: Recon, Squad, and Assault. Recon lets you loose on the world, where you must capture nodes to receive a continuous supply of bolts during the next two phases. Squad gives you a limited window to spend those bolts on attack units that will warp to the front of your opponent’s base during the aptly name Assault phase. This cycle repeats up to five times, assuming both your bases last that long. The addition of offensive units makes the whole experience that much more involving, though this too has its flaws. Whoever captures the most nodes has the most money, and when you can outspend your opponent, you win, regardless of how strategically savvy you may or may not be. Plus, with only three maps and two match types—one vs. one or two vs. two –the experience gets boring quickly.
As a longtime R&C fan, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is an interesting experiment that could have risen beyond the average with a bit more polish and creativity. The infusion of tower defense mechanics freshen up the series, but it isn’t enough to outweigh the lackluster single-player experience.
Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault is a cross-buy, cross-save, and cross-play game developed by Insomniac. Tin Giant is currently handling the Vita port and should be released later this month.