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Review: Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault

Get it Together Soldier

The online’s core design and gameplay style are excellent. It’s just too bad other circumstances drag down what should be one of the bigger draws on the PlayStation Network. Full Frontal Assault features a confusing ranking system, unlike the traditional version you’re probably used to. It gives or takes away points based on if you win or lose, and how badly you performed in doing so. A win or loss can generate anywhere from a 10-25 point swing to your rank. There are six ranks, with the top tier ranks seemingly impossible to obtain. Even after playing so much I still don’t understand how it calculates how many points you earn.

The online menus and stat tracking feel bare bones, even more than the campaign’s statistics. The lobby menu while waiting for the game to begin is severely lacking. You can only mute, add friend or add a player to your in-game block list.¬† You can’t check the other player’s online stats or even their PSN profile. Waiting for the lobby to fill up takes what feels like years. Once there’s the required number of players, the game won’t automatically start. Whoever is the host needs to start the game up. You spend more time in the lobby than actually playing because of that. The stat tracking is inexcusably bad for the online play. For example, there’s no detailed stats on stuff like what weapons you kill with, how many generators you defended, what you spend the most bolts on or laying out how you perform in custom games. There’s just a simple section for wins, losses, kills, deaths and current winning streak. These are all major oversights considering Insomniac Games’ online experience on the PS3 with the Resistance franchise. Maybe it thought since Full Frontal Assault is a “budget” title the game didn’t need these basic online features.

Unfortunately the online community sucks. It’s easily in the top three worst I’ve played this console generation. No exaggeration. Before patch 1.04 playing online was infuriating. Quitting was a gigantic problem for the multiplayer, more than any other game I can remember in recent years. It’s still somewhat of an issue even with the patch. You’ll probably still run into a rage quitter or someone “accidentally” disconnecting conveniently right when they’re about to lose. Before patch 1.04, 30 minutes would go down the drain and you would have nothing to show for it. Only your kills and deaths would still register after a rage quit ending, but not wins and loses from incomplete games. Since the game can penalize you so hard for losing, many players just quit instead of finishing because they don’t want their imaginary online ranking that nobody knows about to be tampered with. You might lose more than 20 points to your rank after a loss. I have 40 recorded ranked games under my stats. I should have almost double that but quits didn’t register.

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Make sure your base is properly defended and pray your teammate doesn’t quit. (Image by Insomniac Games)

A lot of people “XMB quit,” meaning they back out of the game to the PS3′s home menu instead of taking the loss. Full Frontal Assault doesn’t swap out that player for a AI-controlled character, or ask you if you want to continue playing. The game abruptly stops. If the host drops from the game, sometimes it will migrate to a new host and restart. This is especially terrible because the game will immediately end right as it begins again. You don’t even get the game’s stats like kills that you normally would receive because everything is at zero since the game restarted. If you don’t want your rank to be slammed you can surrender from the pause menu instead. You still take a loss but it’s for less points than you normally would receive.

Thankfully under patch 1.04 the quitting problem has been mostly taken care of. Now if somebody on the other team quits, you get points towards your rank and a win on your record like it should’ve been in the first place. On the flipside if your teammate leaves the game, you now take a loss. What’s bad after the patch is that if your teammate disconnects, whether intentionally or not, you get penalized hard. Before that wouldn’t damage your rank. Now you lose points and get a recorded loss even when you had every intention of staying. Players can still XMB quit with no in-game penalty to avoid negative changes to their rank. I tested this several times and my rank wasn’t changed at all. After playing a few hours with the new update the changes did make a big difference though. More games are finishing because of a clear winner rather than a rage quitter.

Even worse than players not taking their lickings is that many of them simply don’t know how to play the game. More than likely you’ll be paired with a total moron. In 2v2 matches, hardly anyone plays as a cohesive team. One of my teammates kept spending all our money on a wall of Pyro Turrets instead of sending out waves of enemies when we had the upper hand to do some damage. I had to open up the slow XMB, search through recent players met and send multiple messages throughout the game asking them to stop wasting our money. During another game, for no apparent reason my partner would continually tear down the barriers after I had just paid for them. These are so essential to defending the base, otherwise the enemy team will swoop right in during round one and take out all your generators.

Another game had my teammate trying to capture the enemy’s nodes while our base was under attack. During the Assault phase you can only take out a node’s defenses. You can’t actually capture it until the next Recon phase. Even though the game warns you the base is being attacked and generators are being destroyed, he kept going after the nodes instead. In a different game my teammate kept dying repeatedly trying to capture nodes, losing all our bolts in the process. This left us defenseless, with no resources during the Assault phase. We ended up losing bad. These examples are the norm for Full Frontal Assault’s community. Some players will just spam the Warmonger or Plasmabomb Launcher, the two most powerful weapons that kill you in 2-3 hits. The online isn’t meant to be played with only one weapon. You need a healthy variety to take over nodes, defend your base and take down other players. Having stronger weapons are crucial to winning in the later rounds of the game. Many players don’t seem to understand that.

What contributes to so many bad teammates is that nobody plays with a headset. There’s no option for text chat or commands, so you can’t tell your dumb partner to stop spending all the team’s money on worthless troops or help you double team for a node capture. There aren’t even any text options in the lobby. A great idea would have been to include button commands like, “Defend base!” or “Buy this troop!” during the game so the other player gets the idea. More than most, Full Frontal Assault is one game where lack of communication deeply hurts the online mode. You might remedy this by playing with a friend, but what if you don’t know anyone with a copy or your friends have conflicting schedules? You’re stuck either playing with the community or only 1v1 matches. Much like the campaign the online mode’s structure is better suited for 2v2 matches.

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More than likely you’ll have to take matters into your own hands because of a bad teammate. (Image by Insomniac Games)

You wouldn’t even know Full Frontal Assault is out in stores judging by the community’s size. Nobody’s playing the game! You look for ranked games. No one’s there. You search under custom games. No available games are there either. During a single game session you’ll constantly run into the same players. When you try to join a ranked game, it will probably create a new room. You’ll back out to try your luck and it’ll again create a lobby for you. Most people leave instead of waiting so long for the final player to fill the lobby. If you back out and search for ranked games again, you’ll probably get thrown into the same lobby you just left. Full Frontal Assault must be big in Europe because the only times I could consistently find games were at weird hours in the day. The lack of players is so bad that even though I wanted to play Full Frontal Assault, I had to pick another game of mine to play or turn off my PS3 instead. I couldn’t take the wait anymore. This could either be because of a terrible matchmaking system or terrible advertising from Sony. The game is much cheaper than most releases and has the Ratchet & Clank brand behind it. There should be way more people playing at this point because Full Frontal Assault just came out.

Since it’s already so hard to find games, I can’t see the online having any longevity into the summer. The massively delayed PlayStation Vita version isn’t helping either. After playing the online extensively, you realize Full Frontal Assault’s multiplayer isn’t a long-term game you’ll be at for months, like a Call of Duty or Gears of War. Since there’s only one competitive mode and a handful of maps, once you played plenty of multiplayer you’ll likely have had your fix. Without more game modes and maps the online won’t last as long it should. I know the game’s only $20 but there needed to be 4-5 more maps and at least another game mode to keep the multiplayer healthy.

The game almost always throws you into the Korgon Refinery map. Korgon is a fine stage but it gets extremely tiring playing it game after game. I tried around 15 games after patch 1.04 and not once did I get into the new Metropolis level during 2v2 matches. I managed to play it during a few 1v1 matches but not at the rate you’d expect. The leaderboards are either all hacked or glitched out for many players, showing a crazy number for the few stats the game registers. After my online stats got all screwed up showing that I somehow had 1,6777,100 deaths and 32,767 quits, it immediately turned me off. There’s no point to continuing investing in the game if my stats are going to be wrecked.

The sad part is that when Full Frontal Assault gets going it really goes crazy. If you manage to make it to the last assault phase, it’s a frenzied attack. You’re panicking, trying to defend your generators while simultaneously hoping the other team doesn’t quit like a bunch of punks. I loved these moments, because it’s the ultimate escalation of brains and brawn. It’s insanely intense racing back and forth between your base’s two entrances trying to defend them for the win. There’s no lag either, which is surprising considering all the other annoyances with the online infrastructure. Each game has the potential for a new possible way to win and lose. Trying to plan ahead for your strategy or guessing your opponent’s moves separates Full Frontal Assault from most multiplayer games. Which nodes should I maintain? What is the best way defend our base during this phase? Should I wait to send out troops to attack their base or attempt it myself? What worked in the last match might not work in the next.

Full Frontal Assault’s online is the perfect example of a game that’s both infuriating and exhilarating at the same time. While it can be intense fun when it actually works, the online can be frustrating to the point where you want to give up on it. If you love games abruptly ending, staring at a lobby screen for ten minutes or dealing with stupid people, you might have patience for it but most won’t. In a lot of small ways Full Frontal Assault feels like a PS3 game before the in-game XMB system patch several years ago, when the PlayStation Network was stuck in the dark ages of online gaming. I don’t know how Insomniac Games can fix these aspects without overhauling the online, which the studio probably won’t divert resources towards. Changing the ranking system to a more standard model won’t help either because that will damage the lifespan even more. Patch 1.04 did a lot to attack the quitting problem but it can still be manipulated and end up hurting honest players. Insomniac Games have done an excellent job supporting the game through updates though, like adding the ability to quickly teleport back to base, increasing weapon levels in the campaign from three to five and addressing the quitting problem. Full Frontal Assault changed a lot since its release.

For a a franchise that has lost steam over the past few years Ratchet & Clank needed to evolve and bring in new elements. Change isn’t bad if the new additions aren’t botched. Full Frontal Assault doesn’t hurt the franchise’s integrity or reputation as an amazing single-player experience. I bought the first Ratchet & Clank when it came out for the PlayStation 2. I have no problem with Full Frontal Assault‘s co-op and online addition. I think at its core the online mode plays well and is actually underrated. More people should be playing it and building up the community’s quality. By the time the game does become get tiring you already got double your money’s worth.

Final Thoughts:

After being let down big time with All 4 One, Full Frontal Assault surprised me with its solid campaign and unique online experience. With more polish Full Frontal Assault’s style could be the right game to go alongside the main series, if another one ever happens. Fans, don’t worry. Full Frontal Assault doesn’t ruin Ratchet & Clank. Plus the game’s only 20 bucks, offering more value than some normal retail-priced games. Getting a free PlayStation Vita copy (whenever it actually comes out) is a great bargain on top of it all. At times Full Frontal Assault does give off a budget feel with its presentation and online mode. While the core design of the online is fantastic, a lack of modes and maps limit the multiplayer’s longevity. The game does show the potential for higher quality, cheaper game releases that won’t bankrupt a studio or the customer’s wallet. If Insomniac Games expands on Full Frontal Assault’s formula it might freshen up a series that could use some rejuvenation.

Score: 3.5/5

Positives:

  • Great combination of new and old gameplay elements
  • Lots of value for a $20 release
  • Unique online multiplayer
  • Potential for new strategies each multiplayer game
  • Good campaign
  • A positive spin-off that doesn’t harm the franchise

Negatives:

  • Online rank system
  • Bad matchmaking always puts you in same map
  • Only one multiplayer mode
  • Few maps hurt online’s lifespan
  • Crappy online community
  • No detailed stat tracking
  • Online quitting still hurts certain players
  • Dumb campaign storyline
  • Only three real levels in campaign

I purchased Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault new for $19.99. Full Frontal Assault’s campaign was completed on the PlayStation 3 in split-screen co-op. More than 45 matches of online multiplayer were played. My current rank is “Blarg” at 238 points. 23 /23 Trophies were obtained¬† for 100% completion.