Ratchet & Clank: Q Force (known in the United States as Full Frontal Assault) is the fifth Ratchet & Clank title for the PlayStation 3. It is the series' second 'mini adventure', which of course, means short. Similar to Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, Q Force was released on the PlayStation Network as a downloadable title, but also sold at retail in PAL territories.
Ratchet & Clank means a lot to me, it was my first PS2 game and I have played every title and spin-off since. I practically grew up with these characters. Insomniac has always done an exceptional job with all of their franchises, from Disruptor to Resistance. Even games that performed less than stellar critically, I enjoyed. Needless to say, the hype meter was high for Q Force... but unfortunately it's not the game I was hoping to celebrate Ratchet's 10th Anniversary with.
Note: There is also a PlayStation Vita version of this game that comes free with the PS3 version, but at the time of writing this is not available yet, so this review only covers the PS3 game.
Unlike almost every other title in the series, Ratchet & Clank: Q Force's story is meaningless, unsatisfying and almost non-existent. The game stars Ratchet, Clank and the self-obsessed Captain Qwark. After Qwark failed to be re-elected as Galactic President he has dragged Ratchet and Clank aboard the Starship Phoenix II to team together as the 'QForce' to defend the galaxy. This was established before I even realised it started, so you may miss it. The heroes are contacted by a dastardly villain whom is as per usual trying to kill them and take over the universe.
Aside from setting the stage for some interesting gameplay mechanics, story then takes a back seat only to appear in brief cut scenes between missions. It overall seems pointless as isn't at all compelling.
Graphics and Presentation:
Ratchet and Clank titles have always been visually stunning, and Q Force is no exception. The graphics are charming and could stand up against animated films by the likes of Disney and Dreamworks. Character models are extremely detailed to the point where Ratchet's hair is visible and fuzzy. Surfaces look like they are supposed to and have qualities that give them personality; metals shine and reflect while ice is frosty and looks cold to touch. Lighting is impressive as well with many explosions and weapon effects filling the screen. Chaotic moments in Q Force are a visual treat, with the added bonus of no slowdown or screen tearing. Not to say there aren't any bugs though, on more than one incident I found myself stuck on an enemy or between a rock and a wall.
I do have a gripe with the character designs for Ratchet and Clank though. In the previous title, All 4 One, these two had heads that were slightly bigger than usual, giving them a more cartoon-ish and distorted look. This 'larger head' style is also present in Q Force and I personally find it distracting. Granted, the core design for Ratchet and Clank has slowly changed over the years and I have never had an issue with it, but this redesign doesn't sit right with me and quite honestly, it looks stupid.
All of the menus are slick and fast and the in-game HUD is well designed to show all necessary information at once. The map appears slightly larger than it did in previous titles, as it needs to be constantly referred to during gameplay. With the press of a button the map increases in size filling almost the whole screen and shows the location of key areas and enemies. This is a welcome feature and I found myself using it frequently.
The music in Q Force is standard for the series, it provides some decent sci-fi and space themed tunes that set the scene. But, in the end nothing in particular stands out or is memorable. This is a shame as most previous R&C titles have had much superior soundtracks. On the other hand the sound effects excel and every sound of construction or destruction fits well and sounds great. Sounds are sometimes buggy and either play later than they should have or don't appear at all. Odd, since this has never happened in my experience with the series.
Luckily, the trademark humour and wit return to liven up the uninspired story. Although there is very little dialogue and banter between characters, what is there is high quality and true to the brand. While playing, characters often speak, but in a gameplay driven way. I mostly played as Ratchet and upon collecting bolts (the currency) sometimes he would say “I'd better build more defences”. This kind of dialogue is welcome as it helps out the player, but is not over used. There is also some humorous in-action dialogue too. When defeating enemies without getting damaged the characters say things along the lines of “15 down and not a scratch on me!” which is a nice touch. Series staple Mr Zurkon also makes a hilarious return and expresses some great one liners.
Gameplay & Controls:
QForce is played like a mix between a platformer and a tower defence game. This is where the game really starts to disappoint.
Each level starts off with you playing as either Ratchet, Clank or Qwark at a base in which you must build up and defend against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Similar to tower defence games the enemies make their way to the base from various locations on the map. The foes do not constantly attack your base but do so in waves. The main goal is to run around the map and find 'key nodes' that must be activated. These then unlock access to the opposing force's base in which you must successfully attack, then travel back to your base and survive a final enemy assault.
The concept is there, but it has a lot of shortcomings. As a level starts you have only a melee weapon. Weapons are found in drop pods that are scattered around the map. This does give the game a sense of progression as the levels do slowly get harder, but finding the weapon you want or need is difficult and often random. From just using them these weapons level and this is crucial for later levels. Turrets, mines, walls and other defences can be purchased to help you out and this is the only purpose of bolts. As usual bolts are found from dead foes or in crates around the relatively open levels. But are solely used for that level and serve no greater purpose. There are gold bolts to be found for those who like to explore (when their base isn't being invaded) and these unlock extras.
Controls are mostly solid and are comparable to previous R&C games, most of the time you will just be using the left and right stick to move and aim, while holding R1 to fire. Characters are equipped with rocket boots that with the press of R2 sees them speeding through the map. These are highly necessary when the base is being attacked from multiple directions. Camera control can be annoying sometimes and get stuck in walls and the environment though.
On the whole it is an interesting take on both genres, the gameplay is serviceable, and the game works. But at no point is it particularly engaging or truly fun .It is unlike a good Ratchet title and it often feels soulless. The difficulty is inconsistent; it started as beyond easy and at level four there was a spike so high I had to replay the later part of the level 5 times before I scarcely completed it.
QForce's single player difficulty is drastically reduced when playing with a buddy. This can be done in split screen or online, and with a second player the game seems more manageable. In fact levels – with their multiple lanes – feel like its essential to have two players to be able to finish them effectively.
Online multiplayer also makes a return and is similar to the multiplayer modes in R&C 3. It involves two teams, of either one or two combatants a side. Each team has their own base to defend and build defences for, while also trying to capture nodes around the battlefield to give them extra weapons and reinforcements. This was rather enjoyable the first few times, but there is a low number of maps and being so similar to the single player (which I found boring), I only played five or six matches and had enough. The single player has re-playability due to skill points, timed scores and challenges... but the multiplayer barely has any incentive to jump online aside from a few token trophies.
As such a huge fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, I am open to ideas and spin-off titles. I enjoyed the likes of 'All 4 One' and 'Secret Agent Clank', but Q Force was ultimately not an enjoyable experience. I commend Insomniac on taking a risk, and don't get me wrong this is still a good, above average game that has its moments, but Q Force is not the game I was hoping for.
Hopefully Insomniac gives Ratchet a well deserved rest and the next time we see him is on a new fully fledged adventure on the PS4.
+ Great graphics
+ Lots of fun to shoot things....
- ...but not so much fun to defend your base
- Lame story
- Repetitive and tedious
- Unnecessary difficulty spike
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[PlayStation 3] Ratchet & Clank: Q Force
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