Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) Ratchet & Clank franchise has fallen out of favour in recent years. While it was initially birthed with the same intention as Jak and Daxter – and for that matter Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon – the platform genre as wider interest hasn’t been able to maintain its popularity on par with its leading light, Super Mario. As such the last few years have seen Ratchet & Clank in a bit of a muddle, struggling to re-evaluate its position and offer something of worth.
Last year’s Ratchet & Clank: All-4-One was a confused affair, attempting to push the franchise in new directions which it clearly did not want to follow. Ratchet & Clank: QForce celebrates the series’ tenth anniversary in a much wiser fashion, launching as a digital title available via the PlayStation Store tomorrow, 28th December 2012, and coming as a budget priced retail release this Friday, 30th December 2013. What’s more, the inclusion of the ‘disc benefits’ system with the retail purchase offers the forthcoming PlayStation Vita version of the videogame as a downloadable title for no added cost. Gamers simply can’t say fairer than that.
Add to this the comprehensive technological design of Ratchet & Clank: QForce – most notably the automatic installation of the downloaded version from disc, the remarkably seamless multiplayer gameplay and the stereoscopic 3D visuals – and SCE has delivered a rollercoaster of a market proposition far braver than anything its competitors are doing. But what about the videogame itself? Can all this fancy dressing truly be worth anything if the underlying gameplay experience is of a poor quality?
Thankfully, SCE hasn’t given us the opportunity to find out. Ratchet & Clank: QForce marks a turning point in the franchise which, although far from perfect, is most certainly putting it back on the right path. The one it should, and hopefully wants to follow.
Ratchet & Clank: QForce is designed to be co-operative experience from start to finish. Either online or via split-screen gameplay, the core component of Ratchet & Clank: QForce offers a unique gameplay experience for up to two players. With the camera following players from a traditional third-person perspective the objective is to defend your own base while attacking the enemy. It’s an arena based action videogame that takes influences from what are considered to be two of the newest – and very popular – genres around: tower defence and MOBA. Choosing different characters offers different abilities and weapon stocks are offered from designated points on the map, unlocking an arsenal of varied armaments as the match continues.
From the hub world the player can choose different levels to attempt, each of which has a selection of alternative objectives offering greater replay value. It’s a formula that is undoubtedly simple but is nonetheless enjoyable throughout its duration, especially when playing co-operatively. The delivery of the plot is also back on form, presenting a simple but enjoyable Pixar influenced comedy adventure. It offers little new to the subject matter or level of humour, but it’s totally inoffensive and suitable for audiences of all ages, just as a Ratchet & Clank videogame should be.
Ratchet & Clank: QForce also features competitive multiplayer which essentially turns the videogame into and out-and-out MOBA. Available online only, each match is divided into three phases; recon, squad and assault. The recon phase is a competitive element wherein players compete for control of nodes across the map; the more nods won the greater your defence and also the more currency that will available to spend on base defences, character upgrades or squads. Base and character improvements can be purchased at any time, but squads may only be purchased in the appropriately named phase. Squads are your automate defensive allies, going head-to-head with enemy squads and players with the aim of breaching their base in the assault phase. In these two- or four-player matches, the first team to eliminate all of the opposition’s power nodes is the winner.
For the first time in a long while, Ratchet & Clank can be seen as an innovator. It’s in an unlikely genre – one which is prolific with innovation at present thanks to its relative youth – but Ratchet & Clank: QForce is most certainly a welcome new option for fans of both the franchise and MOBA. While Electronic Theatre wouldn’t go so far as to say that Ratchet & Clank should limit itself to the MOBA genre from this point on, the light cast by the modern gaming industry means it most certainly fits better in these bite-sized outings than stretching the premise over twenty hours of paper-thin ‘me too’ gameplay. Ratchet & Clank: QForce is a welcome change of pace for the franchise, and Electronic Theatre hopes that SCE will have the courage to be this bold once again.