Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier - I Didn't Say When

After the release of Jak 3, and the later focus on the Uncharted franchise, it appears that Naughty Dog is done with the Jak and Daxter franchise, at least for the moment. During development of The Last of Us, they said that they had begun working on a fourth game, but couldn’t really come up with something that they felt the fans would be happy with, which gradually led to them developing their latest IP. While Jak and Daxter might not see something new from them anytime soon, Ready At Dawn, who developed God of War: Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, released an entry known as Daxter, which took place during the beginning of Jak II. I felt it was a technical feat for the PSP, but overall unimpressive when compared to its console brethren. The franchise seemed dead at that point, but then in 2009, the studio High Impact Games released the first sequel to Jak 3, titled Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier. The prospect of a new game intrigued me, but it wasn’t really until recently that I finally got to play it. Before I review it, let’s take a look at High Impact’s track record. Previously on the blog, we covered two games of theirs: Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, which Tetris_King considered abysmal in quality across the board, and Secret Agent Clank, which the same reviewer thought was better, but retained too many of the previous game’s problems. I’m sure you can see the pattern here and where I am headed with The Lost Frontier.

After their previous adventures, Jak and Daxter felt they deserved a break. Unfortunately, the world always needs a hero and the world’s supply of Eco is running low, so the duo, accompanied by Keira, set off to find a new source. However, sky piracy is rampant and fear is once again in the hearts of the people. Despite the danger, the three set off and end up facing a new set of trials and tribulations on their journey.

Keira (left) with an Eco prism.

This would be an interesting story, but I couldn’t find any real reason to get invested. The back of the box claims that this entry picks up where the previous trilogy left off, except those three games managed to cap themselves off and tie the loose ends, which only leaves a time skip as a way to continue forth. Inside the manual, they also make it seem that Jak X is canon, though the game was ambiguously so and actually left a thread open that they could potentially have used for this game, but that makes the claim on the box even harder to believe. Also, the game starts out by dropping us into a situation with no real explanation as to why they are suddenly up in the sky, where they are going or why we should be worried about a pirate attack. Granted, Jak 3 did something similar by dropping the heroes off in a desert, but at least we were given a hint of why on the spot and were gradually filled in on the details. The Lost Frontier attempts to do something similar, but failed to capture my interest and the story is so boring that it should be a sin (I even fell asleep while playing at least once).

Not helped by enemy variety like this.

What doesn’t really help is that the characters are, simply put, uninteresting. The returning cast seems to retain their personalities from previous games, but the dialogue is a little lacking and Daxter’s one-liners aren’t as good as they were before (by way of having a small pool of things to say and then looping those things to the point where I yell “Say more things!”). New characters, on the other hand, have almost nothing going for them and any twists and turns that they may be involved in received only confusion from me on account of either uninteresting character development or lack thereof. The villain has no real motivation outside of the cardboard variety and the biggest twists at the end, or what are supposed to be the biggest twists, were met only with sarcasm from me. Bottom line: I had no reason to care about what happened to anyone. Heck, there is at least one perfectly good (perhaps nonsensical) plot thread (the introduction of Dark Daxter) that doesn’t go anywhere because even the characters in the game don’t care about it and seem to just brush it off like it’s no big deal.

Gameplay variety is equally thin. Within less than six hours you can accomplish basically everything the game has to offer, which isn’t much as there are only a handful of missions to complete. The controls are fine for the most part, but the camera can be a little hard to handle, which is made more frustrating by how the game sort of controls the camera for you at times, making it seem more linear than it should have. Sometimes during combat a foreground object would get in the way, needlessly complicating things further. Speaking of combat, Jak has access to a Gun Staff, which uses four different ammo types, and an assortment of Eco powers. The former is helpful in combat, and while the latter can have some combat applications, it mostly functions as a way to traverse the rather bland and uninspired levels. Remembering where each power is mapped to takes some getting used to, but even when I had the upper hand I was unable to feel any sense of thrill from combining Eco powers and gunplay to take down my enemies; I was just glad when each encounter ended, as it got me closer to the credits.

One of Jak's Eco powers in action.

New to the series with this entry is air combat, which involves aerial dogfights and a couple of new mechanics. You get to customize the plane Jak flies as you see fit, which is actually the only thing I found any fun in doing until I found a combination of plane mods that I felt most complacent with using. Repair patches are the key to surviving dogfights, as they fix the plane in a pinch, but you can only have so many without upgrades and I was never quite able to figure out how they got used. It is also possible to steal repair patches and mods from other planes, which is helpful if you don’t accidentally break the rope while trying to get them. If you successfully latch on however, you are to pass a few Quick-Time Events wherein Daxter essentially pulls the plane apart to get precious scrap metal before getting to the part you want. These are an interesting way of representing the danger involved, but I felt sometimes like these went on for too long and just wanted them to be over with.

Aerial combat.

As I played the PS2 version of this game, I must say that the graphics seem a little low-res for the system, but that’s due to the fact that the PS2 version is, in reality, a home console port of the PSP version, which came out at exactly the same time. However, this does not excuse other things, such as the long loading between certain sections of the game and the final boss fight which goes on far, far too long. I encountered a variety of glitches, the biggest being that in the very final section, my plane was suddenly completely invisible. The different parts of the game world have a decent variety in terms of appearance, but they weren’t as memorable as previous games. Also, the character models seemed a little off to me in places, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why.

As for the sounds, I like how a majority were from the previous games, which lends some familiarity, and the voice cast is partly the same from earlier games. However, no amount of delivery could help me care about what they had to say and I think the music tried way too hard to create atmosphere in places where it didn’t really exist. For instance, there is a piece that is clearly inspired by the theme for Pirates of the Caribbean, since I recognized one particular riff, but it didn’t help any situation feel as epic as High Impact wanted. It’s a shame too, considering that all that’s really left is the sounds of the planes, and that’s not fun.

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier is a game that in no way represents the best that the Jak and Daxter franchise has to offer. The game lasts less than six hours, the story and characters are completely uninteresting and whatever fun you may be able to find will be shot down by excessive repetition and an overall boring and uninspired presentation. Even the most die-hard Jak and Daxter fans may want to stay away from this game, as the only thing it seems to want to do is go “LOL, Pirates” at any opportunity it can. Ultimately, it can just never quite get off the ground.

The most significant thing about playing this, however, is that now this blog’s build-up to Sly 4 is finally over! Now I really can’t wait to see how Sly Cooper will return this February and-


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