There’s an ever so slightly unsettling spate of ambiguity and inertia creeping into Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank output. Given that the developer is now a multi-platform studio who are on the cusp of releasing their first “not just on PlayStation” shooter in FUSE, we should be grateful that they are still willing to dedicate the creative time and effort into crafting something new for the legions of devote R&C fans and admirers out there. In saying all that, what they have been churning out of late hasn’t exactly matched the initial high standard of undeniably charming, whimsical, unanimously fun and comical intergalactic adventures that have long defined this series. This latest offering, subtitled “Q-Force”, is a bite-sized adventure akin in size to “Quest for Booty” and while it certainly looks and reacts like an R&C game, the curious crossover to a experience defining tower defence like mechanic, doesn’t really compliment the greater R&C set up.

Everything about “Q-Force” is set to a pretty fast pace. It’s pretty narrow, but you’ll be kept busy. The main campaign itself is comprised of just handful of missions that take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. The gameplay essentially boils down to a questionably balanced mish-mash of exploration, of assault and most importantly – defence. Defence is the all defining mechanic in here, which is something of a shame, because the light exploration harkens back to the traditional R&C framework – and scavenging for bolts, weaponry and other general items is just as fun now as it was when we started doing it 10 years ago.

Once you’ve collected your acquired bolt booty by capturing any number of base nodes scattered around the world, the idea is that you cash in for a bevy of defensive and offensive items and upgrades to bulk out your HQ. Here’s where things get a little messy. This isn’t a solo experience. You will have to play this with someone else backing you up. While this isn’t a flaw as such, if you do attempt to go it alone, the game will punish you for all of your hard work with a relentless bevy of unforgiving enemies and some really unhelpful and hollow supportive AI. Your enemies will attempt to attack you from two separate choke points of entry for starters, going from one to the other to begin with. After a while they will essentially come in both doors at the same time. You can’t and won’t manage to keep the waves of adversaries at bay on your own. Your base AI allies should be helping you, but they don’t. You could be pressure OmniWrench-ing hundreds of foes as Ratchet, while your AI buddies Quark and Clank stand around as if waiting for a bus on a rainy day. The end result is that you fail the mission and have to go back to the start. This happens more often than is comfortable. It’s almost farcical at times and shouldn’t feel like the chore that it ends up feeling like. Thankfully, teaming up with a friend in co-op, adds some sort of rationality to proceedings.

Cooperative play with a friend (via both offline split-screen co-op and online) certainly cleans up some of the mess that can overwhelm the single-player experience. You can now hold down and plan out you best defensive set up, while you buddy goes out and forages for bolts and nodes. There’s nothing to say you can’t do this together, especially during quiet segments between attacks from the enemy, but at the very least, a co-op set up does allow you to be strategic and think things out.

They’ve also bulked out “Q-Force” with a competitive multiplayer option. Each match is anchored to three distinct phases of reconnaissance of bolts and nodes, of cashing in on squad units to attack the enemy’s base and assault – where you actually go and lead the attack or lead the defence. It’s layered, but is unbalanced. It all boils down to whoever collects the most bolts during the recon phase. If you have the most bolts to cash in, you’ll have the better squad and you’ll be able to overwhelm your opponent quicker.

Visually and in terms of what you’ve come to expect of R&C’s general presentation, “Q-Force” ticks all the right boxes. It’s certainly a winner in the looks department. The story and it’s humour is a little subdued this time out, but that’s to be expected considering we’re not dealing with a fully fledged R&C adventure here. The world design isn’t that varied and you’ll grow weary of the same worlds over and over again. It would be nice to see Insomniac bulk out this universe a little more with some added map and scenery DLC. It’s also worth noting that “Q-Force” supports Cross-Play with its PlayStation Vita version, but said free version is disappointingly unavailable until the turn of the year.

“Q-Force” is a fun, if flawed experience. While you cannot begrudge the developers for trying something new with R&C, what they’ve created undermines itself with some curious design and gameplay flaws. It’s a short at times uninspiring adventure, but hopefully it acts as a subtle indication that Insomniac are merely filling the empty void between now and a full scale next-gen Ratchet  & Clank adventure.

TGL SCORE: 6/10

Format: PlayStation 3/PSN, PlayStation Vita

Developer: Insomniac Games

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date: Out Now (PS3/PSN), January 2013 (Vita)