It seems as if there’s nothing hotter these days than the tower-defense genre, which has quickly grown from simple, top-down Flash games into robust and replayable FPS and third-person incarnations (e.g., Sanctum and Dungeon Defenders), and now to established series, like Ratchet & Clank, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. These roots are tried and true, but thankfully, the result isn’t a cash-grabbing reskin of old ideas. Instead, Insomniac Games has created a well-polished, all-new subgenre that blends platforming, third-person shooting, and base defense. The result, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, is as overwhelmingly hectic as the title suggests, particularly in a 2v2 multiplayer match, but the core mechanics make a smooth transition from the regular series: In retrospect, all those wacky weapons (the dance-inducing Groovatron Glove, the sheep Transmogrifying mines, the holographic reinforcements of the Doppelbanger device, to name a few) were built for a game just like this.
Ratchet & Clank is also a malleable franchise. Its last outing, All 4 One, wasn’t afraid to focus on co-op rather than the single-player mayhem of the Future games that preceded it. If there’s any quibble with this latest installment, it’s that even the four-hour campaign emphasizes multiplayer features: You can run through it alone, but some of the achievements seem masochistically difficult without a partner to help defend. That said, if you can master the shifts between exploring each of the five planets for new weapons and bolts (the game’s currency) and then hastily teleporting back to base to buy and set up turrets, mines, and barriers in the two lanes leading to your generators, then you’ll be all set for the meat of Full Frontal Assault: the ranked competitive mode. (If you don’t have a friend next to you or connected via microphone, stick to 1v1 matches; everything’s so fast-paced that good communication is more than half the battle.)
Unlike the campaign, which offers brief respites between enemy waves and a humorous story involving a vengeful former super fan of Captain Qwark’s, the competitive levels don’t let up. The well-designed maps feature two opposing bases, with six regular weapon nodes and one harder-to-reach power weapon node divided in the no-man’s-land between them. In the timed Recon phase, you’ll race on Hover boots to capture (or recapture) these nodes, which represent your main source of income. (As in the single-player, there’s still room for exploration, so skilled platformers will have an economic edge over their more trigger-happy rivals.) After that, you’ll have less than a minute to use those hard-earned bolts to unlock and purchase troops, which you’ll assign to attack in either of the two lanes. Strategy is key: Do you then sit around spending money on defenses, or do you attempt to overwhelm the enemy by charging in with your computer-controlled attackers? Committing too many resources to a failed attack leaves your opponent with extra bolts, so as the cycle reboots to a second, third, or fourth Recon phase (the nodes ever increasing in value), you may find yourself struggling just to keep up.
Between the 12 main weapons in your arsenal, the four types of turrets, three barriers, four mines, and different troop compositions (each strong and weak to a different type of defense), there’s enough variety to keep you facing down your rivals for at least as long as the campaign. However, it’s worth noting that some strategies (i.e., defenses) seem far more viable and unbalanced than others, and if the ranked matchmaking ends up being poorly designed (it was unavailable and therefore untested at the time of this review), it will ruin the online experience, given the high level of skill the game requires. Casual gamers should probably look elsewhere, but fans of Ratchet & Clank or the various genres that Full Frontal Assault embraces will find a solidly entertaining and challenging title here.