Compromise. How much is a person willing to compromise their Ratchet and Clank gameplay expectations for a linear "co-op" title? This is the fundamental question anyone familiar with the series must ask themselves before delving into the jejune experience of Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One.

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One had to make several sacrifices for the sake of a multiplayer-focused experience. The first victim is my use of the words "co-op" or "cooperative campaign" in this review: From the outset, All 4 One is all about competition. Players are passively taught to just rampage through the game, blasting every crate of bolts and snatching up every collectible animal they see before the other players get their grubby hands on them.
All 4 One finds Ratchet, Clank, Cpt. Qwark and Dr. Nefarious working together in this state of disharmony across a fast-paced action arcade campaign. Though cherry-picked elements borrowed from previous Ratchet titles make it seem like a familiar experience, All 4 One would be better suited in a quarter-gobbling cabinet in your local arcade -- assuming such a a place still exists.

Experience and bolts are chained to specific characters on a console, allowing you to invite your friends over to help level up all the characters for a dozen hours. If a new player joins later in the game with a character that has yet to be played, they'll start from scratch with no weapons or bolts. Depending on who you're playing with, catching up will either be an exercise in charity or a fight to be the first to destroy every crate of bolts.

This multiplayer competition is summarized in a post-level summary report, in which the player who collected the most bolts (see: the greediest person) is declared the "winner." When a player is the "winner" every time due to their tendency to charge forward and grab everything (made easier if the player already knows the level), it becomes grating. It doesn't help matters that bolts, the currency for purchasing upgrades, aren't divided evenly. A core strategy for players who want to upgrade their gear will be to just rush down the linear path towards the next batch of precious crates.

Previous Ratchet games would upgrade weapons through use. Now combatants must purchase upgrades with the bolts they collect through the game. The "experience through use" mechanic was a good way for players to try out different weapons. This new system, however, makes you feel dependent on your strongest gun. Also, the game gives a damage multiplier to players using the same weapon, further limiting your freedom when choosing an armament. Almost every enemy encounter will likely have the group defaulting to the Combuster gun (with a quick detour to the ammunition reload pad) for efficient execution of any baddie or boss.

Ratchet and Clank's charming characters, lighthearted sci-fi atmosphere, colorful presentation and inoffensive storytelling remain intact. The intangible vibe of the series remains unscathed, with colorful cutscenes that aren't dependent on all four characters being used at that time.

Those who want to go the experience solo will receive a Clank bot who will assist in battle and solving the multiplayer puzzles in the game. The AI will get caught on environments from time to time, but that's easily fixed by moving from where you are to reset the bot's pathing. A key problem when playing alone -- something that becomes frustrating late in the game -- is that your character has very little life and will likely die quite a bit from rogue hits. If you die and the bot dies, you'll have to restart a section.

Also, boiled down, players three and four are just gravy. You can take them or leave them, but they help diminish the odds of having to restart a section several times just by being a living body.

Sacrifices to the formula aside, in the context of a full retail game, it's hard to imagine who this game is for, exactly. It's family friendly, but the competitive nature doesn't seem designed for that. Perhaps it's right for a group looking for a lighhearted 15-hour co-op experience, but there are better games for that. Maybe it's just for fans of Ratchet and Clank games? As a fan, and as someone who has previously described the series as comfort food, this experience was too simplistic, linear and small.

If players walk into this game wanting a simple multiplayer game with Ratchet qualities, and not a Ratchet game with co-op, they will get exactly what Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One is trying to deliver. It's a standard, linear action game with high production values. The Ratchet and Clank name was used here to test a multiplayer experience with gameplay concepts pulled from the series, but despite its seeming familiarity, All 4 One just isn't a Ratchet and Clank game.


This review is based on a final retail copy of Ratchet and Cliank: All 4 One, provided by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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