The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Stuck between Naughty Dog’s early icon Crash Bandicoot and the
large-scale spectacle of the Uncharted series, the Jak and Daxter games
are transitional works for the developer in many ways. While still
falling squarely in the action/platforming genre, the series was driven
by a restless sense of innovation, evolving from the standard ‘90s
collection-driven design to Jak 3’s apocalyptic open-world that
suggested what Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome might have looked like if conceived by Pixar.
played all three Jak games when they were released, but it was
instructive to play all three again in quick succession. The first thing
I noticed was how different in both tone and design Jak 2 and 3 are
from the original, which seems to be cut from a different cloth. While
pushing the boundaries of the genre in terms of scale, graphics (for its
day), and technology, Jak and Daxter doesn’t stray that far from the
template of ‘90s Rare games like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. You
wander around talking to villagers, getting tasks ranging from simple
fetch quests to longer-form platforming episodes, earning power cells
and precursor orbs along the way. It doesn’t feel as innovative as I
remember, but it’s still a tour de force of craftsmanship packed with
engaging platforming levels, boss battles, and some (occasionally
problematic) vehicle segments that deliver variety.
With Jak 2,
Naughty Dog blew up its formula with an epic adventure that took obvious
inspiration from Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III. Now, the open city of
Haven serves as the hub world, with Jak and Daxter riding hoverbikes
from location to location to engage in platforming levels that take
place just outside the city walls.
The series also went through a
dramatic shift in tone in Jak 2. The previously voiceless main character
was transformed into an angry young man, complete with a new soulpatch
look that made him look like a refugee from a turn of the century metal
band. Jak had been the subject of experiments that injected him with
volatile Dark Eco, transforming him into a hulking, gray “Dark Jak.” The
story and tone of Jak 2 is continued in Jak 3, making the original now
feel more like a lighthearted prologue to the action series. Jak’s more
serious persona seems a bit silly in retrospect; thankfully, the
wisecracking Daxter is always around to lighten the mood with a
well-placed comedic remark.
Jak 3 is basically a restatement and
expansion of the strengths of Jak 2. Now banished to the wastelands
outside Haven City, Jak eventually makes his way back to set things
right, but not before experiencing a varied and grand adventure. Minor
improvements to control and gameplay (like expanded weapons functions)
abound, and the dune buggy vehicles you pilot in the deserts are much
more satisfying than any of the hoverbikes in Haven.
attractive update of a trilogy that, in many ways, marked the end of the
action/platform era. Nintendo carries on, but the genre is now a niche
market. The Jak series (along with its spiritual sister series Ratchet
& Clank) is also the last time that the platformer seemed to really
be engaged in the larger conversation of game development. These games
were intended to be blockbusters, to compete with the Grand Theft Autos
of the world. While there’s been a platformer in recent years, most of
those games are looking back to the simpler 8- and 16-bit eras.
Dog’s work in this franchise endures thanks to great characters, finely
tuned gameplay, and a unceasing inventiveness. Though some aspects of
the games are dated now, the Jak games stand up as epic adventures.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
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