Though fundamentally a third-person shooter, the Ratchet & Clank series has rarely shied from bold genre experimentation: witness the progressive competitive and co-op modes of Ratchet: Deadlocked, the brain-busting temporal puzzles of A Crack in Time, even the four-player feuding of last year’s All 4 One. But with Full Frontal Assault, the storied series will undergo what is perhaps its most sweeping metamorphosis yet, creating what developer Insomniac Games is calling “action tower defense.” Yep, Ratchet’s going all PixelJunk Monsters on us.
This is a logical, some might say inevitable, evolution when you consider the series’ gameplay trajectory, which despite its myriad twists and turns has focused squarely on two core elements: ludicrously powerful weaponry and freakish alien foes. In other words, the raw ingredients for a mean tower defense game. “One of the things we wanted to explore with Full Frontal Assault was large, sprawling battlefields,” Production Director Shaun McCabe told me. “The large battlefields in Up Your Arsenal and A Crack in Time added a lot of player choice. The decision to add tower defense felt organic…exploring large open battlefields and then returning to your base to set up defenses.” McCabe cited tower defense games like Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die as key inspirations for Full Frontal Assault.
Though Insomniac Games isn’t allowing any hands-on play just yet, I learned much about Full Frontal Assault just by watching a few minutes of the game in action. The core gameplay looks to be plucked directly from fan favorite A Crack in Time; everything from the camera view and controls to those intoxicating hoverboots will make series traditionalists feel right at home. The story-driven campaign, which you can play solo or co-op, is strung together with traditional adventure sequences that combine shooting and platforming as Ratchet scours the surface of the planet Ebaro looking for secret weapon caches while fending off attacks from rampaging Grungarian marauders. So far, so good, until the monstrous mercenaries decide to attack your base — that’s when those tantalizing tower defense events kick into gear.
Your home base serves as the tower defense battlefield, and the floor is scattered with pads that enable you to deploy three basic types of units: Turrets, mines, and barriers. You’ll fend off multiple waves of incoming Grungarians by strategically placing these defenses, which you can combo together to devastating effect: a slow-mo mine combined with Combuster turrets can ravage a tough enemy before he breaks through your barrier. Enemies will come in all shapes and sizes, from swarms of tiny Grungoids to tough melee-centric Brawlers to crafty Engineers who seek to sabotage your defenses. Turrets, mines, and barriers will also come in many flavors, though Insomniac Games is remaining frustratingly tight-lipped about specifics for now.
Though you’ll need to monitor your base defenses carefully, you’ll hardly be dependent on them — Ratchet is a potent fighter and can swoop in to turn the tide in a besieged area. The combination of Ratchet’s exotic weapons and the effects of various turrets, mines, and barriers promises to create some unexpected and devastating combinations.
Between tower defense events, Ratchet will need to venture back into the battlefield to seek out more powerful weapons. “Most of the weapons in the game are ‘Ratchet classics,’” McCabe teased. “Our goal here is to give players almost more weapons than they can handle.” Upon finding a weapon pod, you’ll be forced to choose between unlocking one of two possible weapons. Plasmabomb Launcher or Warmonger rocket launcher? Decisions, decisions.
True to tower defense form, Full Frontal Assault awards you medals based on your performance in the tower defense segments, encouraging you to replay them again and again until you’ve completed them perfectly. The medals will unlock promotions, too, including new armor and perks for Ratchet, Clank, or Qwark.
Oh, and they’ll be a competitive mode, too, though Insomniac is saving those details for another occasion. “It builds on what we’ve shown here today,” McCabe teased. “And…I’m pretty good at it.”