If you were expecting Insomniac to produce another traditional Ratchet and Clank platformer after their epic last blowout, A Crack in Time, you might be surprised with what they've come up with. That's not to say Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One isn't a proper sequel to the last game - it is, a full length new installment in the franchise and not an interquel like Quest for Booty. It is however, the first Ratchet and Clank game with four player co-operative play, and that's where the series is taking a new direction.
Set after the events of the last game, All 4 One shows that Dr. Nefarious did indeed survive after being rescued by Lawrence. His latest plan to destroy his arch nemeses, namely Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark (who has somehow become President) backfires horribly, sending him and the rest of the characters into a machine called the 'Creature Collector', where they become trapped. Forced to work together, all four characters must try to escape their situation.
It's a premise that provides for both an interesting story (forcing Nefarious to rub shoulders with Ratchet and Clank) as well as interesting co-op gameplay. That said, you can still play this game in single player if you so choose, making it much more like Ratchet and Clank games of the past as Clank attaches himself to Ratchet's back. However, even if you choose this option you'll still feel as if you're missing out on something, as you notice some key differences in the game, namely a heightened camera that is more suited to following four players rather than just one.
Still, it's a game that's meant to be enjoyed with friends, and that's where the drop-in, drop-out co-op gameplay starts to come into its own. Playing as Ratchet, Clank, Qwark or Nefarious is similar, yet different, as each character has their own unique weapon while still being able to make use of other crazy weapons everyone can use, and which in fact are more powerful when used within range of friends using the same weapon. As well as fighting off enemies, the demo we played through had some more co-operative elements and puzzles. One included having several characters unlock a door, while another saw everyone on a floating taxi of some sort, as players had to rock back and forth in the car to steer it and avoid obstacles - a task not as easy as it sounds.
Another fun element we saw was the Vacuum 4000, which allowed players to pick up others and fire them to cross large distances, a lot like the similar Manapult in Saints Row: The Third. We didn't see it personally, but the game also features a tether, which acts kind of like a grappling hook so players can pull themselves across to their buddies, swing across gaps, or do both at the same time! At the end of each stage, scores are calculated, presumably based on how many bolts each character was able to collect and how well everyone performed. Specific awards are then handed out, tailored to what each player excelled at the most.
Overall, All 4 One is definitely fun, even if it isn't the most mind-blowing visual package in the PlayStation 3's current arsenal of exclusive titles. It's not really a game you're going to get the best experience out of in single player, despite all the past games being single player affairs (excluding Gladiator). It has to be enjoyed with others, fumbling around and attempting to co-ordinate jumps, puzzles and attacks, in order to get the most out of the game, which is exactly what's intended. We'll be watching this one's progress with great interest.