Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault

Last year, as a follow-up to Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, as well as to celebrate 10 years of Ratchet & Clank, developer Insomniac Games released a pair of Ratchet & Clank titles, one being an HD Collection of the first three titles (which I received for Christmas and will get to eventually), the other being a brand new game called Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (also a gift). This game was originally to share the same fate as Quest for Booty, wherein it would get a retail release in Europe and only as a PSN download in North America. However, in a strange twist of fate, the game has also received a physical release in North America, something that pleased me greatly, under the same $20 price range as the download version. It should also be noted that this game supports Sony's new Cross Buy initiative, where if you buy the PS3 version of the game, you will also get its PlayStation Vita counterpart for free (however, as of this writing, the Vita version of this game does not come out for another week, but at least I have the physical PS3 disk). Released to little fanfare and a seemingly limited physical run (when I asked my nearest GameStop about the game when it came out, they had only gotten 20 copies), is this game a worthy installment in the Ratchet & Clank series?

The story (or what little there is of it) follows the events of All 4 One, with Ratchet, Clank, and former Galactic President Qwark aboard the Starship Phoenix II. As Qwark expresses boredom over not being able to fight anything, he gets excited when Ratchet mentions a group of rouge cleaner bots. Once they are dealt with, they receive a message from a new, unknown menace that has a personal agenda against Captain Qwark. With this, the three of them spring into action. While the campaign only lasts but a few hours (what else can you expect from a $20 game?), this plot manages to string the events together as best as it can and features some great moments of hilarity and actually manages to have one or two unexpected twists thrown in. One of these twists, revealed after completing the first (of five) levels, is the identity of the villain: Stuart Zergo (voiced by the ever-entertaining Richard Steven Horvitz). (Remember him? Neither did I. He is an easily-forgotten/unfound Captain Qwark fanboy from Going Commando, the second game in the entire Ratchet & Clank franchise!) Overall, the story of this installment is thin, but enjoyable for what it's worth.

The gameplay of Full Frontal Assault is, as advertised, a return to the classic Ratchet & Clank gameplay, but with a new twist: there is now a Tower Defense type of gameplay where you must also defend a base from enemy attack, using defenses such as mines, walls, and turrets. As more advanced defenses are at your disposal, equally more powerful enemies are also sent to attack. The newer items require more Bolts to be spent, but once you get a good groove going, it becomes a lot easier to figure out how best to defend your base. At the same time, you must also infiltrate another base on the other side of the map by destroying power nodes and then rebooting your base for completion. You must also defend a set of generators within your base, using Bolts to repair damaged (but not destroyed) generators, and turrets and bombs can be set up around them. Weapons, among them the amazing Groovitron and Mr. Zurkon in later levels, are found inside special pods, which require a special minigame to open, with breakable Bolt and ammo crates scattered around the environment; ammo and Nanotech crates can be found with the weapon pods once they are opened and regenerate over time. I was a little worried about the Tower Defense mechanic at first, given what I saw of it in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, but when I actually played the campaign I thought Insomniac did a very good job with this style of gameplay, incorporating it well with the rest of the core gameplay. I also enjoyed the level design, though their layout caused me to take more time in some cases to explore everything in order to increase my arsenal and finish certain objectives.

The game also features Local Co-Op, much like in All 4 One, but unlike All 4 One, it is limited to two players instead of four. After testing this feature out with my brother, I found that it works really well (aside from it taking less time to beat a level). Weapons unlocked are shared among players and any Bolts earned are added to both players' Bolt counts, eliminating any sort of competition that was found in the previous title (this is not a bad thing to me, given the style of gameplay present here). However, this feature sadly does not work on Standard Definition TV's, due to it not supporting that resolution. I fortunately own a High Definition TV to allow this to work properly, but this really bothered me, since it singles out players who do not own an HD set. So remember: if you want to play with your friends, make sure you've been keeping up with the latest entertainment technologies.

The graphics are similar to that of All 4 One, in that they are very good. As with the new Dante in the Devil May Cry reboot, I have grown accustomed to this new art style; it keeps the cartoonish look set up by the previous games of the franchise, while retaining the light-hearted atmosphere displayed in the earlier games. Everything is bright and colorful, as is to be expected from a Ratchet & Clank game. This is accompanied by some top notch voice acting, though this is also to be expected, given that whatever few voices there are mostly comprise that of returning characters (including the Plumber's obligatory appearance) and the aforementioned Richard Horvitz. This is backed up by music that suits the atmosphere, although you would be more invested in the gameplay to pay attention to most of it; still, I liked whatever I could get out of the music.

If I have one major complaint about Full Frontal Assault, it's that the game sort of dates itself. The villain's personality seems more tailored to a more modern audience and they spout a handful of internet slang and memes at certain opportunities (though I will give Insomniac credit for doing their research on this). The phrases the bad guy spouts out are thankfully some of the more well-known ones, including "like a boss" and the common "n00b"; there's even a visual joke where using the Groovitron in the final battle allows the antagonist to dance as in the popular music video for "Gangnam Style" by K-Pop musician PSY (the ship's computer is also guilty of this, spouting the internet phrase "U mad, bro?" at one point). On top of this, there is a point where the villain hacks the Starship Phoenix II and the song "I Am Glad, 'Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home", aka the "Trololo" song, plays over the speakers (R.I.P. Eduard Khil). While this does make the game more relevant to an audience from the modern age of the internet, I have the feeling that these references will become less relevant as time goes on if this sort of thing eventually dies down (then again, this is the internet, so I might be underestimating it here). On the other hand, while these references are more relevant to the time I am typing this, I will admit they're actually pretty funny.

For what the end product is, I would actually say to Ratchet & Clank fans to give Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault a shot. It has rather unique gameplay for a Ratchet & Clank title and the Co-Op and Tower Defense systems work really well. The plot is admittedly paper thin, but I believe the voice acting and twists help to balance out the short campaign. I hesitate to recommend this game to a newcomer since there are a couple of plot references to previous games (one of which requires you to really know your Ratchet & Clank trivia in order to be fully surprised by the identity of the bad guy), unless you don't care that much about the continuity or being somewhat confused right off the bat. While Full Frontal Assault isn't as deep as previous entries (in fact it's rather shallow by comparison), I won't hold it against Insomniac for trying something new.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Ratchet & Clank, and I hope your next 10 years are awesome.

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