Ratchet & Clank : All 4 One feels older than it is and isn't worth a playthrough in 2021

I kind of get what they were going for with Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. One of the strengths of the Ratchet & Clank games is the characters and their relationships and another is the arsenal, so creating a multiplayer focused shooter with cool and interesting weapons just makes sense. They did something similar at the end of the PS2 era with Ratchet Deadlocked, which managed to tweak the classic Ratchet & Clank shooter into a sort of console third person version of Unreal Tournament but with complex vehicles, and there was no reason to think they could do it again. All 4 One takes a different approach, with a more traditional Ratchet & Clank set up where the titular heroes, accompanied by frenemy Captain Qwark and arch enemy Dr. Nefarious, take on a new threat to the galaxy and blast and jump their way through a lengthy campaign, destroying baddies, riding rails, collecting bolts, and upgrading their weapons along the way.

Unfortunately, while Deadlocked played pretty well and had a certain amount of charm, All 4 One fares much worse, especially in single player. The camera is locked in a sort of PS2 era God of War semi-isometric fixed position, automatically adjusting as you go through the levels, and because of this the game features a generous auto-aim system with lock on. This choice makes the gameplay both finnicky and kind of brainless. Finnicky because it can be hard to get the game to aim at the enemy or object you want when there are a lot of things on screen, and brainless because without aiming the game often boils down to keeping your distance from enemies, dodging the occasional attack, and just hammering the fire button.

The limited overhead perspective also eliminates a lot of the fun of Ratchet & Clank in exploring and looking for bolts and collectables, and greatly limits the platforming. There is some exploration and a few side paths with goodies down them, and there are some platforming sequences, but for the most part these elements have been replaced by ‘puzzles’ that you have to solve with a partner. These range from just pulling the same switch at the same time to one player using a vacuum to suck the other up and hurl them to a ledge and then pull themselves up after to, towards the end of the game, slightly more complex activities that involve activating a series of switches together to get past a barrier.

These puzzles are necessarily limited in design because of the required coordination and the game not knowing how many players will be in it at a given time. If you play solo you get an AI companion who helps during combat and also aids you in getting past these puzzle areas, but because the AI will immediately run over and do one part of the puzzle they are simplified even more for solo players. The AI will also occasionally break and fail to do what they’re supposed to, though it was less of a problem than I expected (though the AI was predictably atrocious in combat and often hurled itself gleefully to its death in the platforming sequences; which is okay because it would just respawn a little later.) The meat of the game is definitely the combat, but with the auto aiming issues it’s less engaging than in any other Ratchet & Clank game.

So with mostly brainless shooting and simplistic puzzles is there anything good about the game? Well at times it can be kind of relaxing and mindless fun, just blasting enemies as you walk through the various environments. Some of those environments are pretty interesting to look at, so the game has that going for it. There’s a full story here, and lots of cut scenes and radio dialogue, and those are alright, even if the character barks of “it’s too far to jump” and “good job, Ratchet” get grating pretty soon into the game. The game does mix things up in a few sequences, including some basic rail grinding, some turret sequences, a couple jet pack levels, a rafting level, and a truly dire trip through an asteroid field in a rocket ship that thankfully ends after about five minutes. None of this stuff is great but it does break up the action some, and most of the game offers some mild entertainment. It’s the kind of game you can switch on if you can’t sleep and just sort of blast through, not thinking too much or testing your reflexes, but doing just enough to not be bored.

Unfortunately this pleasantly mindless progression falls apart in the back quarter of the game, where the developers decided to ramp up the difficulty and give the players a bit of a challenge before the game comes to an end. This doesn’t make these segments hard; I never had to retry any checkpoint more than a couple times, but it does make them frustrating. Bosses are never fun in All 4 One, but in the late game there are so many bullet sponges that I often found myself running out of ammo for the useful weapons with no way to replenish. This meant I either had to switch to one of the less useful weapons (generally those with limited range) or just jump around and let the AI partner do all the work. There are also some sequences that are just ridiculous, like one where you fight on an ice floe that’s falling apart and end up on a tiny little strip of ice while the bad guys rain down fire that you have no reasonable way to avoid, and you’re probably out of ammo (a situation that isn’t helped by the bad aiming.) If you alternate deaths with your AI partner and just heal or respawn each other you can cheese your way through these sequences, but they’re not fun. In general the bullet sponginess of the late game enemies really saps the fun of the game. It’s just not enjoyable to chip away at bad guys with what are supposed to be powerful Ratchet & Clank guns. The guns themselves are all things we’ve seen before in this game and others, including the returning Mr. Zurkon drone who has some of his same voice lines from Crack in Time (though some new material as well) and a beam that turns enemies into animals. Each gun has three upgrades, with the last one making the gun “elite” and granting it some extra ability, like turning your basic pistol into a three shot blaster or adding cluster grenades to your mortar launcher, but the only one that feels meaningful is the ammo increase, and because of the sponginess of late game enemies the weapons all feel underpowered. The intended way to play is to focus your fire on one enemy with the same gun, which causes a circle to appear over the enemy and built to an explosion that causes some additional effect, like setting enemies on fire or freezing baddies, but some late game grunts require multiple “bursts” to take down so even that mechanic feels half baked.

It is also worth noting that the game’s performance is mediocre most of the time, and the frame rate can really tank in later areas, dropping to what seems like 10 frames a second at times. Because the game doesn’t require much precision that never makes it unplayable, but coupled with the loose controls and boring gameplay it makes it feel like an inferior product rather than a second party Sony game from a studio like Insomniac. In many ways it resembles an upscale of a mediocre PS2 game, with mechanics and structure that was already obsolete by its 2011 release date, when there was much better stuff available. It reminded me of random games I’d pull out of a bargain bin in 2004 and maybe have some fun with, but quickly move on from (often before the end; though I did finish this, unlike the vast majority of players since the beat the game trophy has a 17.1 percent attainment.)

All 4 One was probably at its best as a local co-op game for tweens. It’s a little too tough and ‘edgy’ for very young kids, and doesn’t have anything for older teens, but I could see it being enjoyable for a couple siblings in the 8-12 age range who just want something to play together and might enjoy the cartoony presentation and story. As a solo experience for an adult it has nothing to offer anyone but the hardest of hard core Ratchet & Clank fans, all of whom have already played it. I’m going through all the R&C games I own on the PS3 right now and I knew this would likely be the toughest slog to get through, so I’m glad to be done with it, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all. There were some points, especially during the middle of the game, when it was pleasant enough and even engaging. But it’s a decade-old game that is best off forgotten at this point.

I understand why Insomniac thought this game made sense as a product but it never came together. There were too many compromises, from the camera to the multiplayer design that also had to accommodate single players to the stripping away of much of what makes Ratchet & Clank fun. Deadlocked was a much better experiment that ironically feels newer, even though that actually was a PS2 game. Sometimes games just don’t come together.

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