In the ten years since the Insomniac introduced Ratchet & Clank, the series has seen at least 12 entries, 13 if you count the HD collection from earlier this year. The lombax and his toaster shaped robot sidekick have also made appearances in other Sony titles, like Jak Racing X and the recently released Playstation All-Stars, and are seemingly everywhere. Out of all of Sony’s franchises, Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series is the hardest working. However, hard working does not always translate to most popular and since the start of this generation the dynamic duo has struggled to maintain its fanbase and somewhere along the way lost its identity.
Ever since the phenomenal Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time was met by gamers with a resounding thud of appreciation, developer Insomniac has struggled to breathe life into the series. Last year they presented us with Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, a multiplayer focused title that stripped down the core franchise gameplay and turned it into a colorful shooter with pretty cool guns. Many fans were left feeling let down by this turn from the tight single player focus of past campaigns, the lack of fun platforming design and just a sense that Insomniac didn’t get what made Ratchet great. Still, even after that lackluster outing, a new Ratchet game was cause to celebrate. And then came Full Frontal Assault.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault marks another striking tonal shift for the series. Full Frontal Assault switches out the simplified multiplayer co-op of All 4 One for substandard tower defense and then mixes it with a watered down version of Ratchet’s iconic platforming and shooting. Taking cues from games like Orcs Must Die, Full Frontal Assault has players defending a base from waves of enemies. These bases can be upgraded via the traditional currency of Ratchet games, bolts. Which are acquired the same way they always have been, by defeating enemies and busting open crates.
Upgrading is limited to certain areas, ala Gears of War 3’s Horde mode, so turrets have a set location as do mines and barriers. Each base defense item has upgrades that will be acquired as the game progresses but seeing as the game progresses you are always facing off against bigger badder enemies the upgrades lack oomph. These items can also be destroyed costing you quite a bit of coinage in the process. Like all games of this type it is a delicate balance of money management, strategic placement and a touch of luck but Full Frontal Assault throws a wrench into the works mucking it all up.
In between waves of enemies Ratchet will have to venture out to gather more weapons and bolts as well as complete a secondary quest that allows for the stage to be completed. These mandatory side jaunts have some of the traditional Ratchet gameplay in them but they end up being so stressful because an attack on your base could erupt at any moment rendering progress you had made towards actually finishing. Ignore an attack too long and the enemy will overrun the base causing you to fail.
On paper it actually seems like it could be a fun concept but the reality is that Full Frontal Assault holds mostly just frustration in the way the game is balanced. Further souring my mood was the overall story of the title. The game lacks the charm of past Ratchet’s, even All 4 One, and the jokes often end up falling flat. Considering the charm is one of the main reasons the series has been so successful over the years, this is extremely disheartening. The current trajectory of the quality of the series is depressing and while I hate to say it, maybe it is time to give Ratchet & Clank a rest.