Monday, April 23, 2012

The Jak and Daxter Trilogy

Ah Jak and Daxter. I have fond memories of the first instalment of this series and mixed memories of the subsequent episodes; but are they rose tinted? With the re-release in HD for the Playstation 3 it's time to find out.

Despite sales most likely to be those of a similar weal to myself I'll review them as new comparing them to modern innovations for those who did not get the chance to play them the first time around and want to take the advantage of a bargain of three games for the price of one.
To start - Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. This is a third person sand-box style game combined with a platformer. The big shock may be that there are no ranged weapons; at least except in specific parts and for the most part getting around is on foot. The storyline is simple - something has happened to Jak's best friend Daxter and only someone living at the far end of the island on which they live can help them. Sadly the fast-transport system is deactivated meaning the only way to reach this area is to travel through all the other areas. This is difficult as certain obstacles stand in their path that can only be dealt with through the collection of objects known as Power Cells.

As a sand-box style game there are no real fixed missions beyond acquisition of Power Cells or a different type of collectable called Precursor Orbs in which to trade for Power Cells. Some characters in the game will reward the player with a Cell upon completion of some task; and some Cells are simply lying about and require some acrobatics to reach. There are more than enough Cells within each area to collect in order to reach the next and it's always possible to back-track to previous areas to scoop up the ones neglected. As such there's little to feel frustrated about - find a cell too difficult to reach; forget about it and try later if you want to.

If some Cells are skipped; there's no need to worry about keeping track as via the menu system the game will show exactly which Cells have been located and how many collectables each sub-section has left to find; it's a real help for the completionist.

Sadly there are a few niggles - check-pointing can be a little sparse normally occurring when entering some small subsection of an area or upon gaining a Power Cell. Graphically models are sharp, but the textures can be a little fuzzy at times; draw distance on the other hand is outstanding and vistas abound in the earlier sections on the coast. Controls tend to respond well, but some thought needs to be taken with a couple of the special moves that may roll the character off a ledge if not timed correctly. One larger flaw is the disconnect between the third-person and first-person camera controls which act in the reverse of each other; fortunately there's little occasion to use the first-person camera.

Overall though an excellent game. Obviously having played it before I could power through it and achieved a 100% rating in approximately 7 hours; for newcomers add a couple more hours.

If you do achieve the 100% rating a special ending is unlocked upon the defeat of the final boss which acts as the introduction to the second game.

Imaginatively title Jak II this is sadly where the series faltered.

Having travelled through a portal Jak and his friends end up separated in a city. Jak is captured by the city guard and subsequently tortured. Having escaped he joins up with the Resistance to take his revenge. Yes this is the Emo/Dark phase of the series that was also inflicted in Prince of Persia with about as much success.

The changes from the first game are profound and not always that welcome. Jak now has access to ranged weaponry and vehicles which may seem a good thing until you get to use them. Targeting is poor and handling likewise. Still a sand-box game in principle, but much less a platformer and far more restricted. There are now missions - story missions and side-missions. Story missions obviously need to be completed to progress, however the flaw here is that once started most won't allow the player to back out. Once you start that's it. Combine that with similar check-pointing from the first game and slightly less responsive controls and it can mean being stuck doing the same thing over and over (and over and over) again until finished. Less a challenge and more an act of torture.

Side-missions are more flexible; while being even more frustrating and this is due to the surroundings. For the most part missions involve a large degree of travel from one section of the city to another and the quickest method is by use of a vehicle. Or at least it would be if this wasn't a populated city. Travel at the level of pedestrians and hitting them too hard will result in their death and the entire area being alerted with foot-guards and kamikaze vehicles trying to take you out. Even bumping a guard will have the same effect. Travel at the level of the other vehicles and you'll need super-fast reflexes to weave in and out of all the other vehicles without taking damage and eventually crashing (no doubt onto a guard). Given that the side-missions normally involve timed events or passing through rings it's a lesson in frustration to complete 19 out of 20 rings and fail the last simply because another vehicle had stopped directly within the final one.

Sad to say the new additions would be welcome if they'd been integrated into the game better; even Jak's new ability to 'go monster' is next to useless as the times it's most suited to being used often involves a large number of enemies and bottomless pits. Combine the two and his 'monster' speed means thumping a guard off the edge and then following them over.

Play it for the story but keep a good hold of your controller as the temptation to throw it may be unbearable at times. Again having played this before I managed 111% (stupidly the story counts as 100% and the side missions a different percentage) in 15 hours; though I would swear (often vocally) that a lot of this was spent repeating story sections until finally completed. No real feeling of completion to this game and certainly nothing that leads into playing the next.

Following the second's imagination the third game is titled Jak III. Jak keeps his Emo/Dark persona which is fair enough given that he's been kicked out of the city he helped save and has been left to die in the desert wastelands.

Of course that doesn't happen, it would be a short game if it did, and he's taken in by a group that have managed to live and survive in a Wasteland City and soon finds himself back to fighting to save not just the city but the whole world.

In style this matches the second game, but between times playtesters and customers obviously managed to have a 'quiet word' with the developers because this is the game that the second should have been. There's still story and side-missions and it's still difficult to pull out of a story mission once started, but check-pointing is more frequent. There's far less random traffic and hitting people has less consequence. Side missions can even clear the area so failure due to some random factor is not a concern. Even weaponry has better targeting and each of the main four weapons now gains an additional two modes to use.

Okay it's not as fun as the mellow jog that was the first game, but this comes close to beating it for fun. Beyond the handling of the sand vehicles I found little frustrating and even those sections I had to repeat weren't a problem due to the improved check-pointing. Despite this 'softening' I still took around 15 hours to complete it and this time with little repeating.

Final verdict. The overall story is well-written and humourous and the cut-scenes welcome and amusing to watch at times. The first game sets you up for a fall with the second, but if you can plough through that pain the third tidies up nicely. Worth the single game price-tag.