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Review: Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault

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(Image by Insomniac Games)

The release of Full Frontal Assault marked the 10th anniversary for the Ratchet & Clank franchise and another attempted spin-off for the Lombax and his robot friend. This time it’s not as bad as you might think.

Developer: Insomniac Games (North Carolina studio), Tin Games (PS Vita version)

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita

Release Date: Nov. 27, 2012 (delayed on Vita until Spring 2013)

Current MSRP: $19.99 (retail and PlayStation Store-3.8 GB download)

The first time you play Full Frontal Assault you will have no clue what’s going on. This isn’t your typical Ratchet & Clank experience. Don’t worry though. You’ll get the hang of things.

Defend and Destroy

Full Frontal Assault combines tower defense elements with the Ratchet & Clank gameplay style everyone’s used to. The game also goes back to the classic camera style that 2011’s heavily multiplayer-focused All 4 One abandoned. You can play as either Ratchet, Clank or Captain Qwark in single-player or local and online co-op with a friend. There’s five stages on the campaign, but two are variations of each other and one is for the final boss, so really there’s only three full levels.

To beat a level enemy strongholds must be destroyed. There are only a few on each stage but they are typically heavily defended with a range of different enemy types. After these areas are taken care of you can fully reactivate the planet’s defense system, beginning a massive final attack from the enemy side on your home base and its generators. Periodically enemies come to the base in waves while you’re working throughout the level towards starting the major offense. Instead of running all the way back if your base is in danger, you can instantly teleport by holding the down button on the directional pad. Spending bolts earned by killing enemies or smashing crates can repair damaged generators. With no money you can’t properly defend your base.

Here’s an example of Full Frontal Assault’s gameplay style:

You can buy variations of turrets, mines and shields to defend your generators. These can be placed strategically around your base in many areas depending on where you need them. You don’t start with a full arsenal of weapons. You have to unlock better guns on the map each time you start a new level. To unlock them you find a weapon pod and hack it by doing a quick puzzle where you land on a few markers as a wheel moves. You start with at least one at the base, which is either the Combuster or Buzz Blades. While you don’t need to unlock all the guns on your weapon wheel to beat the stage, it would make your life easier. Each level in the campaign brings with it new styles of weapons, turrets and barriers. Weapons can go all the way up to level five. Starting off all the weapons are weak, but once they hit level three or four they’re extremely powerful. You can throw down six clones from the Doppelbanger that obliterate most enemies in seconds once it’s leveled up completely.

The game’s storyline is absolutely unremarkable. It seems like almost no thought was put behind the story. Maybe after so many years the Ratchet & Clank creative juices aren’t flowing as well as they used to. The main villain is some throwaway character from a Ratchet & Clank game a decade ago that even the most hardcore fan would be hard-pressed to remember. He’s out to destroy the universe because Captain Qwark was a bad role model. Yeah, it’s that dumb.

Fight for Strength

Full Frontal Assault wasn’t designed to be a single-player game. While it gets rid of the four-player focus of All 4 One and can be played alone, the game’s tough. It really takes two competent humans to get through the campaign. It’s too overwhelming during the final attack phase to defend the entire base by yourself. Playing alone will just leave you frustrated. There’s no option to search for a player online, so you’re stuck playing with a PSN friend or through local offline co-op. Full Frontal Assault is a fantastic co-op experience though. The co-op is much more refined than All 4 One. I gave up on All 4 One after a couple hours. I couldn’t put my controller down after playing Full Frontal Assault for the same time.

All the levels are a good challenge. Sometimes you need to do some platforming and exploring to advance the battle, like finding the Swingshot or maneuvering into an enemy stronghold. You do need to teleport back to home base during invasions because eventually your defenses will break down. This is somewhat annoying in the campaign since the defenses should be strong enough to hold enemies back. One enemy basically explodes on contact when they reach a barrier or turret so you could be out several thousand bolts if you don’t check in on your base. There are assets to help though. The Groovitron weapon and mine help a ton because both stop all enemies in their tracks, making them get their funk on. This weapon even briefly gives you the edge against huge tanks. The final assault phase gets really crazy because there’s so many enemies and several tanks coming at the base. You also have to continually check your generators’ health levels and micromanage your barrier and turret positions as the battle goes on.

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Full Frontal Assault is better played with a friend in co-op. (Image by Insomniac Games)

As your character increases in promotions from beating each level and obtaining the game’s 13 medals for meeting a stage’s side requirements, you get cool new costumes, some looking like metallic superhero outfits. You also unlock perks such as faster hoverboot movement and health regeneration on your way to the top Master Rank. Collecting gold bolts on each level unlocks costumes for use in the online multiplayer. You can also try to beat the developer’s finishing time on a speed run, which becomes super easy after your weapons are leveled up. Skill points unlock concept art, custom game options to make the game tougher and cheats such as big head mode or screen effects that change the landscape of the each level. Only a few skill points on the list are specific to the online multiplayer.

For a game so focused around leveling up weapons, managing money and replaying levels, it has a terrible stat tracking system. Saying Full Frontal Assault has any sort of system is even a stretch. There’s 117 skill points to unlock, but it’s more of an internal guessing game as to when you’re close to checking them off. Stats that should be obviously recorded like total number of kills with a weapon type aren’t quantified.

A prime example of this is the incredibly annoying Gold Trophy “Ironmadman.” To unlock this one you must get around the maps a certain distance with the game’s three different movement abilities. After you get the skill point for each ability, it doesn’t tell you how much farther you need to travel for the Trophy. You need to glide for more than two miles past the skill point requirement, which takes forever. The other skill points range from how many Plasma Mines you bought to freezing enemies with the Cryo Turret to destroying all crates on a level.  Each level doesn’t tell you how many crates there are or how many are left to smash to unlock the skill point. Given the game’s style it doesn’t make sense why Full Frontal Assault doesn’t include better in-game statistical tracking.

The campaign takes 4-6 hours to finish. That’s not including the time challenges and unlocking all 117 skill points. Maxing out the campaign can take anywhere between 10–15 hours. After you do all that there’s no point going back to the campaign. Even if you start a new game with another friend, your weapons become so powerful that each level becomes incredibly easy and ruins all the fun. The Trophies add good time to the game and the Platinum isn’t that difficult to obtain. There’s a great sized amount of content for being a $20 release. Visually Full Frontal Assault isn’t as sharp or appealing as Tools of Destruction (2007) or A Crack in Time (2009) but it still looks fine.

Having little experience with this particular genre of games, Full Frontal Assault isn’t too intimidating to new players. The tower defense elements mesh well with the franchise’s platforming style. When I started the campaign I was lost and confused. So much happened at once on the opening stage that I felt overwhelmed at first. After several hours I felt like a pro and interested in exploring other games in this genre.

Full Frontal Online

Online is a much different animal from the campaign mode. Instead of just defending one base, you also need to capture and defend seven nodes spread over the map. There’s three different phases in multiplayer; Recon, Squad and Assault. Recon is where you go out and capture nodes. Squad is where you figure out how you’re going to defend your base. Assault is when the action goes down, where you attempt to attack the other team’s base and destroy their generators. Each base has two entrances where you can send enemies to attack or put up defenses on your own side. You have less than three minutes for Recon phase and one minute to get ready for the Assault phase.

If you don’t collect the nodes you’re screwed. Nodes bring in the bank. Without money you’re put at a huge disadvantage. Each node also gives the player a new weapon to use. Once you capture a node, you can buy a shield for it and also put down turrets to protect it against the other team. The game can go five rounds, but most won’t go that far. If you make it to the fifth round and there isn’t a winner yet, the game goes into a constant Assault phase. You can’t buy new turrets or throw up barriers. Whatever you had on the field is what you’re left with to finish the fight. However you can keep buying troops to attack the enemy’s base from two single boards until the game ends.

There’s only one mode to the online multiplayer, and two ways to play it. Two versus two games are where it’s at. One versus one matches are alright, but they aren’t as exciting and can become pretty lopsided. During 1v1 games if a player gets the Warmonger rocket launcher it gives them a huge advantage in collecting and defending the other nodes. There’s also only four actual maps in rotation. You’ll always be getting the same one, game after game. This eventually gets tiring during long play stretches, especially with the game’s community problems. A free map set in Metropolis released in patch 1.04 last Thursday but is difficult to actually get into when joining a ranked game.

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Sending out a strong army against the enemy team will give you the advantage to win online. (Image by Insomniac Games)

You can buy upgrades for your base, troops, player and even generators at your home turf. Possessing nodes continually give you bolts. During the Assault phase killing enemies and especially other players gives you lots of money too. If you hold your own, you might get anywhere from 2-5,000 bolts depending on the enemies. This really helps out if you’re low on nodes or wasted all your cash. If you play a 2v2 game both you and your teammate share bolts. If either of you die you both lose bolts, which can really hurt the team if you’re stuck with a bad player. Sometimes it feels like the game takes way too much money away for dying, especially in the earlier rounds. Like in the campaign, you can tear down something you built, be it a shield or turret, and get your money back. It’s useful to take down a half-dead barrier and buy a fresh one before the next Assault phase. You can’t repair generators in the online mode though. Once they’re damaged, they aren’t getting fixed.

Upgrading your troops is a must if you want to win. Upgrading to the “Elite Demolitionist” is a perfect example. They’re cheap to send out, do major damage to a base’s defenses and can take out generators quickly. Tanks are brutal. They’re the most expensive but also take the longest to destroy and can immediately turn the tide of a close game. Weapon ranks don’t transfer to the next game in competitive. This is a good thing because otherwise new players would get slaughtered. Everyone is on equal playing field when the game starts. The weapons also only go up to level two during each game. While that seems like a low number, a level two Pyro Blaster is great for defending your base if the other team’s players start directly attacking your generators.

If you’re getting overwhelmed by enemies and the other players during the Assault phase, you can hit a button in your base that hides your generators and sends the opposite team back to their own side. You still have to kill whatever enemies are left over in your base, but at least they won’t be attacking your generators. You can only use this safety net once a game. It’s tremendously helpful because sometimes an opposing player will slip through a barricade or send more enemies than you were prepared to deal with early on in the game. It doesn’t last the whole Assault phase though so you need to clear all the enemies out before the opposite players swoop in again.

Each game involves lots of strategy, predicting what your opponents are going to do next. I really enjoyed this aspect of the online mode. Even though there are so few little maps, each game felt fresh because you had different types of players and ways to play as the game unfolded.