Platforms: PS3 | PS Vita (in January)
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
The Ratchet & Clank series seems to be desperately trying to get away from what it always did best – space faring platforming with pitch-perfect weapon combat. Is this the signs of a developer trying to aim for something different to avoid accusations of just repeating themselves? Or are they trying to crack a formula to push the series into mega-selling status to share the limelight with Mario and Rayman? Or are they just keen to reach a quota and get on with their next game?
Last year, we saw the series delve into co-op gameplay and despite dumbing down the controls to removing manual aiming and allow all players to share a single screen, the game was a fun blast with the usual polish we’ve come to expect from the series. While surprising to hear the studio were working on yet another R&C title after announcing Fuse, fans were clearly hoping for something more along the lines of 2009’s A Crack in Time.
Multiplayer is still a large focus here, but the main meat of the game is something of a tower-defence model. In the single-player game, you face the short challenge of defending generators at your base over five stages while trying to retake enemy territory. The enemy will often send waves of troops to attack your base. This provides gameplay that can often leave you feeling stretched, as you need to make your way across large maps to blow up an enemy base or activate a console, while being mindful of them sneaking into your base.
With the bolts found in the usual crates or from defeated enemies, you can buy defences for your base. These include various mines and turrets to ease the burden of fending off the waves. Walled barriers are available too and can be upgraded with electricity later on. The AI, while sometimes a bit dim (they often get stuck on scenery), are relentlessly vicious and will destroy your defences to make their attack easier. Barriers only hold them back for so long and balancing your bolt bank balance with pricey purchases of defences can often be a frustrating experience.
The weapons available for Ratchet are familiar ones from the series and are reliably excellent to wield, offering vital feedback as you work out which ones work best against the different enemy types. At the start of each level, you have to unlock each weapon from scattered pods around the map and sometimes you will be left with duff choices, which can be exasperating when you’ve gambled on which distant pod to trek to, when you only really have time to get a few before the big enemy assault begins.
By the fourth level, I was getting overwhelmed with the final assaults as options became grimly narrow as I tried to defend the base on my own. As somebody that regularly 100%s the Ratchet games, I couldn’t help but feel that Insomniac have let the focus of the game slide too far in the wrong direction.
Co-op is where you must turn if you want to keep your sanity and I’d advise you do so with local splitscreen or online. This makes things much easier to manage, although there’s a large flaw. You can only go online with people on your friends list, as there don’t seem to be any options for matchmaking with anyone else. That’ll be why every time I went for the competitive multiplayer I was flooded with friend requests then.
The competitive multiplayer does feature matchmaking options thankfully, although I’m not sure how long the game is going to have an active audience, such is the lack of variety on offer. 1vs1, 2vs2 or party 2vs2 options are available and feature different maps to the campaign. They’re more arena-based with capturable nodes to obtain around the edge of the stage with a few in the middle too.
The aim of the match is to destroy the other team’s generators, but things are prolonged by the match being broken up into three looped stages of action. The recon round has players capturing nodes to fund defences and troops. This lasts for a few minutes, with players able to steal nodes from each before the time runs out and the nodes are then locked until next time.
Players then fall back to their base and use the bolts to buy AI troops to help them out in the assault. Once the big bolts start rolling in you can upgrade health, ammo and AI classes too although you’ll want to make sure you’ve left some cash for base defences too. When the time for this section runs out it’s time for the assault.
Your AI bots will attack the opposition base while you and your partner try back them up, or use the ongoing distraction to sneak in and try to destroy the generators for the win. Naturally, the other team will be trying to do the same or staying back to defend their base. Sometimes you’ll find teams going all out or going for a one at home one on attack plan.
Stalemates can go on for a while, but matches can end suddenly when you manage to break defences when spotting a gap in their lines. While undeniably gratifying when you pull off a win, there’s not much desire to do it again straight away, as you can’t shake the feeling that it’s all going to be a bit samey. There aren’t even any deathmatch or team deathmatch modes to fall back on.
We couldn’t try out the cross-play functions with the free PS Vita version, as it won’t be ready until January, begging the question why they didn’t delay the whole thing.
- Usual high production values
- Holding off an assault for a last-gasp win feels good
- Some cool weaponry
- You feel too stretched playing solo
- Not enough stages
- Only one mode in competitive multiplayer
The Short Version: The game is admittedly only a cheap download, but so was Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, which featured ‘proper’ stages with a miniature single-player campaign. The graphics are admittedly excellent as per usual and the few cutscenes on offer never fail to be amusing (thank you, Captain Quark), but this feels like a Ratchet & Clank game from a studio clearly looking more towards their next project, Fuse. I hope Insomniac do come back and make another full-on Ratchet & Clank game. Failing that, maybe Sony should consider seeing who else would like to work on the series.