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Jak 3 Review

Jak 3 is the perfected Goldilocks of the Jak and Daxter series. Balancing the polarity between the first two games in regard to tone and difficulty, this ultimate entry in the trilogy manages to find a happy middle ground. The returning gameplay elements of Jak 2 have been buffed and tweaked making for a more enjoyable gameplay experience. Adding in new off-road vehicle gameplay as well as giving the player a much larger arsenal of weaponry and eco powers does well to support this epic third act. Jak 3 is Naughty Dog’s most complete representation of the ideals set forth in 2001’s The Precursor Legacy. And still, this game from 2004 manages to perform on a technical level that, even today, some games cannot achieve with the same level of consistency. If the first two installments were both great games, then this last game does not only stand as the zenith of its trilogy, but represents one of the pinnacle series of the sixth generation of consoles, period.

Starting with the story, I feel it’s important to get the chief complaint I have with this game out of the way. Some of the dialogue and characters, which have all generally been of a high caliber, are now somewhat uneven in execution. This has a couple of implications as a result. One being certain lines of dialogue (and the use of the word, “hero,” all the time) will make you feel like Jak and Daxter have become a little too self-aware, but in the way that a Looney Tunes character is. Jak literally has a line in which he says, “I’m through saving the world,” as he turns away from the person he was speaking to and moodily faces the camera as if trying to win a Mexican soap opera award. Also, characters that were established in the previous games have very little impact or character development. They still maintain their personalities and give very well-done performances, but the way they behave like the talking heads from Jak 1 gives the sense that they’ve just come along for the ride in this third game. The game expects the player to know who all of these returning characters are (which many players probably will), but in doing so, it shifts character development exclusively to those of the new roles, whilst the old ones are kind of just… there. They’re supportive and serve their purpose in telling Jak to beat up the bad guy, but that’s it. Also, the end baddy is once again just the epitome of pure evil. Lacking any personality aside from pure hate, it’s as if Naughty Dog’s solution to making the antagonist went something like this: “You thought the last guy was evil? Well this guy is even more evil-er. He’s gonna destroy the whole planet, yo!” So, ND kind of worked its way into a corner with that one. Like, it does not get any more Snidely Whiplash than that. Planet Destruction? Where could they even go from ther-…

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/de/Jak_X_-_Combat_Racing_Coverart.png Oh… right… the kart racer.

That all being said, the remainder of the game is still head-and-shoulders above many of its peers, and the issues stated are really rather nominal when looking at the game as a whole. In fact, if one were to play all three games back-to-back, some of the really staggering revelations related to both Jak and Daxter’s origins have the strong potential to hit you right, square in the feels. The campaign begins much in the same way the previous game did: by thrusting the player right into an unavoidable fecal storm. Watching the first cutscene in these games is like that terrible moment when two men in suits show up to your door to break the bad news to you. It’s brief, unsettling, and you just have to deal with it. For the uninformed, Jak gets “banished to the wasteland for life,” by Count Vegar (a political figure who has seemingly appeared into this universe from thin air, seeing as how he was not in Jak II), and subsequently, Jak is rescued by desert wastelanders who all value being a bunch of badasses. Or was it strength and survival? Hmm… pretty sure I picked the right one. From there, Jak must earn the respect of his new comrades and gain citizenship of his newly adoptive city of Spargus, as well as go back to Haven City to save the day, triumph over evil, get the girl, and all that reggae. The story is good, despite following the fairly familiar plot. The fantasy elements and the way in which the mythos of the precursors weaves its way in, not to mention the shockers on the tail end of the game, will keep you entertained throughout. Jak’s less brooding, Daxter breaks the fourth wall some more, and you finally get some nice closure in your life. What’s not to like?

As previously stated, the gameplay is at its peak form in Jak 3. The same mechanics and moves that have been there since the first game are all still intact, but the gunplay, vehicle missions, and difficulty have all been refined. Jak will gain 12 gun mods throughout the length of the game, 4 of them are returning, and the other 8 are increasingly powerful add-ons. For example, the 2nd mod to the gatling gun now shoots a steady stream of raw energy, and the 3rd Peace Maker variant literally shoots mini-nukes. (This game came out before Fallout 3. *gasp*) This means 3 guns in total will eventually share one ammo type, so depending on how a gun fires, and what sort of enemies the player is facing at the time, one can try a multitude of different strategies. This only multiplies when you also include the refined Dark Jak mode, and the newly introduced, angelic Light Jak. As opposed to Jak II, where the player had to fill the entire meter with eco before Jak could blow his unholy load, both types can be activated at any time so long as there is some gas in the tank. Ultra moves still require a full meter, but it’s quicker to fill, and ravaging your enemies like a spawn from Satan is now a viable tactic. Alternatively, Light Jak powers behave more defensively. Being able to create a shield, restore health, and freeze time (as well as a fourth one too good to spoil here) all work to make Jak’s repertoire of moves and methods of enemy disposal considerably wider. Experimentation with Light and Dark Powers alongside various weapons is recommended for the best experience.

Immense variety in mission structure has always been the calling card of these games, and Jak 3 is no exception. You’re going to get a lot of the good old stuff, some minigames, jet board sections (which has also been amped up by now having the ability to repel NPC’s while on it), Daxter-only missions, as well as many others that break up the normal running and shooting with different gameplay mechanics, such as on-rails shooting and controlling a large robot spider-walker with a friggin’ lazer beam attached to its friggin’ head. But the biggest addition this time around is all the car driving you’ll do. (I guess motor vehicles are just for plebs and sand people in this universe.) Starting early on, Jak will get behind a variety of off-road vehicles that each have different features suitable for different missions. Some of these missions and cars fare better than others, but none of them are bad. Because Jak becomes so OP with all his fancy new toys, these segments are likely where the good old Jak II frustration might set in. However, considering the fact that checkpoints have been placed more generously within missions now, it’s less probable that a particularly tough mission will leave you feeling just absolutely done with everything. When it comes to the cars, a lot of them love to tip over, and though it’s somewhat wrong to judge it since it’s been almost 10 years and driving in games has improved so much (unless you’re Watch Dogs or something), but one could find reason to complain when a certain vehicle controls less like a colossal dune-roaming truck, and more like a butter-greased boulder.

Jak and Daxter’s PS2 trilogy is a collection of games that ought not to be thought of as three separate titles existing within discrete vacuums, but rather, as a longer, interactive experience that is more than just the sum of its parts. With the final game completed, it’s hard not to feel a sense of wanting more. The game lasts somewhere between the first game’s 10 hours and the second’s 16, and Naughty Dog made sure that every second of time spent in its world would feel fun, challenging, and significant. Releasing only a year after Jak II, it’s incredible how remarkably polished the game is. Despite not having as much graphical sheen as its predecessor (probably due to the inclusion of a second open world), something you will never worry about is the game glitching or stuttering or any of the other technical foibles that can often times suck players right out of their immersion. Mild narrative shortcomings aside (Kiera’s sudden voice actress change can lead to some very real, Anchorman-esque, “you’re not Ron,” moments), getting to play through this game, and this series as a whole, is videogame indulgence. It’s fun, challenging, makes you care, and makes you laugh. Sometimes a hard mission will get you so mad you could spit *ptewy*, but at the end of the day it’s still, “oh Jak and Daxter, I can’t stay mad at you.” Because the obstacles the game sets forth never feel out of your capability, and the sense of accomplishment upon overcoming them is very rewarding. And what more should a videogame be, when all is said and done, than that? So, whether or not this shows my obvious nostalgia for Jak and Daxter, I present not only my Obligatory Number at the End for Jak 3, but for the entire trilogy as a whole. Are you ready?

epic fireworks show>>>

W00t! Obligatory Number at the End: 10/10! Would ba-… Err… would smas-… I mean,… would recommend.


Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy REVIEW

During the era of the Playstation 2, Sony’s roster of franchise mascots represented some of the best videogaming the industry had on offer. Amongst the likes of Kratos and Ratchet and Clank, was Naughty Dog’s duo – Jak and Daxter. The elfish protagonist with the wise-cracking sidekick immediately came onto the gaming scene with strong delivery. The Precursor Legacy represents the sort of polished, high-quality entertainment that comes from a consistent game development studio working hard to better its craft further and further with each new game they put out. After success with their Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog built a truly superb 3D platformer. Seeing as how a vast amount of the original Playstation’s and N64’s catalogue was of this breed, somebody had to get the formula perfected eventually. The Precursor Legacy is the culmination of the ideas set in late 90’s console gaming, and is a pinnacle of its genre.

In the world of The Precursor Legacy, the player controls Jak; the blonde, blue-wearing, mute, elf protagonist who is inhumanly agile and has the vertical leap of Michael Jordan in Moon Shoes. Jak is a pleasant and amiable character, if somewhat mischievous, and easily falls into the hero archetype. Because Jak is playing the part of the silent hero, the liveliness is beset on his best friend, Daxter. As well as being the catalyst for the story, Daxter goes along for the whole ride in their adventure. His personality seems like a relic of sorts, in retrospect, harkening back to the anthropomorphic videogame mascots so prevalent in the 90’s. Armed with quips (usually regarding his own well-being getting constantly put in jeopardy), sassy game over cutscenes, and a cartoony-style of animation to his face and gestures, he’s an excellent balance to Jak’s character. Imagining the game without him (the cutscenes in particular) would leave the story rather dry and ho-hum. He’s an essential X element, of sorts. Which is a good thing especially since comedy is often times a tightrope in videogames few developers can walk on. His interactions with the other two lead characters, Samos (the mentor figure who can control elements of life) and Keira (the inventive love interest), help build up the sense of connection the player has with them and adds motivation to get involved and care about what’s happening.

That being said though, the plot is fairly simplistic: After being exposed to Dark Eco, (a sort of raw, destruction energy that can take multiple forms of matter, but is generalized as purple-black ooze) Daxter (who previously looked rather malnourished) becomes an orange weasel-like creature with goggles and gloves who rides on Jak’s shoulder, and he needs to be turned back to “normal.” (Really, the transformation is an improvement.) Of course, it’s not so simple, as there’s only one man who could do it and he’s “far, FAR, to the North.” The way the story unfolds from there leaves things slightly mysterious until the 3rd act, but no one would knock you for saying it’s somewhat predictable. But just because it’s ending isn’t unexpected (spoilers: Jak beats the bad guys at the end) doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, the amount of creativity and world building Naughty Dog put into establishing the game universe almost requires these more recognizable plot points. The writing is far from lazy and the voice-acting is well done. Sometimes a simpler, tried and true story with a slight twist is just as enjoyable as the more complicated ones.

Advancing in the game revolves around collecting items called power cells. In order for the player to unlock the ability to go to the next hub world of the game, Keira will ask you to find a seemingly arbitrary number of these collectibles that are located in the levels, or to buy them off the denizens with precursor orbs (As with other games of the genre, the currency is just lying about the levels waiting for some protagonist to come pick them up). These other characters are mildly interesting, but seem rather disconnected from the main plot. They can give missions, and sometimes the dialogue between them and Daxter is worth a chuckle, but it is entirely possible to collect all the power cells from the levels without them telling you, just by using natural videogame logic. The levels do not put up barriers within themselves to prevent completion. For the most part, the stages are actually rather open-ended and do not require any specific tasks to be done in any particular order. This is good for first time players who are trying to just get the power cells Keira needs for her inventions, and allows a good degree of freedom in terms of what it is you want to do. (In order to get the secret ending however, players must collect all of the power cells, offering some initiative to go back through the teleport gates to collect them all.) The manner by which one earns a power cell is the best part of the game. Jak and Daxter is, at its core, a running, jumping, punching game. The amount of variety that Naughty Dog has put into its missions using this base structure is not only impressive, but manages to ward off any sense of fatigue or repetition, instead feeling fresh and compelling. Within a given level, you can find yourself interacting with various eco power-ups and different enemy types that change the way Jak plays, riding the Zoomer or Flut-flut (mountable bird creature) to access areas not traversable by conventional means, or any of the myriad of mini-game challenges or puzzles that dot the levels. Speaking of which, the levels are well realized and have an engrossing sense of setting, aided in part by the subtle, ambient soundtrack (a personal favorite being the Underwater Precursor City). Having something different to do, and never quite in the same way you did similar things before, keeps the game fun from start to end.

All in all, the first entry of the Jak and Daxter trilogy proved to be an enjoyable, refreshing experience in an industry that has had almost all of its AAA publishers inundated with making [generic shooter title of the year] and [competing shooter title of the year]. If videogames today have you feeling burnt out on the same-old, same old, this game will literally make you remember how games were fun. Not to say the game doesn’t have its issues. The camera can be a hassle to deal with, the health system show its age, and the generally bright tone can be off-putting if you’re an old curmudgeon or an emo-goth type. But considering the way video games have gone, every gamer with a Playstation console really owes it to themselves to play what can only be described as one of the best 3D platformer/ collect-a-thon games ever made. The Precursor Legacy clocks in at about 8-10 hours for completion, but it is a great ride all the way through and is one that (obviously) is coming highly recommended.
Obligatory Number at the End: 9.5/10