It’s hard to believe, but Ratchet and Clank is now a decade old, with ten titles already under its belt. So the question quickly becomes, “where do you go from here?” Most character-focused platform games hang up their jumping boots in favor of kart racing, or the occasional sports game, but Insomniac Games have decided to try a different approach for everyone’s favorite Lombax. Full Frontal Assault combines the characters from the Ratchet games, with a mesh of tower defense and the series’ signature shooting. What we end up with is a game that struggles to find balance among its concepts.
The story starts off with a standard “the galaxy is in trouble, you need to save it” mentality, but the Ratchet charm and humor are there. Apparently, a villain contacts Quark informing him they have discovered a way to disable the defense systems on nearby planets; this also sets up the gameplay design. While familiar in premise, the unique series humor is sprinkled in, but not quite enough for my taste. Most of the narrative is enforced through minor cut scenes, and the game is never fully realized as a story-driven affair.
Anyone coming into Full Frontal Assault expecting the same Ratchet-style gameplay to which we have become accustomed is in for a shock. Instead, this game more closely resembles a traditional tower defense title. Each stage feels more like a small arena with multiple chokepoints through which enemies can get into your base. The idea is to protect that area while searching for bolts (the game’s currency) and flipping switches to restore power to the defenses. The idea and concept are sound, but what breaks the experience is the execution.
Things get out of hand fast. As I mentioned, bolts are required to build your defenses, but leaving your base to search for them is a recipe for disaster. Your turrets are surprisingly weak and will fall after minimal attacks from the enemy. This becomes a stressful game of management. The difficulty is also not as forgiving as you might expect. The amount of bolts it takes to build a turret is immense, while taking down enemies only garners a fraction of that. I constantly found myself repeating missions over and over looking for new strategies, when in fact the game feels less about tactics, and more about luck.
A lot of this is remedied when you join up in co-op. In fact, I am not sure this game was ever designed with single player in mind. You can play locally or over PSN, provided you have a friend on your list who owns the game. It does not have matchmaking for some peculiar reason. The campaign becomes more tolerable, but still not as fun as it should be. Micromanagement becomes a massive chore, as you have to keep track of waves of enemies, collect bolts and find ammo. If you decide to try and explore, prepare to be punished. The game just feels severely unbalanced on several levels.
What saves the game from being a completely disappointing though is the competitive multiplayer. Here, the core ideas from the campaign are mixed up and tweaked. This mode is far more balanced than the campaign. You can opt to play either 1v1 or 2v2 online. There are three levels to each online experience, with each one changing the dynamic just slightly.
Recon basically lets you roam around the world, capturing nodes, which keep your bolt supply increasing. Then the game moves to Squad, where you will have to spend your bolts in a set amount of time. Spending bolts on units is what gives you the means to attack your opponents’ base in the final phase known as Assault. This portion is where the action happens. This entire process can be repeated up to five times, or until one player or team is eliminated from the match.
The online is fun, much moreso than the campaign, and it only further enforces the idea that this game was built with multiplayer in mind. The online isn’t perfect, however. While the game does only run $20, the miniscule selection of only three maps and two modes (1v1 and 2v2) feels very limited. The community is decent right now, and the ability to have tournaments is cool, but without a progression system, I am not sure there will be people playing this beyond the next month or so.
Full Frontal Assault is a solid game if you are looking for an online experience. The low price and new direction make it worth checking out if you intend to focus on the multiplayer experience. If you are flying solo, or looking for that traditional Ratchet experience, you will be sorely disappointed. Full Frontal Assault takes the series in a direction that seems fitting. It is just a shame that the pieces didn’t come together as well as they could have.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.