Unlike its more than half-dozen predecessors, “Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One” isn’t a single-player platform-jumping and shooting game starring the titular lombax and robot. Instead, following a general industry trend of trying to make everything playable online, it’s a four-player game.
Instead of Ratchet, an anthropomorphic animal from a fictional species, running around with computer-controlled robot Clank, the two heroes team up with former antagonist Doctor Nefarious and secondary character Captain Qwark, now the president. All four are playable in a quest to return home from an alien world.
While you can’t fault Insomniac Games for wanting to try something different with one of its core franchises, particularly one that had started to feel formulaic, “All 4 One” stumbles often enough that it can only be called a partial success as an online game. It stands out because, as a four-player online platform-jumping game, it’s a rarity. Nintendo has stood atop the genre for more than a decade, but the maker of standouts like “Super Mario Galaxy” and “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” has yet to embrace online play, leaving a void for Insomniac and other ambitious developers to try and fill.
Given the lack of other options, “All 4 One” is competent enough to be worth a look from players looking for a light-hearted online romp, so long as they’re willing to overlook copious warts.
The focus, in addition to the co-op, is the ridiculous arsenal of weapons and gadgets Ratchet and friends assemble in the service of getting home. There’s Ratchet’s Doppelbanger, which serves as a decoy, and the cute Mr. Zurkon, a death-dealing robot who frequently quips about himself in the third person, e.g., “Mr. Zurkon does not need bolts. His currency is pain.” The Critter Strike turns enemies into pigs, while the Darkstar Fission Tether creates a web of electricity and is best used in co-op.
“All 4 One’s” dialogue and writing is first-rate, although the plot occasionally seems to leap from Point A to Point D while skipping points B and C. Given how talkative my friends and I are, we may have missed some of the plot’s finer points as they were explained via in-game movies.
In between the movies that you cannot skip — even upon repeat viewing — blasting enemies, hopping between platforms and solving relatively easy cooperative puzzles is fun when everything works properly. But an awkward weapon-selection system and a fixed, wonky camera work against “All 4 One.” Much like “Dungeon Siege III,” which also used a fixed camera, “All 4 One” is most fun when all four players are on the same page and sticking close to one another.
Though “All 4 One” is a cooperative game, it has some light competitive elements. Each level, the game keeps track of players’ collection of blots and critters, and tallies how many co-op actions they perform and how many enemies they kill. At the end of a stage, bonus points are awarded for each category and an overall winner declared. Each player is awarded a title, which might be based on most kills, least deaths or other categories. The stakes aren’t all that high, but it’s fun to compete for bragging rights and tease your buddy who wins “pacifist” for killing fewer enemies than everyone else.
Online, there’s a lot “Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One” could do better. Its underlying architecture feels like something out of 2004. When creating a game you must choose between “offline” and “online.” If you’re playing solo and see a buddy hop onto the PlayStation Network, you have to abandon your offline game, back all the way out to the menu and create an online game before you can invite him to join.
When creating online games, hosts must create either a session exclusively for friends, or a public game that anyone can join. There’s no setting, say, two of your three slots to public and keeping one open so a friend can join later. The setup will feel clunky and outdated to most experienced online gamers.
Joining a game in progress isn’t the smooth, drop-in/drop-out experience we’ve grown accustomed to in everything from “Gears of War 3” to “Fable III.” Instead, a player wishing to join a game has to wait for friends to reach a designated area, or request that the host reset all players to the most recently cleared checkpoint. Coupled with “All 4 One’s” unskippable in-game movies and tendency to occasionally drop players for no apparent reason, this leads to a fair number of replayed sections.
Obviously, none of the aforementioned issues apply when you’re playing offline, making “All 4 One” best-suited for playing with roommates or younger relatives. Online, it’s worth a look, namely because it doesn’t have much competition outside of the soon-to-be-released “Rayman Origins.” (Update: Swiller pointed out in the comments that “Rayman Origins’s” four-player co-op is offline only. Bummer.)
“Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One,” rated E10+, costs $60 for the PlayStation 3. I played a copy of the game provided by the publisher for review.