For me, there is something inherently nostalgic about the cutesy cartoon characters that have predominantly graced the Sony consoles over the recent decades. While the Xbox was still a twinkle in Bill Gates’ eye, I was traversing the worlds of Sir Daniel Fortesque, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and many others right up until recent times, when I would sit with my young son and we would enjoy those worlds together. Although they have grown out of favour with him since he became a teenager, but the nostalgia lingers on and hopefully one day he will enjoy these worlds again with the same reverence to which I hold these titles.
It takes a lot to amaze me when it comes to these platformers, but not such a great deal to satiate me. As such I started up Ratchet and Clank : Q-Force with little expectations.
To those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Ratchet and Clank is a long running and established series from Insomnia games, the same team that created Spyro the dragon. Ratchet, the universes last known Lombax, following their evacuation to another dimension after the war with the Cragmites, and his consummate sidekick Crank, a fully sentient robot.
Following on directly from the story in Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, Captain Quark has returned to his hero roots following his defeat for the position of galactic president. Sadly, retirement for Quark and the lack of a decent adversary has put him in a deep depression causing him to potter around despondently in the Starship Pheonix II. We join our heroes as they attempt to find a way to bring Quark out of his funk.
Fate intervenes as they receive a communication informing that a mysterious villain had began attacking peaceful planets, and requesting aid from the “famed” hero Captain Quark. Quark leaps into action requesting that Ratchet and Clank reform the Q-Force team to investigate the attacks and to restore the planetary defenses on the three worlds invaded by unknown aggressors.
Graphically, this is the most impressive outing for the Lomax and friends, with the trademark visual style having a new veneer applied to each of the characters and environments. Some regular characters of the series make brief appearances, mainly during cut scenes, and sadly most of the humour and activity of both Clank and Quark have also been resigned to these story arc sections, barely making an appearance during the majority of the gameplay. Some amusing tongue in cheek conversations and cultural references, (such as the nods to PSY and Mr Trolololol),do occur when you are running around Starship Pheonix II, which acts as your primary hub, but sadly none of these occur with any frequency during the actual levels to warrant reference here which is a major upset from the franchise that prides itself on its comedic styling.
From the outset it is obvious that this is no straight forward action platformer like Tools of Destruction or Crack in Time, taking in the co-operative elements of All 4 One and introducing some new mechanics to spice up the proceedings. Upon landing on the planet, you are placed in control of the Q-Force Base, which consists of eight generators which must be protected from periodic waves of enemies, looking to impede your re-activation of the planetary defenses.
Between each of these rounds, you have the opportunity to investigate the world collecting weapons to improve your arsenal as well as collecting bolts (the in game currency) to purchase defensive and offensive upgrades for your base. This instills a very tower defense feel to these sections of the game as you purchase defensive walls and mines, or various turrets to repel attackers. Movement, melee and shooting in the game all live up to the quality established by the previous title. Masterful camera work and intuitive controls ensure that the platforming sections are simple and responsive, so each time you die, you know its because you, not the game, made a mistake.
Many of the weapons collected over the last ten years make an appearance, from the disturbingly kill-happy Mr Zargon synthenoid, to the Groovitron glove that casts out a reflective disco ball that makes all of your enemies stop and dance. Unfortunately, some of the fan favourites have not made an appearance, such as the R.Y.N.O. (Rip You a New One) gun which blasts out the 1812 overture as you decimate your opponents, the Rift Inducer 5000 which summoned an inter-dimensional tentacle beast (fondly nicknamed “Fred” by the engineers that discovered him) or any of the transmorphing weapons of past incarnations, such as the chimp-o-matic, the sheepinator and the Quack-o-Ray to name but a few.
To depress further, the game takes place over a total of five levels, one of which being a repeat of a previous level with an ever so slight twist, and as such its hard not to feel a sharp pang of doubt by what seems to be less than a fully fleshed out release. The game also introduces a leveling and skill point system which, although well designed and easily mastered, requires a commitment of time that I feel only the truly devoted fans or the completionists will ever see to fruition as it requires multiple playthroughs of the game and varied use of the weapons, and with 2 of the levels being nearly identical I would find it hard to justify it to myself, even with a sub eight hours completion time for the entire campaign.
Q-Forces surprising saving grace is its multiplayer. Taking the unbalanced Tower defence elements out of the single player campaign and combining with a resource management aspect really brings out its unique charm. Made up of 3 rounds, Recon where you convert nodes using a button timed minigame used throughout the single player will increase your bolt production, but can be captured by the opposing force before the Recon round ends. To this end, you must decide between capturing nodes and fortifying captured nodes to ensure your bolt production is sufficient for the Squad round. Here you will return to base and purchase and upgrade your attacking force. With a decent varity of attackers and complimenting upgrades, decisions at this point could be vital to your victory, and utilising your bolt expenditure wisely is necessary. Finally, its on to the attack round, where your selected attackers will assault your opponents base, to try to take out their generators before yours falls foul to their own incursion upon your base. At this point you can hang back and assist in the defence, move to the middle ground to intercept the incoming aggressors or even join the majority of your troops in the capture of your enemy stronghold. Defences, such as walls, turrets and mines can be purchased at any time, so managing your currency during all three phases is a strategic level that truly brings the most out of this game type, and with even an incompetent opposing player posing more of a threat than the predictable AI from the campaign, this truly was the highlight of this title.
With the series renowned for its outlandish weapons, amazing enemies and inane humour throughout, its just a shame that in an effort to take the game in new directions it lost most of what made the previous games so entertaining. The Tower defence sections never feel balanced, with too few bolts to fully defend your base turning into a perpetual grind to find enough bolts dotted sparsely around the environment to ensure its defense while you take on your mission at hand, and the expansive platforming sections feel rushed due to the requirement to return to base to repel the incoming waves. As such you never feel that sense of reasoned exploration that has been so integral to the previous releases.
This truly is a title that will not win over any new fans to the Ratchet and Clank universe, and may even isolate more of the hardcore followers so soon after the tepid release that was Ratchet and Clank All 4 One. Lets hope Insomnia take a long hard look at the universe they have built up, and return to its roots to retain the pedigree it has worked so hard to attain.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PS3 Release Date: 30/11/12
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Ratchet and Clank: Q-Force for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.