Jak X: Combat Racing
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
System: Playstation 2
Players: 1 (6 Online)
Ah Jak and Daxter, that series of games I tried once and couldn’t be bothered to play for longer than a half hour. Amazingly it lasted for three games. And just as amazingly Sony wanted a fourth game. Maybe they had a deal with Naughty Dog for a fourth game like Monty Python once did for another comedy album, which they chose to call the “Contractual Obligation Album” Maybe they didn’t want to ruin the trilogy of games they had just completed by adding a fourth.
Maybe they were just tired of doing Jak and Daxter running around. Whatever the reason, Jak X: Combat Racing was somehow born, and I’m going to review it for you.
For a racing game the story is actually fairly deep. This has more to do with the characters being already established, but even then, other racing games like Mario Kart have had franchise characters and zero storyline, so this is a plus for the game. Basically Jak and Daxter, along with their friends, get poisoned. In order to get the cure they have to win a racing series. Simple enough. There is a secret bad guy, the type you know instantly but the good guys don’t figure out until it’s almost too late, etc. I’d tell ya the story but you shouldn’t take that long to figure it out for yourself.
Bright, colorful, cartoony. Check check cheque. The graphics in Jak X seem to be Jak’s world infused with a dose of Mad Max. The vehicles are almost straight out of Mad Max, and your opponents are right out of the Jak trilogy, plus some new characters. The race tracks and other levels are also if not taken directly from the trilogy, then inspired by them.
For most of the racing the game moves fairly quickly with little or no slowdown, but there are times when things will bog down just a bit. Nothing too drastic, and they clear up soon after.
Why do companies insist on including two or three vaguely amusing quotes that are to be repeated adnauseum throughout the entire game? A DVD is a fairly big piece of memory storage, I’m sure you could find room to include any number of sayings, maybe even make them track exclusive. As you might imagine the voice effects in game started to get really tiresome the longer I played it. The whole two or three pithy quotes in a kart game was played out just about the time CD media became DVD. This is just “me too” voice acting.
Also, while the cinematic voice work was excellent, when you did hear the voices in car they were either badly sampled or they were intentionally bad, trying to make it seem like you were listening to them via radio. This is Jak I’m talking about, the character you control, not voices in other cars.
The music is some sort of rock. It’s an actual band but I’m a grumpy old bastard who thinks just about everything from the 90s to today sucks, so you can find out who it is for yourself. Go on, you’ve got the Internet, I’m sure it’s not that hard to look these things up. Thankfully the music is more guitar riff and less lyric, so it fits the style the game is trying to go after, at least.
While the game looks like a cross between Jak and Mad Max, it plays like a watered down Mario Kart. I don’t know if they intended from the very start to make the game Jak Kart or if it just wound up happening that way thanks to corporate intervention. Whatever the case, the game has a look and feel that are completely opposite of each other. The game may look mean or at least grumpy, but the game plays like any other typical kart racer. You’ve got your boost, your jump ability, your weapons pickups, go off track and be brought back on by the hand of fate or something like it. If you’ve played Mario Kart 64 then you’ve played the pre-alpha version of Jak X.
This game is far too easy on it’s standard difficulty setting. You have 4 separate racing series to win in order to win the game. At the beginning of the first three series you get 2 types of car, a speed car and a tank, essentially. You can then spend upgrade points on these cars as you see fit, after you earn them. Later on in each series you win more cars, but these aren’t exactly bigger or in anyway better than the ones you’re already using. The fourth series allows you to use any of the vehicles you’ve obtained in the first three series, and there is only a minor difference there. Some cars are more forgiving, others roll like they were dice. I found very few occasions where the car was the reason I lost a race. Maybe two or three times I had to switch from a supped up tank to a racer, or the other way.
There is one boss fight, if you want to call it that, at the very end of the game, but its so ridiculously easy to win it I wouldn’t even call it a boss fight.
This area SHOULD be the game’s strong suit, but sadly it’s not the case. I’ll tell you what the game does right, and then I’ll tell you whats wrong. The game does have Internet connectivity, enabling you to connect to an online race or battle against 5 other people, with voice chat. You can also connect to other PS2’s in a LAN configuration, and you can also have a split screen game…with two players.
So thats what it does right, now I’ll tell you why it absolutely fails when it comes to replay. Remember how this game is basically Mario Kart 64? And do you remember in MK64 you had the dreaded blue shell? Well there aren’t any shells in Jak X, but much of the weaponry has stayed the same. Replace shells with missiles, banana peels with mines, lightening strikes with nuclear strikes (not nearly as impressive as one might hope) and blue shell attacks with blue orb of electricity type Yes there’s a name for it. No I can’t recall it right this second. Anyway, this type of setup can work. Just look at Mario Kart. But the gameplay is so unbalanced, so cheap, that it makes no sense to be in the lead at all during a game. I found myself racing online during my testing of the gameplay online, and found myself way back due to both my stupidity and others ingenious placement of mines etc. But it was early and I had ample access to weapons and turbo. So I kept the turbo down and unloaded all my weapons whenever I got them. I won the race. Not because I was a better driver. But because I got the equivalent of 5 blue shells and 2 lightning strikes within the 6 minutes it took to run the race. That’s an absurd amount of cheapness, and it wasn’t the only time I ran into it. Players can pick up defensive weapons like mines, shields and oil slicks, and like MK64 you can use them to deflect incoming weapons, but when the guy behind you has two killer missiles and you only have one defensive oil slick, you’re gonna get knocked out of first every time. They had a good concept and just killed it with a lack of balancing.
Do you love the Jak series and feel the need to watch Sony cash in on your love? Do you not have easy access to any other kart games which exist? Do you want to see a company stretch its creative legs while at the same time watch that same creativity be stifled by bad choices and mismanagement? Then this here is the game for you friend.
OK so up till now you’ve read my review and you could be forgiven for assuming the game is going to get a zero for this category. Well, you’d actually be wrong. I think someone at Naughty Dog knew this game was on the fast track to cloneville, so they sneaked some creativity in under the radar. The single player mode isn’t all just racing. Or rather not all just racing against other drivers. You also must contend with various other gameplay types, like Freeze Rallys, Death Races, Death Matches and other modes. Some of these, like Death Matches, are basically added because the weapons and vehicles are already there so why not. Others like Freeze Rallys and Death Races, are unique and new, and manage to break up the monotony of all the other races. Freeze Rallys require you to finish the race by a certain time on the clock, unachievable without the help of hitting freeze icons stashed all across the course. Hit enough, in the proper order, and you’ll smoke the time required. Miss enough and you’ll find yourself frustrated. So do yourself a favor and hit the right ones. Death Race seems to be inspired by Burnout, as it’s just you and about four respawning cars, there to be destroyed by you as much as possible in the time allowed There’s a another mode very similar to this called Rush Hour, which basically gives you the same respawning cars, but puts you in the oncoming lane. Once again kill as many as you can before time runs out.
These aren’t the most original ideas ever found in a game, but they do succeed at breaking up the dull routine of racing, and I’ve never encountered some of them in any other racing game, so points get!
Jak X has all the addictiveness of a ham and cheese sandwich. If I hadn’t been reviewing the game it would have gone back from whence it came far faster than it eventually did.
As an added bonus to all the cheapness found in online multiplayer, I can really say that this is the game that convinced me people who say Xbox Live acts as a filter might be onto something. Yes the game comes with a player mute feature, but it’s awkward and usually just easier to take off the headset than it is to mute a guy who’s being annoying just to be annoying. I’m not sure this can really be a criticism directed at the game itself. However, since this is the first online game I’ve played on the PS2 where the level of smacktardedness reached the point of no return, ya, I’m going to do just that.
Replay Ability: 5/10
Short Attention Span Summary
The game isn’t built horribly. It runs rather well, it’s got all the ingredients of a game that has been designed properly. Jak X: Combat Racing just fails to live up to those designs. Essentially the game collapses under the weight of bad balancing and gameplay that doesn’t match the style that Naughty Dog seemed to be going for.