Jak 3 (PS2)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 11/09/04
So many trilogies have come to end over the last couple of years, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and finally the storyline of Jak and Daxter. The end to what started off as a light hearted colorful platform game and then reinvented its image in the sequel is here, though with not as large of a change as was seen between the first and second games. Some loose ends and nagging questions left over from the original title are finally settled here, but the biggest question remains to be answered, is Jak 3 any good?
First off, if you haven’t played the first or second games I suggest you do so before ever even thinking of picking up this game. You do not need to have played the first game to understand the majority of the story to this game but a couple of parts will make a lot more sense if you do. Besides, it’s a good game. You DO need to have played through Jak 2 if you want to be able to understand what the hell is going on at all. I played and beat Jak 2 twice over the last year and it still took awhile to remember who some of the characters were.
At the end of Jak 2 the future looked bright for our two heroes having disposed of the leader of the metalheads that were threatening the city and getting rid of Baron Praxis and ending his dictatorship over Haven City. So much for the happy ending. With Baron Praxis no longer in control the city became a warzone for factions trying to take his place, and if that wasn’t enough some of the stronger metalheads survived Kor’s death and have regrouped to storm the city have taken over parts of it. With Dark Eco running through his veins and a connection to Krew, the population blame Jak for these problems and a city council banishes Jak to the wastelands. Not very grateful are they? Not even Kiera or Samos can save Jak from his fate, but Kiera slips him some sort of homing device before they leave him in the wastelands. But who wants to be banished alone? Stowing away on the ship that leaves Jak in the desert, faithful friend, sidekick, and wisecrack machine Daxter sticks with Jak, and surprisingly so does Pecker. After wandering and eventually passing out in the desert they are saved by a group of wastelanders.
Don’t recognize any of the names mentioned above? Then play Jak 2 first. Over the course of the game you will run into almost every character introduced in that game and the plot doesn’t slow down for a moment to reintroduce any of them. Every character is represented well by excellent voice acting and almost all of them have had such well done character development that you actually give a damn about them, even the new characters such as the time hardened ruler of Spargus City in the wasteland.
Other than just becoming Mad Jak in Thunderdome, the story introduces a new threat from space, new factions in the desert, and winds it’s way back into the mess that Haven city has become. The story more straightforward than in the last Jak game but reveals the answers to mysteries left unsolved in the previous games of the series like what are the precursors? And will Daxter ever get pants? There are a few times where parts of the story will seem obvious and predictable but the way they play out will generally end up being completely different than what you might have in mind.
The story has to be one of the strongest points of the game (how many platform games can claim that?). The story is deeper than you’ll find from many other games, complete with humor that fans of the series is used to as well as a satisfying end that anyone who has been following the games should enjoy that leaves the door open for other adventures in the future.
Using the same impressive engine that the last Jak game used with some upgrades, the visuals in Jak 3 aren’t very much of an upgrade over Jak 2. At the same time that’s not a knock against the game as Jak 2 was a beautiful game on the system and so is this game. No other games that use the Grand Theft Auto style of a large living breathing city is generally filled with blocky looking pedestrians. While Haven and Spargus city appear to have a lot of people born as fraternal twins, all of the pedestrian models are well made and smooth and there’s enough of a variety of skins that the amount of clones is not very noticeable.
Speaking of character models, Naughty Dog really needs to be congratulated for the quality of not just how distinctly individual and well done the main characters are, but also for the animation of the characters during cutscenes and throughout the game. The facial expressions of the characters really help get across the emotions that they are trying to convey and are done at a level that comes close to Pixar like quality.
The environments are as equally well made. Spargus City is a contrast to Haven City, there are no vehicles flying about or Krimson Guards patrolling the streets just waiting for you to accidentally bump into them. The city looks as though it was thrown together by a group of survivors, and by comparison is relatively small, though the desert outside of its doors is huge. Haven City has dramatically changed from the city you might be used to. Hundreds of people, metalheads, and war robots patrol the streets fighting with each other. The city has been accurately effected by this with some areas complete taken over and changed by a habitation of metalheads, or though wholesale destruction of other areas. Both in the city and in the desert there are also different locations that you will travel to that will provide a change of scenery, from caves, to temples, to sewers, to forests, the size and how good it all looks is almost staggering.
The only noticeable problem is a small hitch in the framerate every now and then, though I’m almost surprised there isn’t even more slowdown considering the amount of activity there can be happening on the screen at anytime, particularly in the sections of the city where there is fighting going on all of the time. There is also some vertical tearing that goes on, mostly noticeable when manually rotating the camera when there is a lot happening on the screen. Doesn’t seem as bad as some of the tearing that I saw in Jak 2 however.
8/10 (for a PS2 game)
The worst complaint that can be made about the sound is the a lot of the sound effects and background music are recycled from Jak 2. That’s not much to complain about however since the background music and the sound effects were great from Jak 2 this is nothing to be disappointed about.
As said earlier, the voice acting is flat out awesome. Max Cassella who does Daxter’s voice acting in particular needs some sort of award because he lends his voice to one of the funniest game characters in gaming history and delivers all of his lines with so well that you never get tired of the constant stream of wisecracks. That’s not to say anyone else who does the voice work for the game is a slouch, Jak lines are delivered with a self confident tone that flips between menacing to devious and really makes the character, Samos sounds like an old wise man with a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic basket, and Keira has a sultry voice that I’d pay to have phone sex with (Tara Strong if you happen to read this, I’m not kidding babe, give me a call and we’ll work it out). The plot wouldn’t be even half as effective without the great work of all the voice actors involved.
The game music is still fantastic. Not something that you will find yourself humming after you turn the game off, but within the game itself it sets the tone for whatever you are doing, picking up in tempo and changing during parts depending on what the situation is to effectively create a tense atmosphere and have you tightening your grip on the controller.
If you’ve played the previous game then you will feel right at home here. There have been a few changes however. You will still control Jak with the left analog stick, jump and double jump with X, spin attack with circle, punch with square, L1 is to crouch, triangle lets you interact with characters/objects and is used to commander vehicles. Different combinations of the attack and jump buttons will result in different jumps/attacks The right analog stick lets you move the camera around the left or right of Jak and pushing it in allows you to look around in a first person view. R1 shoots the selected weapon. The largest changes come in the form of weapon selection and activating the Dark Jak powers. You still use the D-pad to choose between four stock weapons that you unlock through the game but now you will be able to gain up to two additional upgrades for each weapon that you can switch between. To do this you chose the stock weapon you want like up for the Scatter gun, and then up again for the 2nd variation and up one more time for the 3rd variation of the weapon. As for the Dark powers, Jak will gain the ability to use Light powers as well. This is done using the same button, L2, to activate both. To use Dark Jak you tap the L2 button and Jak will change to Dark Jak. For the Light powers you hold down the L2 button and press a corresponding face button to activate Light Jak.
The hover cars feel exactly like they did in Jak 2 and control the same. As far as the new vehicles go the Leaper creatures in Spargus City are controlled be moving the left analog stick and pressing up to jump, holding to do a small glide, and square to do an attack. There is also new dune buggy like vehicles. These vehicles are controlled similarly to the hovercars with X to accelerate and square to reverse/brake. Circle will allow you to pull off a powerslide, R1 will let you fire the weapons of the vehicles that have them, and L1 lets you pull of a small or large hop. While the dune buggy cars are easier to control than the hovercars where in Jak 2, that doesn’t mean that they do not have problems of their own. The dune buggies controls have a loose arcade feel to them which is a positive since it makes them easy to maneuver, but bad because the goddamn things flip so easily. They feel like they have no weight to them which makes it hard to occasionally judge jumping distances. After some practice it is not too hard to adjust to the odd weightless feeling that these vehicles have and they to automatically flip themselves over when turned, but the game will set several enemies that will run into you creating some frustrating moment when you are trying to reach a timed checkpoint and some enemy blindsides you and flips your vehicle while you wait for the thing to flip back over. I was actually relieved once Jak returned to the city and all I had to worry about was trying to control the hovercars again.
Jak also has a hoverboard that he can whip out at anytime with R2. Like most of the game you use the left analog stick to steer while on the hoverboard and jump with X. You can grind rails with the square button and it is vital to do so in order to cross some levels, holding L1 will power up a boost jump and circle will emit a power burst to attack enemies near you. For fun you can also pull off some tricks with the board with various combinations of the other buttons while in the air.
Honestly the basic controls for the game are great with the majority of the frustrations of the control coming from the same source as Jak 2, being the vehicles. While I can’t imagine any other way of crossing the expanses of the desert in the game or getting across Haven City I hope that if there ever is another Jak game that they travel to a time without vehicles because they gotta go.
WARNING: Rant Ahead, consider yourselves warned
Naughty Dog, you know I love you baby, but sometimes I have to wonder what you are doing. The most disappointing thing about Jak 3 is the balance for several reasons so let me break it down into a couple categories:
Mission Variety: One of the things I loved the most I loved about Jak 2 was the wide variety of missions that the game gave to you. No two missions were the same, in one you could be driving in a race to doing a turret mission, to god knows what next, and I loved it. Not everything was as well done as the platforming aspects of the game but it kept anything from getting stale. To an extent Jak 3 accomplishes and fails in the same area. While there are missions that are completely different from each other, from rail shooting to a Pac-man style game, a lot of these parts are clumped together or completely spaced out too far from each other. For the first two hours of the game most of what was available were driving mission. There were one or two other types but for the most part it was almost all driving. Considering that driving was one of the things people really disliked about Jak 2 I have to ask WTF? People complain about it and yet most of the beginning of the this game is all driving? Personally I was trying to figure out when I would finally be able to do some platform action. Once you get to the platform levels the game picks up a bit more but even the platform levels seem to have taken a step back. For one thing, there’s not very much of it. There is very little in terms of jumping puzzles, switches, pole jumping, etcetera that have been in the previous Jak games. More of the game is focused on the driving or shooting aspects of the game which I feel are just not as well done when in comparison to some of the great platforming sections that they’ve shown they can make. As far as mission layout goes, the game is also more linear than the previous Jak game, where you would occasionally have multiple different missions that you could do, in Jak 3 you will sometimes have a choice but it has been more streamlined. On the plus side there is a lot less traveling a long distance for a mission since most of your mission will be from the same couple of sources that do not take much time to travel between. But I miss the multiple options.
AI: Though there are two major factions of enemies they each have generally the same types of creatures that just have different skins. There are really only a couple different groups, small one shot ones, couple shot fast moving ones, several shot slower ones, and flying ones. Metalhead or robot they move in roughly the same pattern. There are a couple new varieties such as ones that can put up shields, but for the majority of the game you will see and immediately be familiar with the enemy patterns and AI. The desert scavengers that also drive dune buggies are perhaps the most annoying enemies of the game. They are easily killed and can’t aim if their lives depend on it, but they’ll be a constant nuisance because they’ll run into you hard enough to tip your vehicles and they are always there right outside Spargus City. They’re really annoying.
What’s the point of giving me this: Remember the weapon upgrades I talked about? Well you need only about 2 of them really. The upgrades are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overpowered. You can go through almost all of the game with just the stock weapons. In particular you can go through the game with just the Beam Reflexor if you really tried to. I was expecting the game to get more difficult or for there to be harder enemies that game me situations where I would need to use a particular weapon, unfortunately that never really happens and Jak becomes an overpowered armory that can pimp smack any enemy into oblivion pretty easily.
Same goes for the Light Jak powers. It would be one thing if there were levels designed around utilizing some of the abilities that you can use as Light Jak, but there aren’t. You are given the ability to heal and shield yourself early in the game, I don’t think I ever needed to use the shield once, and healing just made the game easier since enemies drop Light Eco it isn’t hard to fill it back up again and just keep healing yourself. Flying is a one trick pony since after the area where you get to try flying out there is exactly one level that you will need the ability for later. It looks cool though. Dark Jak powers suffer the same fate. Invisibility looked promising and is also limited to one level. The ability to throw a burst of Dark Eco? Also limited to only breaking a couple walls later on. Originally when I heard about these powers I was excited to think what possibilities that Naughty Dog would think of in terms of using them in conjunction with level design and was ultimately disappointed.
Difficulty: Jak is already an overpowered walking weapons factory with the powers to heal and shield himself, what more does he need? How about collecting armor throughout the game to increase the amount of damage he can take? I’m probably one of the few that actually thought it was cool that he could only be hit about 4 times before dying in Jak 2, but combined with everything else this is starting to just get ridiculous. And if that wasn’t enough for you, there are also more checkpoints along a level than before. So if you can make it at least halfway across the level and then die, you will start from around the point you died, but now with full health!
I am probably over-exaggerating the ease of the game because at the same time it’s not a simple game, but it lacks the difficulty that was a part of Jak 2 and a lot of that is because of powers that are barely used in the game and overpowering the main character without increasing the enemy difficulty to match. Some people might be glad that it is easier than Jak 2, however I loved that the previous game was a challenge to beat (and hell, I beat it, it couldn’t have been that hard), and considering that you have to beat Jak 2 to understand what is going on in Jak 3 the drop in difficulty doesn’t make that much sense to me.
Once you beat the story mode there are a lot of reasons to keep coming back. There’s orb collecting, and a variety of different races and challenges that you can activate with metal head skulls. Gathering orbs lets you unlock different cheats, want to play through the game again in big/small head mode or with the map completely flipped? Go wild. There is also Hero Mode which lets you start the whole game over again with everything you’ve gained with the exception of a couple powers like flight.
While the last game took the series in a radically different direction, Jak 3 doesn’t aspire to as much. It is mostly the same as Jak 2 with some extra abilities and weapons thrown in. Then again, it is also sequel and as sequels go it does provide an average amount of new content.
Not quite the same ‘Is it already 1am, then I can play for 6 more hours till I gotta go to work’ experience that Jak 2 was, but Jak 3 still has enough heroin-like qualities that the game should come with a warning label. Whether it’s just playing so you can get back to Haven City, or to see the next Daxter/Pecker exchange, or because you have to know what happens next, or just because you want to end on 81% instead of 74% you’ll keep coming back. If you are already a fan, cancel the plans you’ve got for the next couple of nights. Even with some of my complaints about level design and difficulty I still was completely hooked to the game for one main reason, I had to know how it was going to end.
Sure, it has it’s problems. The driving still sucks. It’s easier. Despite the same issue with the last game they still focused more on the other parts of the game than platform gaming that they’ve proven to be great at making. Doesn’t matter, you will keep coming back till you know how it ends. The fact remains that it isn’t as mind consuming as the last title, but I think some of that is due to a story with a tighter focus, the last Jak game had more suspense and intrigue with many twists and turns. Jak 3 doesn’t have as many twists, but it also reveals so much more than the previous game.
Plenty of appeal for this title with a large fanbase for the last two titles, and a so far great advertising campaign from Sony letting fans know that the game is out there. The game should appeal to all 3D platform game fans but the emphasis of platforming is much less in this game and so should appeal to fans of action games or GTA style gameplay as well. Story has a lot to offer for people of all ages, complicated enough that older gamers will appreciate the story and plenty of humor that everyone can get. Easy enough that most people should be able to beat the game with enough time, though some fans of Jak 2 might not be happy with the difficulty shift they’ll still find plenty in the game to make it worth the purchase. If you weren’t a fan of this type of game this will not bring you over.
I will again bring up this warning, this game will not appeal to new fans of the series who haven’t played the other games. You will not understand what is going on in the game. At all. Or most of this review for that matter, so why are you reading it? Is it because you love me? That’s it isn’t it? Awwwww.
I’d just like to take this space to thank Naughty Dog. No matter what negative things I have said about the game, it is truly an experience that has rivaled almost any other games I have played. It is hard to describe exactly what it is about the series, but the mix of a cast of great characters that are easy to identify with, a well told story that has arced over three games and some excellent gameplay shows exactly what video games should and could be. The level of emersion that this series has achieved is something that you rarely see in this form of entertainment from any genre.
At the same time, damn you Naughty Dog. Now that I’ve played through the series the next game I play where the major plot twist is that the princess is in another castle, or is missing any of the other things that make the Jak and Daxter series so good I’m going to think about what the game could have been and feel sad that the Jak storyline is over.
At least until the sequel ;)
Overall Score: 76/100
Final Score: 7.5/10 – Good