There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this title, and this has caused somewhat of a backlash from certain types, but that doesn’t change the fact that Naughty Dog (the driving force behind the Crash Bandicoot series) has come out with an outstanding platform title in the form of Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. With huge environments, massive levels and beautiful graphics, the game sets new technical standards on the PS2 and is highly enjoyable. So does the game live up to the buzz? Find out inside.
The lineage of Jak & Daxter and its extensive gestation is at this point well-known. It comes from the famous developers at Naughty Dog, and is the spiritual successor to Crash Bandicoot. The title has been in development for three years and it definitely shows in the ambition and polish that are evident throughout this expansive title. The title characters are a young boy named Jak and his sidekick Daxter who’s been transformed into a cute critter after falling into a vat of anti-matter. This is a fairly decent backstory that’s well told and gets the action moving in a hurry. Once the game begins, you’ll find that while Jak & Daxter’s gameplay seems formulaic at first, the sheer ambition of the design reveals an much broader horizon than being typical platform title. Instead of merely asking you to move along, Jak & Daxter transports the player into a vast, consistent series of lushly detailed environments that form the backbone of an extensive world. Along the way you’ll be faced with many opportunities for exploration, fast action, occasionally fierce enemies and elaborate puzzles. The great thing about this title isn’t its innovation but how many disparite elements have been woven together seamlessly. There is basic platform action, combat and item collecting mixed with extensive puzzles, taking place in a massive world all of which is well done, and yes there are several points where the game seems to resemble Crash Bandicoot. Fortunately, the game is much less linear than Crash was and gives the player a sense of freedom and exploration that’s incredibly exhilarating. In addition, players will have the opportunity to use several different vehicles at various points in the game which only adds to the fun. The breadth of Jak & Daxter means that it will take hours and hours to complete, making it easily the most ambitious platform title on any console in recent years.
Playing through the game requires a great deal of
stamina and talent, as you’ll find yourself taxed throughout. Mixing the scope
of an RPG with the action-packed gameplay of a platform title, means your thumbs
and brains will be constantly challenged. The main character has several
different moves he can perform, such as jumping and two basic attacks, but there
are also some special moves such as super-jumps, rolling and spinning that can
also be used effectively in certain situations. There’s a lot to do but
fortunately, taken in small chunks, an initially overwhelming adventure becomes
much less imposing. In the game, you’re searching for two main things:
power-cells and blue-eco. Both of these will help you, the power-cells are used
to unleash the vehicles you’ll need later on in the game, while the blue-eco
gives Jak extra abilities.
There are also other items, such as eco-collectors and
green-eco which can be used to add energy to Jak’s power-bar when 50 of these
icons are collected.
Still, this doesn’t really change the fact that Jak & Daxter has some of the finest production values ever seen in a video game. Its robust engine is quite impressive with the trademark silky smooth animation, clever character designs and colorful environments Naughty Dog has become famous for. You can tell a lot of love went into the game and this extends to all objects in the game, from enemies, to architecture, to seas, to the skies, not a single detail has been overlooked. Naughty Dog deserves plenty of praise for creating a vast world which is surprisingly consistent, evocative, lifelike, and beautiful throughout. In addition, Jak & Daxter uses extensive particle, light-sourcing and other effects brilliantly to create a vibrant sense of an actualized cartoon world. It is indeed a world, one that is probably the most seamlessly realized in recent times, and the nearly flawless presentation shows a brilliant design job. Adding to the immersion are the excellent voice actors who do an outstanding job of bringing the large cast of characters to life through the many light-hearted episodes throughout. While most games would have been content with good actors for the main characters, even secondary figures here are brought to life with excellent performances. An excellent musical score fits the game perfectly with mellow tunes perfectly countenancing the action, while never overwhelming it. The game fully utilizes the power of the PS2 with nonexistent load-times meaning you never have to wait for load screen and given the depth and massive scope of the title, this is an impressive achievement in and of itself. It’s too bad that the visuals are also reigned in by the PS2’s limitations - there are some jaggies clearly visible in many areas which detracts from the polish and detail of the environments and makes certain sections look less impressive than they could have. However, when weighed against the sheer ambition of the project, this is a fair trade-off.
Despite the camera problems and the jaggies, this is an
outstanding title with an excess of ambition matched only by the sheer talent of
the development team. The controls are generally excellent, with great
responsiveness and some very cool moves that can be performed. The characters in
the game are quite lively and well-acted, though it must be said in all honesty
that Daxter’s put-downs and ‘attitude’ gets really old in a hurry. You can
see the long development gestation in the game’s highly polished, finely tuned
gameplay which offers an abundant variety and challenge. The sheer scope of the
game is impressive but thankfully there’s plenty of challenge throughout and
just when you begin to get worn out by Daxter’s constant whiny insults, new
elements are introduced that rescue the game from the cold arms of tedium.
Overall, this is an excellent game and one of the best-playing and most
ambitious platformers on any console since Mario 64. This should be taken as
high-praise indeed since few teams have come to such a high standard. The game
is non-violent for the most part – and younger gamers should enjoy the comedy
elements as well. There’s plenty to do for older players as well, especially
if you look through the juvenile humor to enjoy the experience and challenge it
offers. Jak & Daxter is a massive quest that is highly entertaining
throughout. Overlook the glitches and you’ll enjoy its outstanding level
design and tight gameplay. This excellent title offers more than enough to
satisfy gamers and should be high on any wish-list this holiday season.