Ratchet & Clank: QForce
The latest entry in the Ratchet and Clank series is something of an odd creation. Forsaking its platforming roots for the most part, QForce (or Full-Frontal Assault as it’s known the US, confusingly) instead takes the form of a multiplayer-focused tower defence game. Although you still control the titular characters, the game now has you navigating enclosed maps, gathering weapons and building up defences for your base to fend off enemy assaults. The single-player element of the game mainly exists to introduce you to the maps and gameplay style, though it does vary somewhat from the multiplayer mode.
In single player you find yourself visiting a series of planets where the aim is to re-establish the planetary defences by destroying power nodes. At the same time, your base will periodically come under attack from waves of ever increasing enemy forces, a fact that balances out the exploratory elements of the game in favour of having to rush back to your base at short notice. Short story sections present the illusion of a connection to the other Ratchet and Clank games , but really it’s an excuse to get to a series of challenge maps, with little of the series trademark humour surviving the transition.
Once you get the hang of it this new style of gameplay things can be quite enjoyable; there are collectables to find and some remnants of the series’ platforming roots can be found in the environments, however the constant need to return to base and fight off enemies soon gets tiresome. Add to this the fact that buying defences costs, comparatively, a lot and you end up having to almost grind enemies and boxes for bolts in order to afford any protection for your base, protection that in the heat of battle doesn’t seem to last very long when confronted by waves of enemy forces. It’s symptomatic of the dichotomy that lies at the heart of the game; it wants to give you the familiar Ratchet and Clank feeling of exploration and action, but the Tower Defence elements keep getting in the way, leaving you constantly in a state of readiness to turn and fight, adding an uncomfortable sort of tension to what should be the more enjoyable parts of the experience.
The campaign is short, but there is incentive there to replay levels armed with increased knowledge for better outcomes, there are target times to beat and rewards for keeping all your generators intact at the end of the mission, as well as collectables and weapons to unlock. Somewhat annoyingly each weapon has to be unlocked again on every level from supply stations you uncover, meaning you always start with nothing but a pistol, so it’s something of a scramble to unlock enough firepower to be able to adequately progress in the mission. Thankfully, the levelling up of weapons remains once earned, which makes replaying the earlier levels a lot more straightforward. On the plus side the levels are available to be played in co-op mode which does alleviate some of the more frustrating elements of having to manage so many spinning plates.
The main focus of the game is unquestionably the online competitive multiplayer, which features versions of the same maps but with a slightly different structure available in 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 modes. Here the game is split into three distinct phases, the first of which sees you roaming the level looking to capture nodes that generate bolts for you throughout the rest of the game. The second phase sees you able to purchase defences for your base, or to spend your hard earned money on offensive forces that will help you storm the enemy’s base. The third phase is where you are able to enter your opponent’s stronghold and attempt to deal as much damage as you can. You can also purchase upgrades at any time to boost your output. Each phase only lasts for a minute or two and then the sequence repeats, so the gameplay ends up being quite tactical, with a prudent strategy being to capture nodes early and defend them, thus generating enough income to be able to afford some of the more powerful offensive forces later on.
Aside from the different maps there is not a lot of variety in the multiplayer side of things, so it should quickly become apparent whether it’s a mode that is likely to hold your attention or not. Whilst it can be enjoyable and has a fair amount of tactical variety, ultimately it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the wealth of online competitive modes that are available to gamers elsewhere. It can also be something of a painful experience should you find yourself partnered up with an unsuitable ally, as a well organised team that takes an early lead is very hard to back against, often once one team forges ahead it is merely a matter of time before victory is sealed.
QForce is an interesting experiment, furthering the divergence into multiplayer action that All-4-One started, but where that game had a full featured campaign and traditional Ratchet & Clank gameplay, this shoehorns it into a strange hybrid that doesn’t really feel as if it will satisfy fans of either side. Those wanting a more traditional Ratchet and Clank adventure will not find it here, and those interested in Tower Defence or competitive online experiences may find some enjoyment, but the series’ roots leave the gameplay somewhat shallow compared to many other similar titles available on a wide range of platforms.
QForce is a disappointment because it feels like a Ratchet and Clank game, and to see the series go from some of the most high-profile Sony releases to an obscure multiplayer focused budget releas such as this is kind of disheartening. There are enough flashes in the game to remind you of the franchise’s strengths, the weapons and gunplay remain fun, and the look and feel of the game remain strong, but the core concept does them no favours. This seems like a footnote of a game. So whilst it’s hard to be critical of a £15 title that does offer a fair amount of content, not to mention a free Vita copy of the game (which isn’t out until February), it also fails to serve as a Ratchet and Clank game that people would have been hoping for, which leaves one of the most successful and recognisable franchises in the PlayStation catalogue suffering from something of an identity crisis.
D+PAD reviewed Ratchet & Clank: QForce (aka Full Frontal Assault) on the PlayStation 3; game provided by Sony.
Have you downloaded the latest issue from GamerZines yet? Check it out here!