I'm not really sure who asked for the Ratchet & Clank series to focus on cooperative play, but it certainly wasn't me. I'm a big fan of the Lombax's previous space adventures, with the series managing to combine some good old-fashioned platforming with excellent projectile and melee combat. I really didn't want Insomniac to ditch this formula in favour of four-player co-op, fixed camera angles and simplified gameplay. But that's what we've got.
Those aspects sound like your kind of thing? Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One carries them off pretty well.
As you might expect if you've been following the series, the evil Dr. Nefarious hatches a plan to destroy Ratchet, Clank, and Captain Qwark, but things go wrong. The quartet are kidnapped by new villain Ephemeris the Creature Collector, sent to the planet Magnus and forced to work together in order to fight against this new foe. It's a little contrived, but the four main characters had to be put together somehow.
On some levels All 4 One plays a lot like its predecessors. You still acquire a massive arsenal of inventive weapons (most of which you'll have come across before if you're a long-time fan), which is pretty much the series' trademark feature. Weapons such as Mr Zurkon and the Warmonger are joined by new tools, including a slime gun, pneumatic drill, reflector shield and a multi-purpose hoover. It's the latter that proves most useful, being called upon time and time again to interact with switches.
Combat is good fun, with the variety of weapons making for an explosive mix (especially with four players all going at it either locally or online), but there's no denying that things have been dumbed down compared to previous Ratchet & Clank titles. While new enemies are constantly introduced over the course of the adventure, they rarely require anything more than a few moments of sustained auto-targeted fire - or a special conjoined stream of fire caused when players all target an enemy with the same weapon.
Sadly the weapon-levelling system seen in previous titles is gone - replaced with a simplistic three-tier system which requires you to redeem collected bolts. As a result I found there wasn't nearly as much incentive to switch between weapons, instead choosing to focus on the one I'd already fully levelled up.
The co-op mechanics aren't nearly as exciting or inventive as you might think, especially when considering All 4 One is designed from the ground up as a cooperative experience. You'll generally have to perform tasks either at the same time or by taking turns. Certain objects require the joint suction power of your hoovers to be ripped apart, doors will only open if switches are activated by all party members, and many platforms can only be reached if you are fired over there by a team mate.
Occasionally you'll have to perform different tasks to complete an objective, each team member doing their bit (such as firing an energy orb over to another platform where a friend then grabs it before shooting it into a socket) but on the whole there's nothing here that goes above the kind of cooperative mechanics seen in the LEGO series.
While the gameplay here is accessible to almost anyone, All 4 One lacks what the LEGO games offered on top of the main adventure. This is a very linear adventure, with nothing hidden or off the beaten path, and puzzles are never particularly inventive. Insomniac mixes up the standard action platforming gameplay with a smattering of different gameplay mechanics (rafting, jetpacking, water skiing, and a Metroid-like morph ball), but it doesn't prevent things from becoming a bit of a slog towards the end.
What Insomniac does do well is boss battles, and they are here in force. Giant enemies, both mechanical and organic, crop up frequently, and they look great. They are the game's most impressive aspect from a visual perspective, with the title as a whole failing to live up to the impressive CGI-movie quality that previous entries in the series achieved on PS3. Some environments are prettier than others, but All 4 One only manages to wow when a giant monster is filling the screen. The script is as sharp as ever, though, with plenty of witty remarks, although you'll want to make sure Qwark is in your party or else you'll miss lots of his one-liners.
Despite my problems with the route Insomniac has taken the series with All 4 One, I did have fun blasting through the levels. Co-op play makes the game more entertaining by virtue of having a friend (or three) by your side, and there's a small element of competition thanks to end of stage awards and insults. There's just nothing here that takes the series forward, though, with many of the gameplay elements feeling pared back in order for the game to appeal to as many people as possible.
Insomniac's biggest problem is that All 4 One feels like it's stuck somewhere in No Man's Land. The family-friendly gameplay is done better in Traveller's Tales' LEGO games, and the action platforming is handled more successfully by Insomniac's own A Crack in Time and Tools of Destruction. Being stuck in the middle doesn't make All 4 One a bad game, just a game that will struggle to find much love.