It might be argued that the Ratchet and Clank series was one of the defining flagship platforming brands for the PlayStation 2 in the early noughties, supplanting the likes of the Crash Bandicoot series on the original PlayStation. Today, however, its influence has waned somewhat in the platforming sphere, with mixed results in terms of game quality on the PlayStation 3.
That trend of mixing has continued right up until today, where we now have Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One presented to us in an attempt to assuage our platforming desires. It looks like a Ratchet and Clank game that we all know and expect on the surface, but its attempts to meld co-op play with platforming action only serve to present with a lack of focus that equates to both single and multiplayer experience leaving a lot to be desired.
This latest chapter in the Ratchet & Clank tale again follows the two titular heroes, but with a slight twist. When Dr Nefarious tries to wipe out Ratchet, Clank, and Captain Qwark yet again, things don't go quite to plan. Nefarious' methods end up backfiring on him, leading to a chain of events that sees the four characters abducted by a strange force of invading robots. Stuck on the robot ship, the four characters have no choice but to work together to save each other and themselves.
What makes All 4 One stick out from other titles in the series is its co-op gameplay. You can choose to take on the game with four players in a mix of online and offline multiplayer modes, with the option to drop in and out. Each character plays slightly differently, though you do each have the same essential skills - shooting, whipping from place to place, and using a variety of different weapons. Some of them can be character specific and bought at various kiosks scattered through the land, while others are essential to proceed in the game. Perhaps the best of such weapons is the vacuuming gun, which has several different applications when made available - it can suck up enemies, which can in turn be shot at other enemies and at various switches and devices. It can also be used to propel the likes of Clank to other areas, enabling easy whipping.
Unfortunately, the imagination in the game runs out just about there. The levels and enemies really are not much of a challenge, and you won't feel the same pangs of joy that you might have even felt in predecessors such as A Crack in Time. The levels themselves are far too simplistic to really stretch one's brain and they're not very exciting or satisfying to play. Though there are some set pieces and boss sequences that do have a bit of thought and inspiration behind them, it's not enough to really get your gaming teeth into. Considering the type of pedigree that the Ratchet & Clank games have built from themselves, it's really disappointing. As well as this, there are also occasional glitches that really should not be taking place, especially when the game has so much emphasis on multiple characters. The above mentioned vacuum gun doesn't always work as it should, and whipping can sometimes be a hit and miss affair. Sometimes you will need a partner to attach yourself to grapple points, but it can be a real pain to readjust to attach to your already landed partner. You're often left dangling in the air, waiting for the game to register that you've chosen to grapple to your partner.
All of these factors are especially compounded when you are playing solo. All 4 One can be a bit of fun with a few friends in tow, but when it's just you versus the game, it proves to be a bit of a dull experience. It can feel like you're not so much playing the game as merely going through the motions of what is expected of your average platformer of this generation.
It's a real shame that the gameplay of All 4 One is so lacking when many other aspects of its production are at a high end. The graphics and general art direction are something that the team should be proud of. The variable locales are all represented with a decent level of detail given the game's general cartoonish veneer. It is a world rich with colours and very respectable particle effects littered throughout, from the zapping of lasers to the so very many things getting electrocuted, vacuumed and generally exploded. By a similar token, the voice acting in the game was taken to with a clear sense of enthusiasm. Though the scripting of the main story isn't anything special to write about, it does do its job and there is considerable hamminess from much of the voice acting cast who definitely do the best with the material they were given, producing a few chuckles. The incidental scripting is also interesting, with stray comments from the characters likely to bring a smile to the face of those who play. Sound effects are also of a good quality and are of a highly varied nature across characters, weapons and mechanisms strewn throughout the game.
The game does take a hit in the lifespan stakes as it's simply too easy to finish and there isn't a lot to propel one to grab every last collectible and unlock everything there is to unlock. A single playthrough of the whole game with friends may be enough to satisfy, but unfortunately it doesn't warrant much in the way of multiple playthroughs, especially when the solitary experience is an even less motivating experience to get through.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One doesn't completely trash the Ratchet & Clank series, but its attempt at shaking the formula up just doesn't work. Well produced it may be, it simply doesn't have enough substance to it to be as enjoyable as it should be. The four player action can be okay in parts, but it still amounts to a forgettable experience in the end.