Game Review: Jak 3 (PS2)

Authored December 2005, Originally appeared at GameSpot

An amazing experience and a great capstone to the Jak Trilogy. Sony really does have the action platformer genre locked up.  Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper are the kings of that hill now (and this is coming from a serious Nintendo fan).

If you were scared off by the difficultly of the second game don’t worry – this one is easier although by no means a cake walk (some missions are downright frustrating).  Thankfully the most frustrating missions are optional (unlike the second game which I nearly abandoned a half-a-dozen times).

Pushing the PS2 in all the Right Ways

The game looks incredible of course (nobody can wring more out of a PS2 than Naughty Dog).  What’s really amazing is the quality difference between the first game and this one (this is easily seen because some of the unlockable extras are character galleries from all three games).

But more importantly than the looks is just the way the game “feels”.  The physics aren’t “Half-Life 2” but they’re perfect in all the right places.  Jak’s tunic flaps in the breeze of movement as do Daxter’s ears.  Flocks of birds act like flocks of birds (as do flocks of enemies) and vehicles have distinct drive trains and friction responses.

Most of the sounds and music (for that matter most of the character animations) of the game haven’t been changed since Jak 2, but there’s a ton of new material.  Jak now has “Light Eco” powers as well as the original “Dark Eco” powers.  These light powers are generally defensive and do add a nice balance to the game that Jak 2 lacked.

Lots to Do

The mission variety is impressive and it’s amazing how well the same resources are reused so very effectively over and over.  For example you might take an armed dune runner into the desert alone to race, to hunt for artifacts, or battle marauders.  Later however you might take that same vehicle into the wasteland with a friend where you’re just the gunner – and the game switches to a first person perspective.  Later you might have to take a glider over the same patch of desert and so forth.

The world is hardly small (in fact it’s quite huge) but every square virtual inch is used and reused so elegantly.  Any common areas (the City of Haven, the Desert City of Spargus and the huge Wasteland Desert) are littered with mini-games and challenges.

The voice acting, as always, is top notch (especially the main characters) although annoyingly main characters from the first two games like Keira (especially) and Samos are nearly ignored in this one.

Problems at Home

The story is complex and both extends and completes the previous two stories (especially Jak 2) very well.  Haven city, although liberated in Jak 2 is now under nebulous control of three factions (the remaining military presence of the Krimson Guard, the beastal Metalheads and the organized resistance movement).  Things are in shambles and the streets are battlefields and the city blames Jak.

So he’s cast out and finds Spargus, the desert city of the Wastelanders where he must prove himself.  Eventually, of course, he gets back to Haven City and ends up saving the world (as if you thought he wouldn’t).

The story is honestly laugh-out-load funny in places and holds at least a few unpredictable suprises (and several completely predictable, but still emotionally resonant ones).

Haven City, especially, is incredibly well done.  The three factions each have strongholds where their forces reign supreme.  However at the borders of these areas the streets really are battlefields.  The forces are far from organized, but the street battles are still very well done.  In a busy section you might have several dozen combatants going at it at once.

You can join the battle (but it doesn’t actually make any difference) or, more often just hoverboard through it or fly over it trying to dodge the stray shoots and random baddies that mark you as prey.

Like most games featuring environmental sandboxes getting from one area to another can sometimes be tedious (although never frustratingly so) and the mini-map is truly excellent at helping you find your objectives (the map doesn’t indicate the location of the objective directly but rather the path to it which makes things SO much nicer – I wish that GTA would adopt this method).

Extras and Final Thoughts

All told the game took me about 22 hours – but I probably could have finished the story mode in about 14 and could spend perhaps another 10 completing all of the challenges and collecting all of the (600) orbs.

Orbs let you buy specials, cheats and extras.  Thankfully the best of the material available is very “cheap” (although much is not available for purchase until later in the game).  For example all of the extras (galleries, movie viewers, etc) cost only 2 orbs.  Most simple upgrades cost 4 or 6.  Only the very valuable cheats cost many orbs (permanent invulnerability costs 100 for example while unlimited light or dark engery cost 50 each).

Also, as has become tradition in Sony’s platform games, there’s a (purchasable) easter egg relating to “Ratchet and Clank” (a cute, but pretty difficult gun course using characters from that game).  Ratchet and Clank 3, for example, also includes several references to Jak and Daxter and an unlockable demo of Sly Cooper 2.  It’s well-known that Naughty Dog, Insomniac and Sucker Punch (the studios responsible for these games) work closely together and share technology.

All three franchises benefit greatly from this and if your fans of the genre none of these games should be missed.

Lastly I’d just like to note that Jak 3, like Jak 2, is a pretty dark story (although still quite lightheartedly dark).  The game has violent themes of war, death, and planetary destruction.  There is no blood or graphic violence however there is some light swearing and rough language.  There is also very subtle (very, very subtle actually) sexual content in the form of a buxom blonde kissing an orange, smack-talking rat.  Parents beware.

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