Review: [insert ?Jak-ing off? joke here]
It began with Mario. First Mario wowed millions of gamers the world round with his immortal platforming adventures. They were so successful that genre spin-offs starring the plumber and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom manifested themselves. One such spectacle that was conceived from all of this is Super Mario Kart. This was the game that began the popularized kart racing genre. Me-too's wanted in, as is the result of such original concepts gaining stardom. Diddy Kong has done it, Sonic has been there, and during the PlayStation's run Crash Bandicoot was in on the kart racing craze too. After three successful platforming games, just like last time Naughty Dog Software, the makers of Crash Bandicoot and the Jak and Daxter games, are returning to high-stakes racing. Only, in Jak X: Combat Racing, the grand prize is your life.
Jak's world has been saved, but now a new battle arises for him, Daxter, and their friends. Take a moment to recall memories of Krew. He was the tub of lard that floated around in a hover chair throughout Jak II. A shady crime boss, Jak and Daxter eventually... Well, you know what happened if you had actually played the game. So, as it goes, Krew is officially still deceased. But, death doesn't always stop those who plan ahead. As per Krew's request for his delicious and nutritious daughter, Rayn, she has invited all of Krew's closest affiliates to the reading of his will. Before displaying the video that gives everyone their dues of money and keys to fabulous mansions in the hills, Rayn has a special vintage of wine on hand for the attendees to toast on Krew's behalf as per his instruction. Once the video image gets going however, Krew mentions the wine everyone there has just swallowed was laced with a slow-acting poison. To find the cure, Krew says the antidote is waiting with an unspecified associate to be granted to whoever wins the Kras City racing tournament. Now that everyone's a part of this, everybody must fight to win. After all, the winner's circle is only big enough for one.
No jumping. No hoverboarding. No minions and their masters to liquidate. All of those levels with the gun-swapping shootouts, the get-the-item quests, and the drive-your-heart out contentions of Jak's well-known platforming formula no longer apply. Actually, forget about that; the racing still does. In fact, Jak X: Combat Racing is a game about pure fender-to-fender competition. Very much in the same vein as Crash Team Racing was six years beforehand, Jak X revs up with its own expanded spin-off that leaves its hopping days in the dust while rolling along with varied combat racing elements and cinematic focus in between the sets. Siding favor for those gnarly weapon-mounted dune buggies from Jak 3, Jak X opts not to model its racing engine after the one integrated with rocket-powered jet bikes in the last two chapters. This move has its upsides and its downs all the same. Not talking about the way the courses used to be operated, Jak X pushes players at an intense pace through its trials ahead. Though, it does so in a way that the knot tied to the racing controls is a tad too loose. Tracks are made up of alternate-reality straight-aways and curves. Courses that span across the likes of open beaches and snow fields, and ones of more city-like surroundings, the tracks are designed with tricky elements such as gaps to hurdle over and onto narrowed landings, and then there are the widened corners to round. See, the problem with this is that Jak X wants players to learn how to drift when its control mechanics are more slippery than solid.
The vehicles of Jak X are destructible. Bumping into walls, into competitors, and generally being fired upon or coming in contact with some other hazard (giant snowballs rolling over anyone in their path, for instance) will transform Jak's ride from brand-new paint job into a junkyard mantel piece. Turning long-drawn corners sometimes means your vehicle's going to slide against walls and smash into something. This could be a trap. This could be the level construct. Jak X's controls aren't the most stable either. Moving with the left analog, giving gas with the X button, thrusting the turbo engines with R2, pounding out weapons with R1 and setting traps with L1, and finally braking and/or shifting around a corner with square are just about the basics required for entering this tournament. Learning this mapping system doesn't take too long, thankfully, using the game's required driving tutorial at the start. However, no matter what kind of dune buggy you're driving, each model tends to slide around corners the most without a great deal of traction on these tires. Winning races does unlock new vehicles, and yes, any one of the well-earned buggies can be tailored with different parts that are unlocked in the same fashion. Vehicles can be given paint jobs and are upgradeable, depending on the total points you've amounted to as a racer.
Winning means being the best in Jak X. Sure there is a silver medal or bronze awarded for those who place in less important spots, but it's going for the gold in certain races that can be the only way to progress in this game. And generally, you want a gold medal anyway since this gets Jak the most points and greatest rewards. Applying point modifiers to sections like the engine, acceleration, and armor builds a better vehicle and a better you. What gets sort of annoying though is that as the races continue you keep winning more vehicles over time. Gaining point summaries doesn't rake in that
much of a quantity either (settling somewhere in the thousand range). Fixing up one vehicle takes time and points away, which are non-refundable. If you're throwing all your points away into one vehicle, another will eventually (although, optionally) take its place as the shiny new thing you want to drive. You may not need to switch over, but you will want to -- and it's a problem.
Getting to the meat and cheese of this rat race, Jak X is technically not a clone of the Mario Kart series where all you're ever doing is racing and picking up weapons, and then dueling in battle modes elsewhere. Jak X has its gamers following particular fundamentals through each running in order to win four cup trophies, each trophy segment being sectioned off into multiple breeds of racing. Naturally, you'll face off in standard circuit laps, meaning you'll have to be the first one to the finish line by blasting fools left and right while being the faster. But then there's a larger mixture of gameplay headings, from deathraces (gun down as many drone cars as you can), to fetch quests (boost across wide-open grounds to be the first to nab all the artifacts), and a freeze rally (stall the clock as much as possible by touching as many freeze points as you can). Along with each game type are pick-ups peppered along the track of health, weapons, turbos, and traps that increase Jak's overall performance pertaining to the item used most. Projecting weapon rounds the first time may be bullets. Do it again, he'll get missiles. Doing it again, and by now the rounds will evolve into homing missiles. In addition to the fairly entertaining nature of single player, two-player cooperative offline and six-player networking matches are waiting, which includes just about everything you'd experience in single player, now online. Sadly though, after two years there aren't many people still Crash-ing and Jak-ing their vehicles in this parking structure anymore.
As fun as it is to watch the characters in action throughout the cartoonish story, this time Jak and everyone around him are racing. In gameplay terms, the majority of detail all rests behind the wheel. Most of the time you'll view Jak and Daxter (appropriately clinging for dear life on the shoulders of a dune buggy) in their ride, driving through the aforementioned settings of snow, sand, city, and more, lined up with some interesting passages (roads that lead sideways into caverns, electrical signs that present a camera view of the action, etc.). With racing courses so epic, the game does get you wondering sometimes how much longer all the pitching of missiles, the deflecting/setting of traps, and the blue-burning turbos you'll need to edge through to get to the finish. But, at least the dune buggies are each modeled with glossy shimmer, cultivated textures (all the pieces pop out at you), and destructive endings that make you want to see them again from the start. Seriously, Jak X not only does a stupendous job at modeling its rides, it goes to great lengths at wrecking them too -- with all the flipping, skidding, environmental eviscerations, and the noticeable peeling off of individual pieces as the dune buggy begins to crumble and flame up into a smoldering hunk of waste. Like always, Jak and company are not the type to disappoint visually.
Jak X finds its returning cast of familiar vocals from Jak's biting wit, to Daxter's daring-to-yellowbelly attitude that stirs a laughing riot, and even a couple of new faces like the British-accented offspring to Krew, the curvaceous and bodacious Rayn. So when you have a bunch of cool and humorous cats as Jak and Daxter are in the driver seat, you probably like to listen to something that raises the rate of your adrenaline. That's where Jak X's soundtrack has on hand original rocking selections that are loud and enjoyable enough, as to fit in with the game's chaotic assemblages. You could also bundle the explosive sound effects right in there too, with all the bursting of vehicles, cruising of missiles, and flaming of turbo engines that speed up Jak's wall-slamming and air-climbing advances.