And finally we arrive at the latest game, All 4 One, which features, most notably, four player drop-in drop-out local and online co-op gameplay [Ed: Say all THAT three times fast!]. The game starts with Dr. Nefarious, the antagonist from A Crack in Time and Up Your Arsenal, trying to eliminate his foes by reanimating a massive creature called a “light-eating Z’Grute”. The plan goes awry, however, and, to cut a tedious story short, Ratchet, Clank, Captain Quark, and Dr. Nefarious have to, for a somewhat unbelievably tenuous reason, end up working together to defeat a moon-sized menace called “The Collector”, which collects all the most dangerous creatures from around the galaxy and deposits them on the planet Magnus. This, incidentally, is where you’ll remain for the rest of the game.
That’s the plot done with, but how does the game play? In short, it’s still good, clean fun; Insomniac have never skimped on the fun factor of games, and yet despite that, the game is depressingly short; you can finish a playthrough from beginning to end in a single weekend. However, here’s a rundown of the game’s arguably weakest point: the weapons and gadgets. The Combustor? Seen it before. Pyrociter flame thrower? Seen it several times before. Mr Zurkon? Seen him before, but was definitely welcomed back, if only for the funny lines he spews. Warmonger? Pretty much the same as every other rocket weapon. You DO get grind boots and a pneumatic drill, though! Still…No Groovitron. No Rocket Boots. No armour. No raritanium. No puzzle mini-games. Heck, no puzzle segments at all. However, each character has one weapon that is specific to them. Clank, for example, has a Zoni blaster that slows down enemies, while Dr. Nefarious has a Cloaking device that lets him sneak up on enemies. One new weapon each doesn’t make up for, what is in my mind, missing content, but it does give you a reason to play with the others.
All 4 One is heavily focused on the co-operative play, so for example, if all four players fire the same weapon at the same opponent, the damage more than just quadruples; the rate of fire also increases, and often the damage also affects multiple nearby foes. The co-op extends to more than just weapons, though. Shortly into the second level, you obtain a Vac U (similar to the Suck Cannon from prior games) that allows you to suck in not just enemies, but your comrades, too, letting you expel them distances that you ordinarily aren’t able to jump. Couple this with the Hookshot device that lets you throw out a line and zip close to the aforethrown friend, and suddenly you can see where the fun can be had. You can also use the very handy Vac U to revive a fallen ally, by sucking them in for a short count. If you’re feeling a bit more of a dick than usual, you can also Vac U your friends and throw them off the edge of the platform. Note that this behaviour inevitably gets you booted from the game, though, so be a dick at your own peril.
The co-op factor has a competitive side to it too. Bolts, the in-game currency, act as a kind of score. The player to obtain the most bolts at the end of any level gains the largest bonus of bolts. The player who performs the most enemy kills? Bonus bolts. The game also lets you capture certain harmless creatures, and the player with the most of THOSE per level also gains bonus bolts. Sometimes it can all be the same player. Sometimes, it’s three different players. Still, free bolts are free bolts, right?
Somehow, to my eye, it seems that the much about the game is degraded from the prior successes that Insomniac built, even down to the cutscenes. Ratchet, for example, no longer has visible fur, which he very clearly had in the Ratchet And Clank Future trilogy. The lighting effects seem somewhat inferior to the prior games. Heck, you can’t even skip the game’s numerous cutscenes! This annoys me more than anything else in the game. If we are going be forced to replay existing sections of the game, the very least Insomniac could do was to allow us to skip the tedious cutscene that we might already have seen three or four times prior! Another minor problem I had was that, with four players on-screen at once, things can get a little frenetic, and it’s all too easy to lose track of where you are in the action, especially in the bigger scenes and boss battles where the camera zooms out further than usual.
Still, despite the gripes I have with All 4 One, it is good fun, especially if you are playing it to the fullest with four players. If you don’t have three other friends, you can hop online and find a game in progress to join. I found the matchmaking an incredibly quick, painless process, and you are able to join a game quite easily. If you find that you actually have no friends to play with, and no internet connection to find virtual friends to play with, the game can still very easily played as a single player campaign. The game sends in an AI-controlled player to join you. Usually this is Clank, but if you play as Clank, then you get Captain Quark. The AI player is no stand-in for real people and real cooperation, however, and I found myself getting somewhat annoyed at the AI now and again, especially when time was of the essence. Despite that, however, the AI is assumed to have access to every weapon that you do, and happily switches guns to take tactical advantage of the combined firepower. The AI also revives you when you’re down, and otherwise acts as if a real, player-controlled character were at the helm. Just be aware that there are going to be some of those moments. Heck, it might even be completely realistic, depending on the kinds of people you usually play with.
All 4 One allows you to fire up any stage you want from both the single player and multiplayer lobbies, but you should just be aware that if you decide to try a later level with a character you haven’t played with yet, you are going to be severely out-gunned, out-moneyed, and out of patience very quickly. All weapons, bolts, experience, collected monsters, etc etc are persistent. For example, if you played the entire solo campaign with Ratchet, and then head online with Ratchet, all the bolts, weapons, and weapon upgrades you’ve acquired carry over. By the same token, if you decide to take an unplayed Dr. Nefarious into play, you will have zero bolts, zero upgrades, one gun, and the Vac U. It’s a minor point, but one that bears keeping in mind.
In the end, we’re left with a game that seems to forsake much of what made Ratchet and Clank, well, Ratchet and Clank. All of the prior games featured some kind of puzzle segment (as frustrating some of them may have been), all of them featured some over-the-top weapons, and all of them featured the brilliant imagination that Insomniac has become synonymous with, and none of these things seem to have transferred into All 4 One; it’s a heck of a retreat from what make A Crack in Time such an amazingly wonderful game to play, and I include plot in this. On the other hand, the four-player co-op platforming is great fun. The one thing that DID make it over to All 4 One is the zany humour that Ratchet and Clank is known for. One of my favourite sections is being inside The Collector, and hearing a brilliant spoof of Portal’s GLadOS. Heck, there was even mention of cake. All in all, All 4 One is perhaps not the best example of the series, but it’s a great game for bonding with, especially given its family-friendly atmosphere and friendliness toward new players of the series. Personally? I’d prefer to see an HD re-release of the entire PS2-era Ratchet and Clank on the PSN, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.
Score: 7 prawns out of 10
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Age Rating: 10