Jak 3

Gamestyle Archive Intro: its about time we had one of the great PS2 series’ in the archive and so Jak arrives thanks to a review by Anna dating from November 2004.

jak3

Reviewers are often criticised for giving sequels lower scores than the originals – ostensibly on the grounds that the sequel lacks the groundbreaking impact that the earlier games had, even though the sequel is in many respects a superior game. As a stand-alone title, Jak 3 is pretty astonishing, not to mention very pretty and all the more remarkable because a vast world has been created with zero loading times; there are in fact two primary landmasses – Spargus City and Haven City – which can be shunted between in the Airbus. However, even as a stand-alone game, there are a few issues which can dampen one’s enjoyment of a ‘stand-out’ title that is to platformers (sorry, character-action platformers) what Pokey is to penguinkind.

As was the case before, Jak 3’s graphics are amazing – especially the stupendous draw distance and the environmental lighting which changes from dawn to dusk to nightfall on a six-minute cycle. While this doesn’t make any difference to the gameplay (a missed opportunity there), it does look bastard-woo – as does the heat-haze above flaming torches, the lovingly-crafted rolling vistas and dilapidated cityscapes, the sparkly fragments that some missions require you to pick up, and the intense blast radii of some of the weapons (especially the cackle-inducing Wave Concussor). The Concussor is one of several new additions to Jak’s arsenal. The Morph gun from Jak II makes a comeback, but now has many more mods available for it. To recap: the Scatter gun fired short-range pulses that threw enemies back several feet, and was powerful but had an ass-hat reload time; the Blaster was your basic equally-good-at-all-ranges pistol; the Vulcan Fury had lousy targeting and chewed up ammo like John Prescott at a pastie buffet (but its awesome rate of fire pinned enemies down and could deal with swathes of them at once); and the fluffy-sounding Peacemaker was Naughty Dog’s rendition of the ‘BFG’ (albeit ammo was rarer than chooks’ teeth, the pay-off was utter plasmic devastation).

Jak 3 sees the four amigos return, with a further two upgrades for each. One upgrade releases a little flying saucer that shoots enemies with Blaster ammo – leaving you free to use your other guns or else kicks and punches. Another mod uses the Scatter gun to create a ‘wave’ of energy that ‘concusses’ enemies (clever, see?). As for what happens to the Peacemaker… well, it’d be churlish to spoil it. The guns can be upgraded in other ways: when you find Precursor Orbs (little eggy things that are awarded for exploration, cool-handedness, or beating mini-games assigned to you by the Freedom League or the wise Precursor statues), you can choose to spend them on increasing your ammo capacity or reload times.

Also available are extra vehicles (which are disappointingly nothing special compared to the standard ones, which include the very cool Dune Hopper that can make such stupidly-huge leaps across canyons that you’ll never tire of riding it), cool stuff like character viewers and scene and level select; and silly stuff like characters in nappies (and the obligatory, unfunny-as-always, ‘big head’ mode). Chances are you won’t find all 600 Orbs on your first playthrough (at least not without a player’s guide), so choose carefully. Saving up for extras is a great deal of fun; exploring every nook and cranny for errant baubles might sound tedious, but it helps you settle into Jak’s mindset (and really lets you appreciate the magnitude of the gameworld). Finding an Orb after following a hunch, or carefully planning to reach a high or distant place, almost always leads to shrill satisfaction. They’re hiding in places you really wouldn’t expect the average gamer to find. Nevertheless, note to Naughty Dog: it’s not the size of your game – it’s what you do with it. Even without the slick continuity of Renegade and The Precursor Legacy to act as a benchmark, Jak 3 would still feel like a bunch of levels stapled together instead of one big adventure.

In their quest to be innovative, the developers have flung in so many different tasks that there’s no cohesion between them – no real ‘reason’ for anything to happen. You’ll feel like an harassed office boy: go and destroy that machine, go and race in that dune buggy, go and race on lizard-back (yes, two race missions in a row), go and round up those lizards, go and fight those men in the arena, go and drive to that oasis… sometimes, less can indeed be more. The desert surrounding Spargus City is intimidatingly vast; as was Haven City in Jak II (impressively, nearly all of Haven is in this game too, but it and the surrounding countryside are charred and war-torn), but this desert is very boring and featureless – so much so that you’ll more often be navigating by map than familiar landmark. It needed only be two-thirds the size, and would’ve helped to lessen the boring drive to the Hora-Quan’s (ie, vicious creatures nicknamed Metalheads by the natives) lair or the Monk’s temple.

Though the transitions are jerky and unpolished, many of the missions are lovely. There’s one in which little fuzzy Daxter (Jak’s mouthy companion – who used to be a human but in the first game turned into a mustelid after falling in a vat of malignant purple goo called dark Eco) rides a missile around a harbour, using it to pick up blobs of powerful red Eco in order to make the missile battle-worthy. This is certifiably insane genius, and definitely one of the most fun missions in any of the Jak games. If you’ve unlocked the level select for that portion of the game, it’ll probably be your most replayed too. Other highlights are shooting down reptilian Hora-Quan and using your new Dark and Light powers in the Monk’s temple. In every other respect, however, this game is bloated.

Jak 3 is an overwhelming experience, but in a wearisome way. It needed to prune around a quarter of its missions in order to become the taut and terrific experience we would’ve expected of a sequel-to-a-sequel. A couple of the missions are just plain stupid: one of them sees Daxter getting beamed into a computer (yes, really) and then having to complete a round of what would’ve been ‘Pacman’ (had Pacman been designed whilst drunk). Another is an unremarkable on-foot shooting mission made irritating by its clumsy top-down perspective.

There are also a few missions that are minor variations of a past one, but simply in a different location. It’s clear that Naughty Dog wanted Jak 3 – the final game in the series (unless blondie gets pimped out like his predecessor Crash) – to be the most amazing and the most spectacular, but they’ve simply made it the ‘most’. It’s almost as if they didn’t want to shelve any of the (unused) ideas they’d had for Renegade and Legacy, so instead have unceremoniously dumped them here (and this certainly fits with the plot, being such a contrived bag of blah). On balance, however, this is a great game that outperforms most others in the field, but it’s also obvious – painfully so – that it could have been so much more.

Gamestyle Score 7/10

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