Game Review: Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One

For: Playstation 3

From: Insomniac/Sony

ESRB rating: Everyone 10-plus (crude humor, fantasy violence, language)

Price: $60

You should know straight away that if you expect a typical "Ratchet and Clank" experience from "Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One," what you get instead probably will disappoint you.

If, however, you understand going in that "One" is the Playstation 3's answer to "New Super Mario Bros. Wii," what you get should match, and very possibly exceed, expectations. Significant compromise went into distilling the series' best ingredients into a potentially messy four-player (online or offline) co-op game, but what remains mostly does the name proud.

First, the obvious explanation of what "One" is not. It isn't a traditional 3D platformer that gives players complete freedom to move around and explore massive, intricate environments in any manner they please. Nor is it a freewheeling third-person shooter that combines that joy of movement with brilliantly offbeat weapon design to create a wonderful marriage of platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving and cartoonish destruction on a gigantic scale.

"One's" worlds remain large and inspired in their design, but navigating them is hamstrung by a fixed camera designed to accommodate two to four characters at once. Similarly, while your arsenal of weapons and gadgets gradually expands into a massive collection of series favorites and brand-new contraptions, the fixed camera and the need it creates for auto-targeting dumbs the gunplay down quite a bit. "One" compensates somewhat by bumping up the enemy count and upholding the series' appetite for destruction, but if there's one area where the compromise feels most pronounced, it's here.

As bears repeating, though, "One" makes up for those losses elsewhere and in the service of the game it truly wants to be - a frantic co-op experience that's playable alone but accessible to all, and one designed around action that's fast and manic instead of epic and nuanced.

In that regard, it succeeds quite nicely. "One's" overriding storyline is as lengthy as a traditional "Ratchet" game and its worlds comparably large, but it divides itself into co-op-friendly chunks that take roughly 15-20 minutes each to play. The interface for setting up games isn't terribly elegant, but the game itself is flexible enough to accommodate whatever setup - solo, with friends, with strangers or a little bit of all three - you wish to take.

Similarly, "One" bounds so swiftly between gameplay elements that the aforementioned compromises mostly cease to matter. You'll take down a wave of enemies for a few moments, solve a puzzle for a few more, do a little running and jumping, swing on a rope or ride a rail to cross a gap, maybe fight a boss enemy, and do whatever else the game fancies next. "One" struggles near the end when it runs out of ideas and goes heavy on the shooting, but for most of the way, the steady mix of platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving, random diversions and new gadgets makes for a fast game with little downtime.

If anything, it's a little too frantic with three or four players. Having Ratchet, Clank, Qwark and Dr. Nefarious sharing one screen leads to some hilarious collapses in teamwork and competence, but two players may be more ideal for those who'd rather prosper than let chaos ensue. Going it alone also is viable, because "One" provides an A.I. partner whose competence and perception are startlingly on point. (Take notes, Lego games.)

It wouldn't be a "Ratchet" game without a funny script and brilliant voice acting driving it along, and this, happily, is one area where "One" doesn't deviate. The story gamely explains why this unlikely foursome is stuck together, and the dialogue - from main and supporting characters alike - is among the sharpest and funniest to grace any game this year.

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