Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault review for PS3

Platform: PlayStation 3, PSN
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Insomniac Games
Medium: Blu-ray Disc/Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

One of the reasons that I love Insomniac Games is that they are never afraid to try something a bit different every once in a while with their franchises. Whether it be online multiplayer, cooperative play, or smaller downloadable adventures, for better or for worse, they like to experiment and mix it up. Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is one such “fun-sized” adventure that is best described as a base-defense and action shooting platformer hybrid. The concept sounds like a neat idea on paper, especially considering how popular the base/tower defense genre has been as of late, though does it work as an actual game? Read on.

Like Quest for Booty, Full Frontal Assault was designed as a downloadable PSN game for both the PS3 and PS Vita. Sure, you can pick it up on Blu-ray for a budget price of $19.99, but it was clearly not designed as a full-fledged disc-based title – which is perfectly fine considering the price point. Like PS All-Stars Battle Royale, the unfortunately delayed Vita version is both Cross-Buy and Cross-Play capable, so those who purchase the PS3 version get the Vita version for free and can play online with owners of the other version. We?ll have to see how that works out in January 2013 when the Vita version is complete however.

Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark, collectively the Q-Force, are more or less relaxing after yet another round of saving the galaxy when a mysterious army of Grungarian soldiers decide to start assaulting local Planetary Defense Centers. So like any interplanetary heroes would be expected to do, the team decides to investigate and get to the bottom of the disturbance.

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault features a campaign mode which supports 1 or 2 players, locally or online, that involves defending and/or reclaiming a number of the Planetary Defense Centers from the Grungarian army. You choose from Ratchet, Clank or Qwark (all of which essentially play the same) and are dropped into a base where it?s your job to secure the PDC, defend the all-important generators, and wipe out the enemy presence.

Like a traditional R&C game, your character has access to a selection of interesting weapons and a few gadgets to assist in taking down the baddies with familiar Ratchet & Clank gameplay and controls. That?s only a small part of the game though, as each level is divided up into 3 phases (Recon, Squad and Assault) which dictate what you should be focusing on – resource gathering, base defense, or ass-kicking.

The Q-Force?s primary goal is to reclaim the master nodes on the planet, all the while protecting their own base from waves of Grungarian soldiers. Protecting the base, and the delicate generators within, requires some strategy along with a cache of defensive and offensive barriers, mines, and turrets. Building these items require bolts, which can be earned by exploring the environment and busting open crates, activating nodes, or taking out wandering enemies. While building up your defenses, you are also working towards taking control of smaller nodes which can either be tricky to get to, or well-defended by the enemy. Once a node is yours, you can choose one of the classic R&C weapons or gadgets to utilize during that specific level. After the master nodes are back in your control, then you can infiltrate and shut down the Grungarian base on that planet, and then fall back to activate and protect the PDC from one final, usually brutal enemy wave.

The battlefields in Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault are nowhere near as large or complex as a level in any of the R&C games, which makes sense since FFA is less an action platformer than a strategic base defense game with platforming elements. There are some obstacles here and there on each level, including moving platforms, grindable pipes and gaps requiring the swingshot, but they aren?t anything that would slow down progress for more than a short time. There are no real boss encounters, yet there are definitely a handful of boss-style enemies that can take quite a beating and require a whole heap of ammo and time to take down before they reach your base. The game alerts you when either a wave is headed towards your generators or one of these larger more dangerous Grungarian war machines are en route to lay waste to your base. Probably the most important skill to pick up during the campaign is the ability to shift your strategy on a dime. After a while, you?ll get used to the ebb and flow of defensive and offensive phases, though at times, it?ll definitely catch you unprepared.

Each planet/level usually takes 20 – 30 minutes or more to play through, and if for whatever reason you fail to protect your base properly, you can literally lose at the last moment and have to restart at a checkpoint. There are only 5 planets in the campaign, and they get progressively more difficult and take longer and longer to complete, especially when your weapons are still underpowered. The game is best played with a co-op buddy, either online or locally via split-screen, but it?s fairly solid experience alone as well.

Overall, the campaign isn’t particularly long, though Insomniac added some features which help extend the experience. There are leaderboards, collectables, ratings, skill points, unlockables, skins, and weapon upgrades which carry over from character to character and level to level. So there is definitely some incentive to jump back into already completed levels, especially with another co-op player.

There is also a Competitive multiplayer mode in R&C: Full Frontal Assault which supports up to 4 players in configurations of 1 vs. 1, or 2 vs. 2, locally or online. Taking the skills learned from playing the single player mode, the competitive mode pits team against team in a slightly modified take on the campaign level environments. They are designed to make them more or less equal and and fair for both sides, though many of the gameplay elements remain the same such as taking control of nodes and building up defenses. The mode also adds the ability to build and send out enemy units, and to upgrade weapons and gadgets and whatnot as well, so it makes sense from a multiplayer perspective.

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is honestly not the best looking of the R&C titles, though it?s solid enough considering some of the onscreen action. It looks somewhat low resolution, and some of the effects, textures and lighting are decent enough, but I would still rate it a step below what was seen in R&C Future: A Crack in Time. On the positive side, I?m expecting the PS Vita version will be a pretty close match at least. The FFA audio is vintage Insomniac with a nice dose of humor in the voiceovers and some dramatic background tunes.

Unfortunately, unlike most previous R&C releases, Full Frontal Assault didn?t really click with me. The planets/levels are boring, the matches are too drawn out, and most of the visuals are on the drab side. While there is a brief tutorial, there is no digital or paper manual to speak of, and in a game like this I actually wouldn?t have minded some sort of help document to refer to. The online is sparsely populated at the moment, which may or may not change once the game releases in Europe and on the PS Vita. Either way, getting a co-op or competitive game going consistently has been a chore, and the extremely simple matchmaking with no lobbies to speak of doesn’t exactly do much to assist in the process.

It?s certainly great that Insomniac Games wanted to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Ratchet & Clank series with a fresh new gameplay experience. Sadly, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault doesn?t totally work. It?s possible that the PS Vita will be a more natural fit for the game, and we expect to spend some time with that version when it is released.

Grade: C+