As we age we go through periods of transition. Just the other day I was cleaning out my old stuff when I happened upon some old pictures of my baseball days. How I de-evolved from being an All-City Center Fielder into the editor of an online gaming publication is beyond me, but we all do it at sometime. We all progress and that’s exactly what Naughty Dog has done with its Jak & Daxter
franchise. I like to look at the various games as a person passing through the stages of development. In the Precursor Legacy
Jak was young and lighthearted boy who was naïve to the evils of the world. When he appears in Jak II
he’s been tormented by his oppressors and his eyes are upon to the darker sides of life. With Jak 3
, our heroes have reached the full stage of evolution and are in a quest for all out rage. This is the last entry in the Precursor trilogy and the end is fitting. With Jason Rubin’s departure from Naughty Dog he made sure not to leave his pals in the cold; he has helmed the swan song to arguable one of the best trilogies ever to appear in video gaming.
Although this is the third game in the franchise the designers decided to pick up the story right where it left off, leaving those who didn't play Jak II in the dust. Jak and Daxter are sitting in what looks like a desert oasis when they're accosted by a larger looking fellow. He then proceeds to put them through an obstacle course which essentially serves as the game's tutorial. Upon completion gamers are set free into the land to discover and explore it as they please. It would have been nice if the game had given us a better refresher, but the manual seems to cover it pretty well. Jak and Daxter had defeated the Baron Praxis but the people of Haven City had grown weary of Jak and his mysterious powers. Not wanting to uncover the truth for themselves, they decide it would easier to banish their savior so that they can live a life of peace without fear and repression.
It is then Jak's goal to discover the truth behind his powers and solve the mystery of the Precursor Legacy once and for all. Like the previous two games, the storyline is full of plenty of twists and turns that really ooze that Hollywood caliber script that the developers are clamoring over these days. As was the case in Jak II, your characters will undergo a number of sequences that will force them to become emotionally charged. This requires them to utilize and express realistic emotions that are often lacking in today's games, adding a humane frame of reference that allows us to empathize with the characters. You'll love the story and when the gameplay begins to falter it'll be the aspect that motivates you to keep pressing through the game.
That's because the developers seem to have forgotten to access the new technologies available to them since the development of the first Jak. Though the original is still impressive when measured up against some of today's newest titles, some of the elements were significantly flaws. Most frustrating is the camera system that does a half decent job of displaying the action and an even poorer job in combat situations. It sits too low, making it very difficult for the player to ascertain their depth perception in jumping situations. Even the initial jumping portions in the tutorial are difficult because of the way that the camera sits. This was excusable three years ago but some measures should have been taken to ensure that the player wouldn't have such a difficult tie with it in today's age. It'll frustrate you when you've fallen into the same lava pit for the 15th time because you couldn't tell how far and high a floating platform was. That's only half the
problem; the game is a platformer at heart, but it features plenty of action-packed sequences. With the introduction of the guns in the second Jak the action was bumped up a notch. The problem with the game is that the camera is rarely able to keep up with the action, constantly forcing you to fire blindly as an off-screen foe takes potshots at you. This could have easily been remedied had the game had a strafing or an auto-targeting function that allowed you to lock-on to target. Don't get me wrong, the combat is still an awful lot of fun when you can see your foes, but it's just a real annoyance when the camera can't properly display the action.It's a real shame it had to be this way, because the game gives you access to many means of destruction. When unarmed, Jak has two means of attack; a spin attack and a lunging punch that comes in handy when he needs to attack distant targets. When crouched Jak can perform an uppercut move and when in the air, he can chain a smashing move that devastates targets. Rounding out his stand alone attacks is a jumping maneuver that works well from a distance. Jak II introduced guns into the fracas and they operate in pretty much the same fashion here. You select your weapon of choice with the d-pad and then lay into the bad guys. I like the way the guns operate but I really wish there was some sort of targeting mechanism put into the game. To aim you just point Jak in a direction and hit the R1 button to fire. It’s a very simple mechanism and the ability to chain together melee and weapon attacks adds a rather interesting dynamic to the combat.
In Jak II we learn that the source of Jak's rage comes from a tormentor who experimented on him with Dark Eco. When angry enough Jak could utilize the Dark Eco to his advantage and turn himself into a nearly invincible death dealer. This year's game brings back that feature but adds in a number of moves. When activated Jak can become invisible, perform a dive bomb and shoot energy from his body. There's also Light Jak which essentially turns Jak into a white mage with healing properties. I'm not all that crazy about the Light Jak but it adds in an interesting gameplay facet that helps round out the combat quite a bit.
While the combat is fun, the real entertainment is derived from the vehicles in the game. Whether it is a sand creature or a dune buggy, the vehicles are a real blast to drive. You'll always have plenty of fun navigating the cities and deserts with the vehicles as you wreak all sorts of havoc upon the unsuspecting denizens. The racing sequences are fun too because of the excellent physics system that is in place. I’ve never jumped off of huge sand dunes in an eight-wheel buggy but I think that the designers have done an admirable job of replicating the sensation in their video game.
As it is built upon the same technology that powers Jak II
(and the Ratchet & Clank franchise) the game has this sort of cartoony look to it that look great and holds up well in tense situations. Everything in the game has a rundown sort of look to it but it’s a design decision and in that sense, it’s beautiful in the same sense that the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies is beautiful. You won’t find anything appalling or outlandish here but what’s included is definitely pleasing to the eyes.
The same goes for the audio elements in the game, great atmospheric effects and excellent voice acting lead the way while sub-par weapons effects sort of lag behind. The choice to go with a group of unknowns was a risky one but it paid off as the characters in this game have life and energy thanks to the expertly delivered dialogue. The rest of the effects are pretty good but they don’t really jump out at us as being remarkable. They’re there, and we guess that’s all that really matters.
When I first played The Precursor Legacy
I was taken aback by the world that Naughty Dog had created, Jak II only further increased my love affair. With Jak 3 everything seems so passé and normal again, as it the well had run dry and the developers had lost their passion for the franchise. Perhaps it's the reason that Jason Rubin has decided to move on, or maybe it's just the fact that this is the third entry in the franchise,
but it's definitely the weakest of the three. There’s still a lot of fun to be had here, but it just doesn’t live up to the standard set by the previous two entries.