Review: Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (Sony PSP)

coverJak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
Developer: High Impact Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Action/Platformer
Release Date: 11/03/2009

Jak and Daxter have held a spot in my action and platforming heart since they popped up on the PS2 back in 2001. Their quirky and fun humor, the great platforming, and with the later titles, the heavy use of gun play and great use of vehicles. Their stories have always been wild and entertaining and after Naughty Dog handed it off to Ready at Dawn in ’06 for their prequel Daxter, which I loved, I thought that’d be it and we’d see no more of my favorite duo. Then this came along. So does High Impact keep up the high quality tradition I expect from this series, or is Jak doomed to a long slow decline like a certain hedgehog?

While I’d love to report that the strong story-telling of the other games is here, unfortunately I have to report that it’s not. While there is this sweeping epic story going on, it suffers the same fate as some of the recent summer blockbusters. Sometimes the plot advances for no reasons and loyalties shift without any reason given until much later in the game. It can be jarring and confusing, leaving you scratching your head as to why that happened.

This PSP title is a sequel to Jak 3, with Jak, Daxter and Keira all out searching the edge of their world, looking for some way to turn back the loss of their world’s Eco. They hope to find a new source or maybe a Precursor device that can help them reverse what’s going on and they find themselves out on the Brink. First you’re attacked by Sky Pirates and after repairing your plane, you end up assisting some kind of air military from the pirates. They ask you in and offer to help you find the Eco source but the device they end up giving you is stolen by the pirates, along with Keira.

You rush after them, recover the device and save Keira, and then end up working with the Sky Pirates against the government that you were working with before the pirates stole the device. The why is answered later, but the short answer is because Keira tells you that you have to work with them. So you set out looking for more sources of Eco and are given the right to pilot the pirate’s airship where it needs to go. While it is an epic tale, this really could have used a LOT more polish. The jokes and the quirkiness are there, but it feels like telling this story was just something that got tacked on later. It does it’s job of advancing you along your path, but not very well.

The other thing that bugs me about this title, is there is no lead in. If you have not played the other Jak titles you will be completely lost as to what’s going on. I’ve played the others several times and I was still kind of scratching my head at points. One thing this does right though, is set-up the game series for a new direction. My only real question is this the direction fans really want to go?

Story/Modes Rating: Above Average

One thing this title excels at is looking pretty. The environments, the characters, and the weapons and vehicles are all detailed with quite a bit of attention. The cut-scenes on the PSP look pre-rendered however, as they make a huge jump in smoothness whenever it cuts over to that. Which I guess isn’t a terrible thing, but I’m used to it all being done with the in-game engine with the Jak series and pre-rendered just feels like a cheat.

The fighting sequences when you’re out with your gunstaff have a pretty decent draw distance, when you’re not fighting with the camera, and the flight sequences look and feel like you’re way up in the air in your plane. They’ve done a great job there. Overall it’s a very good looking game.

Graphics Rating: Great

The music in this game is pretty generic. Really it’s so generic I can’t think of a single theme from it. It is there to set the mood and does that, but after you turn the game off you’re not going to remember it at all. The in game sounds are pretty decent, and most of them are ones I remember well from the other titles, which worked then too.

The other benefit this has is that all the voice actors return to lend their voices to the characters. They still deliver solidly in their performances and cut-scenes can deliver when they’re not leaving you scratching your head. The dialogue isn’t always great, but what is there is done well and kept a smile on my face most of the time.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

screen07Control and Gameplay
I wish I could say this is where the game really shines, as control and gameplay have been something that this series has been one of the best at, but it’s not to be the case. While the controls are very responsive and for the most part laid out for ease of use, there are a few things that could have really helped out, and I don’t think it’s a limitation of the PSP hardware that always seems to get blamed, but a lack of fore-thought on the developer. You end up in a ton of gunfights in this game. Your spin moves just aren’t strong enough and you’ll be whipping that gunstaff out to lay wast to the hordes of enemies coming upon you. But you can’t strafe. So you either have to make a stand and spin around jumping and hoping you don’t get clobbered, or make a run for it and hope that the auto-target system can hit the creature you may or may not be aiming at the moment.

The other reason for this, is the camera. Sure you can move it left and right, but you can’t zoom in or out, and the camera can sometimes be in way too close, or be angled so you can’t see where you’re jumping or shooting and there’s no rotation in the world that’ll fix that. A little tweaking on the camera would have saved me a lot of playing grief, but it’s just not there. In open spaces it’s less of a problem, and the flight sequences it’s not a problem at all, but in the cramped quarters of a mad scientist’s lab or a damp sewer hallway, not being able to see is a problem. There were lots of times I made a jump without knowing where I was going to land and I’d have to do a segment over again, which had me cursing the game out even more.

One thing that goes right here, is the gameplay though. The jump moves and spin moves from previous games are back, as well as an upgradeable weapon stick. Your Eco powers are on the fritz at first and throughout the game you earn new ones, which worked from the story perspective. The platforming section is pretty well done other than bad camera choices, and the boss fights offer up a nice challenge as well as the level layout. The other new addition in the platforming arena is Dark Daxter. At certain points in the game, Daxter gets blasted with dark Eco and ends up hulking out, for lack of a better term and rampages through ducts killing bugs and such. Unlike Jak 3 where it was necessary to get around locked doors and such with Daxter, these segments really feel tacked on. Did we really need a Dark Daxter? No. It’s also not all that fun to play either, as half of the things you’d expect to be able to do, like say jump, aren’t options and you have to barrel your way through.

screen04Flying though, is a dream. While the flying segments are pretty simple, they’re done pretty well, and the option to upgrade your plane and customize it out for different missions is a nice touch. You’re also given a variety of them to tinker with and take out on missions, much like the desert buggies in Jak 3. After an annoying battle with the camera in cramped quarters it’s a nice bit of release to hop in your plane and fly around for a bit, blowing up random things before you advance the story.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average

Collections galore! Off the main story missions are side-missions. You play those to unlock more things in the game, like a beard for Jak, or a movie player to watch cut-scenes you’ve already viewed. You also have to collect points and scrap to upgrade your Eco powers and abilities as well as your planes and weapons. So while you can fly through the main game pretty fast, there are a ton of side missions and challenges that can keep you coming back to max it all out. But the big question is, with the mediocre camera and controls, will you want to? The good news there is most of the side missions seem to be platforming or flight challenges, meaning you won’t have to fight the camera all that much. Good thing.

Replayability Rating: Great

Honestly, if you’re getting this for a platform action title and not because you’re a Jak and Daxter fan, look to another title for your PSP fix. At $40 this game has a lot of content to it, but newcomers to the series won’t know what’s going on, and you’ll be fighting the camera and shooting controls most of the game. I’d hesitate to recommend this one to fans of the series actually. It’s missing something from it that Daxter had in spades.

screen06There is a nice amount of content here though, and the game does start off pretty decent and fairly easy with a bit of challenge and then grows off of that with different challenges and tougher bosses and monsters to fight. So while on the one hand it’s really balanced, on the other it’s lacking a bit, leaving a long time fan of this series a bit let-down. If you do just play the main storyline though, be prepared to beat the game in about 8 hours.

Balance Rating: Good

The save the world story-line has been done before, but in this series of games, what haven’t they already touched on? The 6th game in the franchise, this one does add some nice elements to it, even if it breaks some of the rules (Dark Daxter, really?). The Sky Pirates are neat and the new areas are well-realized. But even then the story feels like you’ve been here before. Even Daxter’s double entendres and wit can’t save that end of it. This just feels like a shell of a real Jak and Daxter game and that the meat that was there before has already been gutted by something that came along before you got there.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

While I was frustrated with the controls and the lackluster story-telling, this game did have me playing it all over the place and not just because I had to play it for a review. Really, once you get around the awkward camera and the droll dialogue, there is a bit of fun to be had, whether you’re picking a fight with pirates, or blazing through the skies in a new plane you’ve just procured. I really did enjoy playing it and the challenge kept me going just like the other titles in this series. I just have high standards when it comes to one of my favorite gaming duos.

Addictiveness Rating: Incredible

Appeal Factor
The first real Jak and Daxter game since Jak 3 (most fans don’t count Jak X Combat Racing or Daxter as ‘real’ entries in the series even if they take place in the same world), this game did have a few people salivating at the mouth. But Sony isn’t really pushing this game too hard. Hell, I didn’t even know it was out yet until they told us we could review it. The ho-hummness of the game might have something to do with that. And it’s getting very mixed reviews and for good reason. I can see hungry fans picking this up, but the lack of any real advertising for this one is going to leave it forgotten with quite a few other PSP titles out there.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

I was really hoping to like this game. For the most part I do. It’s a decent fit into the Jak and Daxter world and it does set-up a whole new avenue for the series to move into. But at the same time, this doesn’t feel like a game that works in this series. Especially after playing Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, this game feels more like a game that might fit better in that series, than in Jak and Daxter. Hight Impact did a decent job on this one, but it needed more polish tweaking to get it just right. Plus Dark Daxter just wasn’t needed. The whole reason he’s an Ottsel is because of the Eco in the first place, so why’s he changing now? It just didn’t make sense.

There are some nice moments to it though, and a number of references to the other games, especially Jak II, when Jak comes across a very familiar chair in one of the Aeropan strongholds. The moments are there, but they’re just missing some elements to keep them all together. Maybe I’m just being too critical of the story, but that’s one area this series has been great in and if this game had done that better I think I could have forgiven or forgotten the bad camera a bit more.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Above Average
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
Replayability Rating: Great
Balance Rating: Good
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Addictiveness Rating: Incredible
Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize Something of a let-down, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier isn’t a terrible addition to the Jak and Daxter series, but it is lacking some spark the other games had. The game controls decently but be prepared to fight the camera in some key areas. The story is a bit of a cliché and it’s missing several key components that would make the story-telling far less jarring. Fans of the series will probably be annoyed with it, and people jumping in for the first time will be confused for awhile when they play it and may not ever figure out what’s going on. This game has me feeling really mixed on it, because on one hand it is new Jak and Daxter and had me playing it all over the place, but left me frustrated that it was lacking.



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