Co-op is the new Black

Last night, I got the platinum Trophy in Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One. This was the third Ratchet and Clank game that I’ve played–all three being on the Playstation 3. Though the first two rated very highly with me, this one was something of a disappointment.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Ratchet and Clank follows the world/galaxy-saving exploits of the titular Ratchet and Clank. They’ve previously faced off against various great evils such as Dr. Nefarious and Emperor Percival Tachyon. As might be detectable merely from the names of its villains, the serious has a humorous bent and tends to not take itself too seriously. The gameplay itself tends toward a very refined 3d-platformer style.

All 4 One, maintains much of the tone of the previous games–great one-liners are everywhere–but loses something in the gameplay department. Rather than the usual single-player affair, this iteration is an explicitly co-op game allowing up to four players to work together to get through it.Though playable as a single-player game, the entire design is driven by co-op as the primary mode of play–bonuses for working together to destroy enemies or complete objectives, periodic level-end scoring rounds where the players are ranked against each other, and puzzles requiring multi-character coordination are all in attendance. Taken together, the game is very good at being what it was trying to be.

Unfortunately, this co-op design focus also resulted in a game which is very dissimilar to its predecessors. Although the platforming and action-y bits are still around, there is no real ability for exploration. In fact, the game could be described as a single long hallway. This is as bad or worse than what was seen in the earlier parts of Final Fantasy XIII. There are periodic side areas, but they are so small that calling them alcoves would be overstating things in most cases. Of course, a lack of areas for exploration also means very little in the way of diversity in gameplay, no sidequests, and very little which is hidden. All of three of these are things that I would normally expect from a Ratchet and Clank title.

Perhaps worst of all, however, is the game’s strange bugginess. Periodically, crates will fly out of the starting positions as if the goddess of physics engines was ejecting them from her vision. Sometimes, your AI companion will valiantly leap out into a bottomless chasm for no discernible reason. And even better, sometimes enemies that must be defeated to advance will simply vanish from the screen leaving the player unable to advance lest he himself jump headlong into a bottomless bit in hopes of reloading a recent checkpoint. That last bit happened to me more than once in the final boss fight.

Well executed, funny dialog is great and I wish that more games made the effort to have it. Unfortunately, that alone can’t carry a title. Here’s hoping that Insomniac’s next iteration of the series is worthy of its pedigree.

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One: 0

I’m Still Batman

A few weeks ago, I finished up my runthrough of Batman: Arkham City. I was torn about it and so it took me a while to finally get around to reviewing it.

Arkham City is a direct sequel to Arkham Asylum and lifts most of its design and play from its predecessor. The developers have managed to tighten things up a bit, this time around–combos ear easier to pull off and are smoother, for instance. Rather than being a relatively linear game like its predecessor, though, Arkham City went with a sandbox design. At first, this seems like an obvious path for a game about a superhero fighting crime. Unfortunately, though, Arkham City manages to feel very small in comparison to its predecessor.

Though there are many things to explore, the main plot–finding out the secrets of the asylum/prison/post-apocalyptic-hellscape that is the game’s namesake–feels short. Worse yet, the side missions dealing with other characters feel more like the “collect the token” games from the Nintendo 64 era rather than anything deep or richly connected to the rest of the experience. Compounding it further, some of the side quests don’t even get real conclusions. The worst offender ends up with a villain walking out of the city and Batman saying that he’d “deal with him tomorrow”.

What there was of Arkham City, I mostly enjoyed, even with its flaws. Nevertheless, I don’t think that I can recommend the game. It just leaves you wanting more in a way that a game of its pedigree shouldn’t.

Batman: Arkham City: 0