Who knew that a rushed game could develop into one of the most successful series’ that Sony have ever had their mitts on? Lets talk Jak & Daxter!
Picture the scene, its 2001. The Playstation 2 has just come and everyone is going mental over it. Kids, Adults, Parents, the lot, all going absolutely mental over. It was a revolution of gaming, with graphics that had never been seen before. With it only being out for a few weeks/months at the time, any gamer will tell you how painfully long systems can take ‘to get into the swing of things’ when making new consoles, often making a few games of as many different genres to see what they were capable of. One of the newcomers to the consoles was a game called Jack Daxter, from the creators of Crash Bandicoot, given a chance to create a new character after the Success of Crash Bandicoot warped. In this article I will go over a brief history of the franchise, as well as a review of each game in the series.
First in the series is Jak & Daxter, and was the 4th Playstation 2 game ever made. Sony had a gaping hole in their agenda for Action/Adventure games that weren’t Horror based, so they spared a penny to Naughty Dog with their new game idea. The game revolved around the silent protagonist called Jak and his pal Daxter. In the early stages of the game, Daxter falls into a vat of chemicals called ‘Dark Eco’ and is transformed into a small woodland creature. One of Jak and Daxters mentors and teachers who is a sage in the village, tells them there is a specialist of Dark Eco on the other side of the continent and teaches Jak how to harness the power of different types of Eco to utilise as power-ups, and must traverse through landscapes, and countless different environments, collection rare artefacts to power his way to the Dark Eco expert. This may sound like a generic storyline, but it is pulled of Spectacularly. To move onto each area, you have to collect a certain number of artefacts, which you can hidden in Caves/Swamps/Tombs etc. that can be accessed throughout the area. No two areas are the same which acts for fantastic exploration of the local area. You don’t have to get 100% in each area to progress either, just enough to power you through to the next section.
Some of the other reasons why this game is incredible is the feel and flow of this game, one of the main point to bring up when talking about this game is that has no loads screens. No loads screens you say? You must be joking, there must be some form of waiting around. Nope. None. This game has a seamless, flowing gameplay with no waiting around. In free-roam, you can reach one end of the map to the other without a single stopping, all the houses and building require no ‘entry waiting’ which makes the game feel fantastic. We had the technology to make a beautiful free-flowing game back in 2001? Why didn’t we bring this back? The controls for the game are slick and very easy to control. The fighting mechanics flow very well and you can easily traverse through many enemies enjoyably. The collectibles (called orbs) are fairly common, with a few thousand in the game. Striving for 100% feels incredibly fun, and not like a challenge, similar to games like Banjo Kazooie.
I’ll give this game a Solid 90/100 as I can barely fault it. For its time it is practically flawless.
After this fantastic game came out, it received extremely good press and when the public gained the knowledge that Sony were not planning to make a sequel, a miniature rebellion formed where fans wrote to Sony (yup, people actually wrote to people nowadays) and due to a re-look at the franchise and decided to release a sequel Jak II. Now Jak II was a fantastic sequel for a few pivotal reasons. Sony realised that during the 4 years since Jak & Daxter came out, that the fans had matured greatly, and with Jak & Daxter having a 9+ rating, realised that the fans would all be at least 13+, allowing sony to gaze at the 12+ department of gaming and decided to grasp it with open arms. Jak II turned their silent protagonist into an Angry Motherf***er. But, it worked. During some [non confusing] time travel, Jak and Daxter find themselves several hundred years in the future and Jak is stolen by the Government at the time and is experimented on him using the Dark Eco that he had spent the last game trying to understand. Causing him to age slightly and to increase in strength so that he was the peak of human condition.
One of the best things about this game is that it really did feel like a great continuation on the first game, and is what i would call a ‘graceful sequel’, which is using the first as a diving board to reach greater heights. Changing the power-ups from the first games to guns might seem like a drastic measure but is surprisingly indifferent. In J&D, you had a yellow power-up which would shoot blast of energy to attack, and a red one to create larger blasts. All Jak II did was change those to a Rifle and a Shotgun, but it worked. The darker tone the game somewhere fit with the fantasy element, and with the continues gameplay with the amazing feel remained. Even small touches, like Orbs being less frequent (due to more time passing) and some orbs being in the same place their were in previous games.
Purely for being a fantastic sequel, and for all round amazing gameplay, ill give this game a 80/100, the only reason I wouldn’t give it a higher score, is that this sort of game could have come out at the same time as J&D, the graphics don’t have a serious upgrade, but it’s still spectacular.
So the years past and fans began asking the question; “When is Jak 3” and initially, Sony were submissive in saying that Jak 2 was fine as it is. It didn’t have a cliffhanger sequel like the first, and stood up well on its own. But one day, Sony came all guns blazing saying they threw everything they had at Jak 3 and it was coming out soon and once again, people lose their minds. This game was fantastic and combined the favourite parts of the two game previous and expanding on a lot of the great stuff. The game really did feel like Sony listened to what everyone was saying and what everyone wanted, either that or they just did A LOT of testing. There were driving sections of Jak 2 which people loved, so in Jak 3 you had a new environment in the form of the great desert which you could explore in a variety of different, unique vehicles. People liked how collectible the orbs were in the first instalment, so the orbs were now more common (close to 1,000 in play) which could be traded in for concept art and very minor cheats (big heads etc.). You could your brief and simple air travel in the form of the glider, and there were modification to the guns which allowed different combat options to be accessed.
I will have to admit now though, that this is one of my favourite games of all times, and it ticks all the boxes. I would give his games a 95/100 without even thinking about it. The game functions perfectly, with incredible for visuals. I really couldn’t ask for much more of a game personally.
SO WHATS HAPPENING NOW
The series had a bunch of spin-off games, if had a DAXTER game and a racing game dedicated to the driving portion of the game called JAX-X COMBAT RACING which was fantastic, the only reason I didn’t include it in this is because it is not considered along with JAK : LOST FRONTEIR to be canon to the franchise. Writing this now (19/01/15) we know that Jak 4 is coming, and it wont be for a while.
Sony’s own Magazine did an issue talking about the franchise and were kind enough to release some concept art for the upcoming game. This issue is not available in the UK and I couldn’t find any PDF’s on it online, but a friend of mine in the states was kind enough to transcribe all the info. A lot of what was said was about them creating Jak 4 as an ultra-realistic game, and spending 3 years on the project, for it to be scrapped. The creator of Naughty Dog, Neil Ruckman, had insight on the project said “This is not what Jak & Daxter is, this is Not a Jak & Daxter game”. And the game was scrapped back in 2010. The newest version of the game, which has been confirmed with the title “Jak & Daxter : Journey To Haven”, has been in development for almost 5 years.Neil Ruckman had a recent insight to the project and stated that the game was “what it was supposed to be” and “beyond his expectation.
Look out guys, Jak 4 is coming.