Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
I went into Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier with low expectations considering the Jak saga already received a satisfying ending with Jak 3. For a developer other than Naughty Dog to continue the game’s narrative seemed silly and unnecessary. Though I was not impressed by demos of this PSP continuation of the series, developer High Impact Games has turned my opinion around entirely with the full game.
As with Jak 2 and 3, The Lost Frontier features a large open world to explore. Unlike those titles, though, the open part largely takes place in the sky. Early in the game, Jak gains access to a large airship that he can steer toward five different zones. Once in a zone, he can take to the sky in a handful of smaller vehicles that allow him to explore and land on different islands.
The air combat portions are suitable – like Ratchet & Clank’s take on battling in space, it’s nothing special, but it gets the job done – but fans are probably most interested in the ground missions. Though High Impact’s level designs aren’t quite up to Naughty Dog’s hyper-polished standards, they emulate the latter’s mix of platforming and gun combat extremely well.
Jak has four different guns at his disposal, and he also gains various magical Eco abilities throughout the game that can be used both for puzzle solving and combat. For example, the red Eco ability releases a ball of energy that blows up when shot. This explosion can expose hidden pathways or open sealed doors in the environment, or it can be used to deal extra damage to a particularly tough baddie. It’s easy enough to breeze through the game just using your guns for combat, but the abilities provide room for experimenting with more interesting strategies.
The combat would be the highlight of the game if not for some annoying camera control and aiming problems. Because the shoulder buttons are devoted to spinning the camera, there’s no way to lock on to enemies or strafe, so expect to run in circles a lot hoping for your auto-aim to catch nearby bad guys when you have a chance to stand still and fire. It’s also frustratingly difficult to switch Eco abilities or guns using the d-pad in the midst of an intense battle.
Jak’s exploration and combat sequences are split up by the occasional Daxter level. In the Lost Frontier, these come in the form of “Dark Daxter” stages, where Jak’s cute sidekick transforms into a giant furry monster. In his new form, Daxter must bash waves of enemies and solve environmental puzzles. These portions of the game had the most potential to suck, but I was shocked to find myself enjoying them. High Impact uses these levels just sparingly enough and implements smart enough puzzle designs that they’re more a breath of fresh air than a frustrating annoyance, even if Dark Daxter is a dumb idea.
The most surprising aspect of The Lost Frontier is how much customization High Impact has crammed into the game. You purchase new modifications and upgrades for your hangar full of ships with scrap metal earned during dogfights. You buy new Eco powers from four separate upgrade chains. You gain gun mods and better armor through chests scattered around the world. Add in tons of sidequests that can be completed or ignored at your leisure, and this seven-hour journey has a lot of extra depth.
As you might expect from a new developer’s take on a series with such history, The Lost Frontier doesn’t feel essential. If you miss this game, you’re not going to be missing any major plot movements or character development in the Jak universe (and don’t even get me started on the snoozer of a bad guy). But if you’ve been jonesing for the gameplay that made you fall in love with the series in the first place, The Lost Frontier more or less delivers.