Beautiful organic landscapes, sun kissed oceans and traditional platform gameplay are among the things I do not associate with this game. Jak & Daxter are back (contrary to what the title would have you believe) and for better or worse their third instalment in the beloved series has undergone yet another transformation. In terms of structure however, the game is still highly comparable to that of Jak 2 with the hover board, extensive weaponry and eventually Haven City making a welcome appearance. Your first port of call however is a vast and mostly barren desert wasteland, after the climatic events following Baron Praxis’s downfall; Jak is cast out of Haven to the mercy of the desert by some less than friendly new government figures. Those pining for the lush simplicity and platforming offered by the series staple entry The Precursor Legacy will once again have to look elsewhere to appease their taste.
With Jak and his ever annoying/lovable/orange friend in a considerable predicament, the pair are soon stranded with little in terms of supplies and are bordering on dehydration. After losing consciousness due to the overwhelming heat, a group of desert-dwellers lead by a mysterious figure known as Damus cross their paths and take them back to the city of Spargus where the story begins to unfold. In terms of narrative, Jak 3 isn’t going to set the world on fire but considering the target audience the game tells a highly entertaining little tale – something a majority of games in this genre seem to miss completely making Jak 3 something of an aberration.
By the end of this 10 hour plus adventure you will have tested your skills in a more than modest number of dune buggies, taken down endless hoards of Metal Heads, taken the hover board for a spin and well… jumped a lot. While the main story arch is generally linear for the most part, there are times where you’ll be able to branch off and explore to your own accord. That said there is no need to expect a plethora of choices reminiscent of a GTA game, for this was clearly just a way of offering the player a breather; especially during the later stages where things start to lean towards blind frustration.
At first glance you would be forgiven for labelling Jak 3 as a kids’ title, the bright colours, Pixar-esque animation and exuberant nature of the characters are all pieces of a perfect kids pie except for one pivotal issue – the difficulty curve. Jak 3 is so completely all over the place I can’t begin to imagine the strain a poor child’s mind would take trying to reach the end. If you were to feed this game into a polygraph the results would just be an erratic mess. Yes, there is plenty of mild language and Daxter seems to pride himself with every use of the ‘P’ word but it’s not going to suddenly attract a hoard of teenage gamers to rush out and play the game. Jak 3 is simply too hard for kids – when a fairly confident veteran of the genre has to restart a chocobo-style race for the thirtieth time you know it’s either time to hang up the controller and give up or the game is simply just mocking you.
On a positive note, the cast that fill up Jak’s world are quirky and often endearing with plenty of witty dialogue to keep the oldies happy and enough cutesy drama for the ‘kids’ (if they get that far). Despite this Jak seems to be going through a nasty bout of teen angst; his brusque behaviour contrasts that greatly of the original game which may leave some players a little put off by his schizophrenic attitude – you really never know how he’s going to take to certain characters. Daxter is still there to supply much of the comic relief with a seemingly never-ending series of one liners, while most of it is elated verbal diarrhoea it’s hard to resist his mischievous presence.
When Jak 3 works, it’s an utter joy; the combat is solid with plenty of action and variety in the mission structure to keep you busy. By the end of the game you will have immediate access to all four variations of the weapon inventory with new additions to the arsenal being earned as you progress throughout. This is a particularly nice touch as it gives a much needed tactical edge to combat situations leaving the player to choose which weapon is best suited to the setting and enemy. The player is also able to use the hover board at any time with a quick tap of the R2 button. While this is a useful option and certainly helpful in the more expansive environments, it does restrict your use of weaponry making agility the best weapon of choice.
From a technical standpoint, Jak 3 is an diligent display of Naughty Dog’s impeccable skill with the given hardware. The frame rate rarely lets up giving the visuals a smooth presentation; this is catalysed by the clear rife attention to detail that has gone into both the characters and their world making exploration a lively and interesting experience. The visuals are by no means flawless however; organic settings are few and far between with a large quantity of time being spent traversing the sandy deserts or the grey metropolis of Haven City. It’s due to this that you often forget how the series originated; there are times where sections will hark back to the more attractive subtleness of The Precursor Legacy but these will be soon a distant memory as you return to the main focus of the game.
As a whole Jak 3 comes together into a nice and polished package, it’s just a shame that so much has changed over the last few years which has ultimately taken away much of the charm that made Jak such a pure and refreshing experience in the first place. The overuse of button-bashing mini games also make the pace feel disjointed and can lead to yet more frustration that could have been easily avoided. Too much has been thrown in to one project making what could have been a real return to greatness feel bloated and stale. The production values are extremely commendable and there is a considerable amount of fun to be had but when it comes down to it there is a limit. Consistent frustration and tacked-on sequences such as the catacombs and animal races are out of place in otherwise very enjoyable adventure.
Fans of the series will no doubt find this new palette of game mechanics a welcome twist on the genre – the desert driving in particular proved so popular that the non-canon sequel Jak X focused primarily on the race sequences albeit with an added lick of polish. This is by all means one of the finer adventures on PS2, with some top class entertainment to be had and characters that stick, it’s well worth seeking out – especially considering its now sub Platinum price tag. Jak 3 is an undeniably fun title with many things in its favour, however there comes a time when a hero has to rest and unfortunately it looks like Jak is feeling pretty tired.