There has been a trend with HD collections of older titles recently which I consider to be a good thing for two reasons. Firstly, because of the rapid development of new technology, new consoles can be a bit of a road block to accessing older titles. Secondly, it lets people who missed great games when they came out originally have a second chance to experience their greatness. This includes people like me who, for unknown reasons, never picked up the original Jak and Daxter titles. Developed by Naughty Dog of Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted series fame, I’d only ever heard good things about the Jak and Daxter series so was pretty excited as I slipped the game into my PS3.
The first thing you’ll see when loading it up is the screen asking you which game to play; Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak II, and Jak 3 (Not a typo, the titles switched from Roman Numerals to alpha-numeric). As you scroll over the three titles, you’ll see Jak change his attire to what he is wearing in each game. This is pretty cool as it lets you see the development and darker heading of Jak throughout the series which we’ll get into later.
Thinking it was best to start from the very beginning, I chose the original – Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Now I said I’d heard only good things about the series however I couldn’t remember much else, not even what type of game I was about to play. As the initial opening scene played before me I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a fun Saturday morning cartoon. The story centers around Jak and Daxter who we initially find hanging out on Misty Island watching the evil Lurkers plotting evil deeds. They are discovered and while escaping Daxter falls into a pool of Dark Eco and is turned into an Ottsel (cross between Otter and Weasel).
The duo are told by Samos The Sage that to turn back into human form they must journey to the North to find Gol Acheron, the Sage of Dark Eco as only he could change Daxter back. Samos used to have a teleporter which linked to the other Sages homes but conveniently hasn’t been able to make contact with any of them in a while. There also happens to be some Lava blocking the north passage from foot traffic but if you can find a few Power Cells you’ll be able to get your hoverbikes anti-heat shielding activated. So begins the adventure. On the way you find that the other Sages homes have been ransacked and trouble be a-brewin. Of course the only way to continue on their northern journey is to help out the locals. Letting myself slip into the world and story, it wasn’t long before I was giggling at the humor and wanting to know more about the characters and the world they inhabited.
Turns out Jak and Daxter is platformer. YAY! The gameplay is very enjoyable and the level design did a stellar job at making me want to explore every area completely. This is great as it’s just what you’ll need to be doing to find all of the power cells. There are also other objects to collect such as Eco for health and Precursor Orbs which can be traded for Power Cells. The platforming elements are solid and you’ll have a great time finding your way to tricky places to snag the elusive Power Cells. When you die you’ll know it was our own mistimed or misjudged jump and you’ll really feel the urge to have another shot at it. Towards the very end of the game the areas can get frustratingly difficult – the camera will get positioned in such a way that you can’t tell if your jump has you over the next platform and sometimes your unable to reposition the view to make sure your even jumping in the right direction – again these problems only show themselves towards the very end.
There are no abilities to unlock or upgrade which made me think that later on things would get a little dull but it just kept surprising me with new ways to use the existing moves and the new enemy types and fun level design. While the majority of your time will be spent on foot, there are a few vehicle sections and oh boy are these fantastic. While most are “get from A to B before something bad happens” there is one area which is explored freely while on your hover bike and it even has a racing track.
The voice acting is great and fits in nicely with the Saturday Cartoon theme. While the script may be a little silly, the actors are all really into it which completely sells you on it. The character you control, Jak, doesn’t speak. Ever. His pal Daxter is left with most of the talking and really does enough talking for the both of them anyway. Character animations are absolutely top notch and look fantastic. When you collect each Power Cell, Jak and Daxter will bust out some wicked dance moves which were a particular favorite of mine – you can definitely see how much fun the animators were having making these. As some of the Power Cells will really test your platforming skillz (with a z) it’s nice to have these “I DID IT!” moments.
The rest of the graphics though… I have trouble understanding what the HD-ness is about them. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t look good by any means – the artwork was rather fantastic to begin with that it all holds up pretty well. From the very start you’ll be able to tell that this isn’t a current-gen title but if you got this as a downloadable PSN title you certainly wouldn’t feel cheated. The backgrounds are usually non-existent beyond the distance fog, repeating tileable textures cover the the ground and walls, and all textures in general are a touch blurry and low-res. Character meshes have been given a facelift with higher poly-counts and minor texture enhancements but that seems to be it.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy completely won me over. After playing through it, I was absolutely sold on the series, and couldn’t wait to get started on the second game. So what a shock when I started playing it.
The opening cut scene had me fooled. It started out in the same bright and colorful world of The Precursor Legacy and had the same characters. The gang found a Precursor Ring and aren’t sure what it will do when activated, but turn it on anyway. A wormhole is opened and evil looking creatures claw their way through. The team goes through the wormhole and find themselves in a futuristic looking city. Jak is immediately arrested and experimented on with Dark Eco. Moving to two years later and Daxter comes to break Jak out of prison. Instead he discovers Jak can now turn into a demonic Jak and breaks free himself. After escaping, you discover that the city is being ruled by the tyrannical dictator Baron Praxis – the man who experimented on you. You team up with an underground resistance group to fight and free the city from the oppressive rule, reinstate the correct ruler, and help fight the war against the Metal Heads.
From my experience with the first game I was expecting more light hearted platforming but instead found a drastically different game with a much darker mood. Gone are the cute bright colors of a tropical island replaced with the greys of city walls. Jak gets a voice and boy is he a grumpy one. I kept telling myself it was understandable seeing as he’d been the victim of torture for two years but then I was introduced to the new characters – all of whom have wannabe tough guy accents and have the same angry-I-talk-with-a-grizzly-voice attitude. This left Daxter as the only real link back to the original game.
The controls are the same and there are no new abilities, except for being able to turn into Dark Jak once you’ve collected enough Dark Eco to make your attacks more powerful. There are a few enemies who drop yellow orbs which you can use to upgrade your Dark Powers though there really isn’t any need as soon your given guns to just shoot everything with. Once you get them, it kind of eliminates most need for your up-close attacks.
Jak II has a distinctive GTA3 flavor to it; you are presented with a city where you can roam freely which is populated with flying cars and pedestrians. However while the city is full of people milling about and cars flying overhead, you cannot interact with anything making it feel empty and rather lifeless. Police patrol the streets and are constantly saying gruff things like “searching for suspects”, “seal off this area!”, and “suspicious activity in sector 9.” (Its only ever sector 9 too, no matter where you are).
Getting the Police to chase you is a bit strange – those cars overhead? Go ahead and hijack as many as you want, or smack random citizens around in front of the Police, they won’t mind. But if you accidentally bump a police man while driving they will hunt you throughout the city until they finally take you down. Vehicles have steering that is just way too floaty feeling and all corners are very sharp making it near impossible to avoid smashing into other traffic and walls. Speaking of walls, every building in the city looks the same. Thankfully there is a mini-map with icons showing where the next objective is to top off the Grand Theft Auto feel.
Objectives will take you outside the city to help the resistance which brings back the platforming elements, but they lack the open exploration feeling of the first game. Instead they are smaller one-path affairs with very little in the way of secrets to discover. There’s also no dance moves!
I feel sorry for my girlfriend who had to hear the music loops from this game over and over and over. It’s not that the music’s bad – it’s just so repetitive and unvaried. Because you’ll spend so much time roaming around the city from place to place the two main themes you’ll hear again and again are the city-roaming and police chase themes.
Essentially Jak2 all boils down to this; if I was a parent and had seen my child enjoying the greatness of the first game, I would have gladly gone out looking for a copy of Jak II. Upon discovering that it is such a vastly different game I’d have been very disappointed, particularly with the lack of authorities showing repercussions for bad behavior.
While I enjoyed the overall story, I was a little glad to be done with Jak II’s gameplay as it was such a complete departure from all I loved about The Percursor Legacy. Without letting my experience with Jak II hinder impressions on the next game, it was time to move on to Jak 3.
Jak 3 picks up shortly after its predecessor. The City had been saved and the war with the Metal Heads was thought to be over, however it turns out there was another large group of them waiting to attack. After certain events and acquaintances made in Jak 2, the heroic duo find themselves made as scapegoats and are blamed by citizens of the city for their new troubles and therefor banished to the Wasteland. After days of mindless wandering and on the brink of exhaustion, our heroes are discovered by some generous Outlanders and are taken to the local Desert town. After proving themselves in battle, Jak and Daxter are now set to stage a comeback and once again save the city from impending doom.
Gameplay wise, Jak 3 is very similar to Jak 2. You’ll have the same abilities as the prior games for close combat; all four guns make a return and can even receive a few upgrades to alter their fire modes. While Jak can still turn into Dark Jak for added close combat power, you’ll meet up with a few monks early on who will teach you to turn into Light Jak granting the ability to slow time, create a protective shield, and health regeneration. You’ll also gain the ability to fly for short periods of time. Unfortunately with all of these combat abilities, there isn’t much time left for the platforming I was so eagerly hoping for. Instead you’ll be thrust into a rather varied set of activities including flying a hang glider to the lip of a volcano, racing dune buggies, and thrust into the gunner seat of a rails-shooter. This all came together with a well-paced story that continued to drive me to completion.
If you’re a fan of the Uncharted Series and want to explore the origins of Naughty Dog, or are interested in seeing some stellar platforming, then be sure to give this a shot. Just be aware of the massive play style difference between Jak1 to 2 and 3 – who knows? It may be your cup of tea. Younger gamers will certainly take a liking to the trilogy with the darker story or Jak II taking itself with enough humor to not make it a chore. After looking around at what others thought it seems that I’m in a very small minority in my disliking of Jak II. Also it must be said that I’m just not sure what’s so High Definition about this collection excluding that it’s now capable of running at 1080p. If you take an old VHS tape and encode it to Blu-Ray then play it on HD TV, you’re still looking at VHS quality – even it if was pretty VHS to begin with.