A sloppy port of one of Ratchet’s weaker adventures provides some fleeting fun, but the experience is over too quickly to be noteworthy.
World-building & Story
Set after the events of All for One (but telling an otherwise standalone story), Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force follows the titular protagonists as they attempt to comfort Captain Qwark in his post-Galactic Presidency life. Things quickly liven up as the trio encounter a masked protagonist who threatens the safety of nearby planets and it’s up to the reformed Q-Force to ensure their safety by activating planetary defence systems.
The plot is one of the tamest in Ratchet & Clank history, relying on a tried-and-true formula of galactic peril to progress things forward. There’s nothing really noteworthy here (hindered by the fact that the game is such a brief experience) and often falls back on nostalgia-tripping and call-backs to previous events. It’s functional and harmless, but Insomniac have done better in the history of the IP – it’s merely a sequence of ‘planet needs saving’ -> ‘travel to and liberate planet’ -> ‘repeat’ until the conclusion.
This also means characters aren’t particularly developed, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing after eight prior games that fully explored nearly every aspect of the crew. Clank is still the logical voice of reason while Ratchet is the head-strong adventurer, although their friendship is barely touched on in this title – meanwhile Qwark is still the highlight, the dim-witted but well-meaning celebrity who delivers some of the best lines in the game. It’s familiar territory, but the dynamics still work and I did find myself chuckling at some of the more farcical humor.
Similarly, the world Ratchet inhabits has already been established across many previous titles, but is still an interesting place to explore. It’s full of futuristic landscapes; flying spaceships and feral alien planets and you’ll see the full array here, even with a reduced amount of areas. The developers have always put a lot of effort into making each zone feel interactive and unique and that’s no different here, with each place you visit feeling like a habitable; bespoke area that fits into the wider Ratchet universe.
Presentation & Sound
As the only of the PS3-era Ratchet & Clank games to come to Vita, Q-Force could have been seen as a test case of what the handheld is capable of – and at times the title does look great, although more often than not it is let down by a lack of effort in the porting process.
Character models are somewhat of a mix – they retain the expressive, exaggerated-cartoon-y look that Insomniac nailed with all the games in the series, but here on Vita they often look pixelated and lacking in certain nuance. In addition, there’s a weird dark tint to everything that makes it look oddly dulled (particularly Clank’s model).
Environments are similarly up and down – there’s certainly some great design here and when you’re boosting through an alien planet full of colourful fauna; bizzare enemies and unique geometry. Yet often the game looks disappointing with poor-quality texture work; tonnes of pop-in of objects and jagged edges across everything. At times Q-Force reminds me of an up-ressed PSP title, rather than something that’s natively designed for Vita’s hardware.
One thing that seemed to stay in tact from the PS3 version of the game is the weapon effects, which often light up the screen with colour and explosions, looking very impressive. When you throw out a thundersmack pod which calls in bolts of lightning next to your army of doppelbangers, then start firing your warmonger rocket launcher, you’ll see what I mean and it’s glorious.
But all these graphical effects come at a price – and sadly that price is performance, like so many of Sony’s handheld ports. At the best of times, Q-Force is a poorly performing game – being incredibly choppy when moving around the map; but once explosions start going off or a lot is happening at once (particularly noticeable when you’re defending your base and have turrets built), things will slow to a crawl. This can become frustrating thanks to how regularly it occurs, particularly in a fast-paced action-shooter series like Ratchet & Clank.
Sound is at least a redeeming aspect of the presentation – voice acting is as good as ever, with each character feeling unique; expressive and humorous (with a particular shout-out to Jim Ward as Captain Qwark). Music is orchestral and decent, fitting in with the action fairly well, although mostly forgettable once you’re finished playing.
Gameplay & Content
While maintaining the third-person shooting and mild platforming aspects of previous entries, Q-Force also introduces elements of tower-defence that serve as a welcome shake up to the familiar formula, even if things don’t always work perfectly.
After selecting a mission you’ll be dropped into a base which will act as your main point of interaction with the map, that you can teleport back to at any time. In each base are generators that have to be defended or it’s game over; and you can defend these generators by building various turrets and barriers along the two paths into the area, which are purchased using bolts. You won’t, however, be spending all of your time in the base as you’re required to go out and capture nodes to unlock the Planetary Defence Centre, which is required for mission success.
If that sounds like a lot to take in – don’t worry, the game does a good job of introducing new mechanics slowly so you can get the hang of things. In a nutshell you’ll go out into the fairly expansive and large maps to explore, find treasure and capture points while returning to your base to defend against waves of oncoming enemies from time to time. The game always alerts you when foes are approaching with on-screen indicators and the map allows easy access to the whole area so you can always figure out where the battle is.
Movement is nice and fluid thanks to rocket boots, and the aiming and shooting mechanics feel great – incidentally you’ll be able to pick between either Ratchet; Clank or Qwark as a playable character and in a cute addition whichever characters aren’t picked will man turrets in your base. It makes a nice change to play as someone other than Ratchet, but all of the cast have exactly the same moves and attacks.
Base-building is one of the game’s best new additions and works really well. At various points inside your stronghold you’ll have little nodes which can be fitted with turrets; barriers or mines – pressing triangle on them will bring up a multi-choice menu to pick between whatever you’ve unlocked, which will be instantly built as long as you have the bolts. There’s your usual creative Ratchet-twist to these, ranging from freeze turrets to mines that transmorph your foes into rabbits, meaning they’re all fun to mess around with.
These defences are instrumental to success as your base will be attacked by waves of enemies you’ll need to fend off. They’ll enter from two different lanes – and unless you’re playing online co-op you can’t be on both sides at once, meaning you’ll have to ensure a decent armory built on at least one side; although you can reinforce either lane with barriers for extra protection. If the shit is really hitting the fan you’re also able to reinforce your generators from damage, affording you precious seconds to turn the tide of an invasion.
The actual foes you’ll encounter are Grungarians – one of the many alien species from Ratchet’s universe – that come in various different forms. Ranging from simple marauders with melee attacks to massive gunships, you’ll often have to adapt a different strategy to take down each. The biggest enemies you’ll encounter are massively-armored tanks which take a serious beating – but luckily, your character will have the arsenal to more than easily take these down – ranging from the ever reliable Mr Zurkon to the groovitron, which causes all enemies to burst out dancing. Ratchet has always relied on incredibly enjoyable to get it through and Q-Force is no different in this regard.
The way you acquire weapons has also been given an overhaul, requiring you to go out into the world to find weapon nodes and then playing a little mini-game to unlock them. You’re then given a choice between up to three different guns, requiring some strategic thinking about what the best thing is for the level you’re in. That said, after the third or so time playing the mini-game will feel like an un-necessary annoyance, not really adding anything to the gameplay.
Once you travel outside a base, you’ll be treated to traditional Ratchet gameplay – you’ll whizz around levels (aided by rocket boots); blast enemies to bits and break open crates to gather the bolts inside. You’ll often have an objective such as capturing a specific point or destroying a weather node, but the free-form nature of the levels means you can often go to do whatever you want. Due to the constant threat of an attack on your base, you’ll constantly find this flow interrupted by needing to return for defence, however – meaning even when you’ve built up an army of turrets, you’ll feel the need to return.
Q-Force‘s biggest issue is that just as mechanics are slowly being layered up and the game finally starts throwing a decent challenge your way… it ends. Designed as a smaller Ratchet experience for the series’ 20th Anniversary, it only features a total of five levels (four if counting a reskin) including the massively disappointing final mission; which is made even worse in comparison to the brilliant one that precedes it. As such, it’s difficult not to feel a little ripped off as you can blast through the content here in a little over two hours.
Longevity is added by a really neat online mode that has you not only defending your own base, but using gathered resources to build units to attack your opponent’s base. It works shockingly well and can be incredibly addictive, but you’ll only be able to play if you have a friend to game with – the servers are a wasteland at present. It doesn’t help that the Vita version is limited to 1v1 battles while the console version allows 2v2, helping solidfy the feeling of a rushed port. If you are able to find a game I’d highly recommend it, as the mode is both strategic and action-packed, meaning it is a lot of fun.
Q-Force does feature a large amount of DLC – although this is entirely cosmetic, costing £1.19 per pack to unlock three skins for the multiplayer maps. There are some nice nostalgic nods to previous games in here, but none of it is really worth having unless you’re a big fan of playing as a certain character from a previous Ratchet game.
Insomniac Games should be commended for experimenting with new ideas in the Ratchet IP and certainly Q-Force has some brilliant additions that makes it a lot of fun to play. Sadly there’s just not enough here – the game cuts off just as things started getting enjoyable – leaving Q-Force feeling a stunted, disappointing experience. The lack of effort from Tin Giant in porting the game across to Vita just cements this as a missed opportunity – you’ll be left wanting more, but underneath all the blemishes the game here is still pure fun and it’s definitely worth giving a try for the right price.