Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jak 3 - Concluding The Epic Legacy

Having already released Jak II in 2003, it seems like a rather quick turn-around for Naughty Dog to have released the third Jak and Daxter installment, Jak 3, only a year later in 2004. Regardless of what usually comes of a sequel pumped out so quickly, the game would also go on to join its fellow games in Sony's Greatest Hits Program. Although the campaign for the game was a bit shorter, 11 hours as opposed to 16, I still enjoyed what I had played and believe that Naughty Dog had managed to create three great games in a row.

According to the manual: One year after the events of Jak II, Haven City still finds itself in unrest as three warring factions still wrestle for control over its streets. The people of the city grow distrustful of Jak and his Dark Eco powers, pinning him as the cause of the unrest once rumor spreads of his ties with Krew and Kor. When a surprise Metal Head attack destroys the palace, Count Veger banishes him to the desert, flying by airship to make the hero fend for himself in the harsh conditions. When Jak finds out that Daxter and Pecker, Onin's trnaslator from Jak II, have joined him, the three of them begin their journey, setting off a series of events that propel them toward their ultimate destiny.

The story that follows is actually very enjoyable to watch unfold as shocking twists and revelations come to light. All of the characters, old and new, have very good characterization and have a good amount of depth to them to keep them interesting, as well as preventing them from becoming cardboard cutouts. While there are multiple plot threads that cross each other throughout the campaign, they all get resolved as they head toward a grand finale that no one could have seen coming. If there's one thing I have to say about the story overall, it would be complete and utter praise for its ability to tie up a lot of the loose ends from over the span of an entire trilogy.

In addition to normal melee attacks, the Morph Gun returns to aid Jak as his primary weapon. While it does retain the original four guns, each type can now receive two additional upgrades, ranging from ricocheting bullets and homing needles to a cluster bomb and even a nuke, leading to a total of 12 to choose from depending on how many times the player presses the appropriate button on the D-Pad. Each gun works well and is fun to use, but I found myself almost never touching the original versions, opting instead to wield the upgrades as they provided more of an advantage in a fight, thanks to the increased amount of enemies to fight off at once.

Another change in abilities occurs regarding Jak's Dark Eco powers. In this game , he gains the ability to become Light Jak, powered by Light Eco. Light Jak's powers contrast Dark Jak by being more defensive in nature and enabling more options in a mission. Both sides of Jak no longer come at a cost to upgrade, which helps with the overall pacing of the game as the powers come naturally at specific points. It is also easier to regenerate the Eco required to fuel the powers, though that doesn't save them from being almost useless outside of when they are truly required.

In terms of overall design, Jak 3 feels somewhat similar to Jak II in that it is an open world game comprised almost entirely of missions, a lot of which are very linear in nature. Thankfully there is a lot of variety within them, whether it has Daxter riding a missile or Jak performing a hacking mini-game. There are even a few rail shooter segments to help spice things up. I did notice an abundance of vehicle segments though, which introduces more advanced vehicle controls into the series. While these do work more often than not, some of the missions involving them become rather annoying due to the physics used for them. These segments can quickly get annoying after repeatedly dying thanks to this, but that's the only problem isolated here. In other missions, such as ones where you go through rings, the timer is very strict and gives you next to no room for error. Just like in Jak II, checkpoints are also placed rather infrequently a lot of the time, leading to annoying restarts upon death. However, this is balanced out by using the right weapons and powers at the right times, so this didn't happen as often as it could have.

I would also like to note the role that Precursor Orbs and Metal Head Skull Gems now play here. The orb count has been increased to 600, though they are still scattered about the world as a scavenger hunt of sorts. Collecting enough will enable you to purchase upgrades and secrets, though I never really saw a dire need to take advantage of this. Skull Gems, thanks to abilities coming naturally, are now used to unlock side missions, which I also didn't take much advantage of.

Speaking on the technical side, the game still looks rather impressive today thanks to the amount of detail it is able to achieve on the PS2. This is especially impressive, considering there's not only the city of Spargus, but also Haven City and the Desert that the game has to generate along with plenty of other creative environments. Equally impressive is the lack of load times, which are disguised rather well with no visible draw distance in the game world, considering how large the areas can get. I also praise the weather effects, with rather impressive rain interacting nicely with other surfaces. Music and voice acting are impressive as well, with character voices matching their appearance and music fitting the proper tone while also serving as an incredible score on its own.

Jak 3, despite whatever flaws it has, serves to impress on not only a technical level, but also in regards to storytelling. While it is difficult and shorter than its predecessor, it's still a thrill ride that I will never forget. Without a doubt, it deserves its place as one of the PS2's greatest platformers, as well as a game worth playing anyway.

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