Review: A review with more Jak-ing jokes than you can shake a stick at.
All good things in life must come to an end. The Matrix trilogy [Ed. The Matrix trilogy, a good thing? I guess.]. Growth spurts. All you can eat specials at Red Lobster. Sony's Jak and Daxter franchise. Yes, it's time. Decided earlier this year, Naughty Dog Entertainment president Jason Rubin stepped up to the podium and made a statement that would go on to shock many gamers. He mentioned both the end of Jak and Daxter as we know it, and his resignation as the lead of the talented development team he helped found. As announced, his departure wouldn't remove him from dedicating his time to the last project he would help the company draw to its conclusion, in Jak 3. So, here we are at the end of 2004. Jak 3 has made its arrival. Known as one of the PlayStation 2's greatest platform series, and one of the most innovative and inventive games ever, we dive into the resolving story of Jak and Daxter one last time to absorb every lasting minute of Sony's and Naughty Dog's monumental game franchise before we send out our fond farewells.
Never has Jak had life so easy. From the moment he and Daxter encountered the boiling vat of Dark Eco to the strenuous years he himself was transformed into an agent of unnatural powers, Jak has been kicked around a lot for a hero such as him. When we last left Jak and Daxter off at their prior mishap, Jak had saved his new home of Haven City from an evil that tried to conquer it using an invasion of Metal Head forces (i.e., alien-like wretches). And what does Jak get for saving the livelihood of the city? A bag of cash? A hundred 1-ups? A date with Tad Hamilton? Not even! He gets his ass tossed out in the desert wasteland for conspiring with those who sought to corrupt the city without prior knowledge. Oh yeah, and Pecker the talking monkey-parrot and Daxter Jak's best bud (the orange varmint always on his shoulder) went along with him. So where does our hero go from here? Found by wandering marauders, Jak and friends are introduced to Spargus, the city outside Haven's walls, built and lived in by these nomadic people. Now with a second chance and a fresh beginning, Jak's going to start all over and complete his path down the road to whatever destiny lies ahead.
Last year was that year when different games were starting to go Grand Theft Auto crazy. True Crime: Streets of L.A. came out with the impressions of Rockstar's tour de force in their mega million selling franchise. Spider-Man 2, another of Activision's borrowers to sell their game with the "GTA gimmick" in mind, saw a new evolution in gameplay mechanics this year with the tight-wearing hero soaring above the city in an open-ended design the likes of Rockstar's trademark. But where most credit was deserved was where Sony and Naughty Dog enhanced the sequel of Jak II. In a way like no other platform title before it would be brought unto, Jak II stole the show last fall with a Grand Theft Auto-esque world, where Jak could accept missions in a much grander climate. Stealing futuristic hover vehicles, and able to kill civilians and Krimzon Guards alike -- Jak had it made like the bad boy he was meant to become. Taking that Grand Theft Auto world and reapplying it to their third and final Jak saga, Naughty Dog takes the ways of old, and reconstructs many new elements for the finishing touches of its third Jak installment.
First of all, unlike in Jak II, Jak 3 makes transportation a lot easier than before. Where in Jak II getting from place to place around the enormous Haven City was difficult in having to avoid Krimzon Guards in an overcrowded hub, Jak 3 cleans up the skies and the streets for the better by giving Jak leniency throughout his next city escapades. Out of dissembling Haven City as the regional majority, now pops up two residential territories in Jak 3: Haven and Spargus. Plotting the game through these differential divisions, Jak starts his adventure in the smaller, yet sizable city of Spargus. At first it seems that getting around Spargus is a bit slow without any vehicles to board here. But, there is a new formation of ride that easily makes travel through the sectors of the city more manageable than a destructible vehicle any day. Called Leapers, these chicken-like lizard things are positioned at various points around the city's blocks. They can jump, they can fly momentarily, and they can even head butt breakable jars and also gulp up the street's critters whole. The only problem with these Leapers is they're not as readily available as vehicles were to Haven in the last game (as in, they don't pass by overhead -- you have to spot these things). Advancing through Spargus though eventually brings Jak to the desert outskirts outside this city, where another new type of vehicle awaits in the form of any of up to eight different models of dune buggies. Yeah, dune buggies. Traversing the desert is no simple task when you'll find out that multiple marauders in their own laser-blasting bugs patrol these wastelands searching for treasure and death of their own -- namely yours. Each of the eight buggies, which over time can be unlocked, have their own particular style of handling. Whether you're someone who enjoys leaping vertically and bombing enemies with grenade shots, or favor a more grounded, maneuverable and machine-gun toting affair of events, there's a very nice selection of machines that each make desert driving, dodging, and destroying a blast.
Of course, it's impossible to officially jack Jak from returning to where his last triumph occurred in Haven. Eventually Jak's going to go back there, and find a changed city. No longer governed by the dominant thumb of Baron Praxis, Haven is now overrun with the alien Metal Heads in addition to a new robot army. Revisiting Haven reveals how some parts of the city have become suspect to disarray and locked in never-ending war. Other areas remain intact, where fewer inhabitants hover in flying jets and gentler blue-suited Krimzon Guards now patrol the streets (as opposed to the irritable red ones from before). And what I mean by that exactly, is that you're not going to get hunted by a brigade of Krimzon soldiers every time you start attacking random people and Krimzon Guards in the streets, or crashing into the Krimzon ships in the sky. Jak 3 is a kinder teddy bear. Krimzon cruisers that used to roam the airways with their laser guns are gone. There aren't any manhunts to address anymore. It's a more forgiving world, as the fight has turned its attention to the streets where swarming parties collide with the blue Krimzon protectors. With cleaner and clearer pathways and without the added worrisome of making it from point A to point B and not turning one accident into a full-fledged war against yourself, reaching your destination through Jak 3 is appropriately made more suitable now rather than stressful.
And where that destination lies, like before, is posted on Jak's mini-map. Pictured in likeness to the circular map you'll find in the Grand Theft Auto series, Jak's map indicates a triangular icon for Jak and certain images that read the way for Jak to head to next. Once there, Jak's next mission will commence. Jak's objectives are once again sorted through all kinds of interesting and differentiating innovative venues that mix and match uses for his unique abilities. Amongst these missions exist variations of genres too, where in some cases Jak will get to race the Leapers and dune buggies. There'll be other times where Jak must work with jumping or guns (or both). In one scenario, Jak's being shot out of fuming plants in order to destroy objects placed at the top of each standing platform high above a river bed of some bubbling toxic substance below (along with added hoverboard grinding elements and defeating Metal Heads on the side). In another scenario, Jak needs to infiltrate a robot factory and blast bots, crash through barred walls (and yes...through robots too) using a plow-like dune buggy that's stationed inside, and in the process take control of Daxter, Jak's pet. I meant pal, PAL! Yep, Daxter's back as a playable character. This time around he's given more chances to show the enemy that it's not the size that counts, but the skill and smarts you have on your side. Although Daxter can spin and jump like Jak can, his main attributes in gameplay rely on him getting through key moments by monkey-barring his way under grated tiles and past lava, heated, and electrical hazards, with a little enemy butt kicking on the side.
It's where the real meat and potatoes are contained in Jak that this duo survives, however (no offense, Dax). Jak's got all the goods. He's got the weapons, he's got the Dark (and now Light) powers, and he's got the moves. Before I get to the Light properties, let me just point out that Jak's tightly knit move set consists of his usual spinning (circle), slide punching (square), and jumping (X) applications. He can crawl/roll (L1) and make a long jump combined with X, and with a weapon equipped fire with R1. Pressing R2 unleashes his trustworthy hoverboard that lets Jak perform skateboarding-like maneuvers, such as grinding and hopping in the air much farther (and lets him float over water too). Lastly, pressing L2 releases Jak's immeasurable power embedded inside him to become an unstoppable force. While Dark Jak, Jak can perform special moves like slamming the ground to defeat enemies on all sides. But more so than anything, Jak's Dark properties will find their way into puzzle pieces, like in one temple that temporarily turns Jak invisible to bypass automated security spikes. Elsewhere where he'll be breaking open blocked passage ways with a charged bolt of Dark Eco energy. Otherwise, the puzzle elements are left up to Jak's other half that serves as a balance between the two inherited qualities embedded inside Jak. This Light Jak, as he's called, gives to Jak time stopping, shielding, and healing abilities. What's more is Jak can now grow wings and flutter across lengthy distances. Both light and dark properties drain Jak of these powers the more usage he puts into them, just like the dark leakage process was handled in the last game. When this does happen, Jak can either step over an energy well that secretes either of the specified powers, or just nab fallen dark or now light goblets from fallen enemies. In all his picking and using, the only unfortunate thing about having a Light and Dark Jak is that even though becoming both is extremely cool, Jak 3 doesn't feel like it has much of a purpose for either when Jak's last commodity is essentially more useful more places than any.