Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone











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.

Levels are massive and huge, but still interconnected in such a way as to remain faithful throughout. Each level is also full of different enemies, most of which can be dispatched quickly with little effort, though they can be quite difficult to beat when they attack in groups. There are also bosses to face and other more complicated puzzle tasks to take care of but thankfully the levels remain consistent within the world Naughty Dog has created. To make things even more interesting, there are loads of mini-games and smaller tasks to complete, many of which you can do by interacting with the many characters in the game. However, there are some points where this works against the game – there are several points where you can become a bit lost and don’t know what to do next. One superb thing about the design Jak & Daxter is that while the game is basically non-linear, completing certain tasks unlock other areas so you are softly pushed through the game while never feeling you’re on rails, giving the game a good flow and keeping a sense of exploration and adventure throughout. There’s a lot of variety to these levels as well, and the game constantly surprises you with new adversaries and obstacles to face. Level designs are uniformly spectacular, with surprises and challenges awaiting your every move. The game slowly ratchets up in intensity as you move along to bigger and bolder areas, each one guaranteed to give you a run for your money. The game unfolds at an excellent pace, giving the player time to ramp up their skills so that they’re not suddenly facing something they can’t handle. While all of this is great, there are a few problems with the game’s engine that keep Jak & Daxter from the perfection ND was aiming for.

Most 3D platform titles to date have had some difficulty in achieving a good camera system and sadly, while Jak & Daxter does a decent job in this department, it isn’t flawless. Using the Dual-Shock’s right analog stick to control the angles is a good idea but the implementation is a bit dubious. First, there are too many areas where your view is blocked by the huge environments and this can be enormously frustrating at points when you’re facing enemies. The camera system isn’t ideal in all situations either and rotating the view around to get a good angle can be an arduous task. Additionally, there are certain points where just seeing what’s directly ahead of the character requires multiple button pushes, and this hurts the overall experience. What’s worse, is that the awkward positioning makes timing some of the more complex and difficult gaps extremely difficult, making the player attempt the same thing again and again to the point of absolute frustration. What makes this doubly disappointing is the fact that so much work went into the engine, and a little more tweaking in this department would have made a good game great. Still, with patience and persistence, the camera troubles can be overcome, though the points where you seem to be spending more time worrying about this than the actual game itself are far too many.

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.