Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy has been one of the most highly anticipated games on the PlayStation 2 release calendar ever since the company first announced that it would be making a game for the system and long before the game's title was ever revealed. And what was really odd about all of the hype that this untitled Naughty Dog game was generating in the early going was that it was done with both Sony and Naughty Dog being completely silent.
By not talking about the game and not commenting about rumors, Naughty Dog was able to create a level of excitement and wonderment for the title that most marketing efforts don't come close to approaching. Whether this was by accident or design, the company's silence about its game incited the gaming press and fans of Naughty Dog to start thinking about how great this secret game could be.
And there were a lot of reasons to be excited about a new game from Naughty Dog. The company proved on PlayStation with its top-selling Crash Bandicoot series that it knows how to create beautiful games with a wide appeal. And the fact that Naughty Dog's co-founders, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, served almost as unofficial spokespeople for Sony's console, touting the power of the system at every opportunity, served as further proof that the company's new game was going to be something special. And something special it is.
It's hard to say whether it completely lives up to the hype because the press and the gamers themselves manufactured the hype that was created rather than the company making the game, so everyone's individual expectations weren't necessarily at the same level. But for me personally, Jak and Daxter has not only met all of my expectations, it has even exceeded them in many ways. I knew that Naughty Dog had the talent to produce a beautiful game that would take advantage of the power of the PlayStation 2, but I wasn't nearly as confident in the company's ability to craft a game that offered such a magnificent and innovative new play experience.
When you first play through Jak and Daxter, however, you will undoubtedly experience quite a bit of déjà vu. In creating this game, Naughty Dog has taken numerous ideas and play mechanics from classic games like Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and its own Crash Bandicoot series, and because of this you may begin to believe that this is a completely unoriginal game without an innovative bone in its body.
For instance, Jak has a spin move that he can use to kill enemies and break wooden crates that will immediately make you think of Crash Bandicoot. And as far as basic game design is concerned, it makes use of the textbook item collection philosophy that we've seen in just about every single 3D platform game that has ever been released with the only initially perceptible difference being that instead of collecting stars like you had to do in Mario 64 you were collecting these Power Cells in Jak and Daxter.
But to dismiss Jak and Daxter as a completely unoriginal game would be a mistake and doing this would also be ignoring the fact that this game has brought forth some serious innovations to the 3D platform/adventure genre. First and foremost, Jak and Daxter is the first game of its kind to take place in a -- dare I say it -- "fully realized" world where you can actually change and affect things in an environment where everything is connected together.
In Mario 64, which is generally considered to be the benchmark game in the genre for which all others are to be compared to, you had a hub world where you had warp gates that connected you to numerous completely discrete levels. It also had a structure that had you go through each level numerous times in order to collect all the stars because after you collected a star you were warped out of the level and it would reset. What this meant is that if you had collected 99 coins when you found one of the stars, you would have to start collecting coins again from zero in order to get the star you were awarded for getting 100 coins in that level. You couldn't do both at the same time and once you would leave the level, it would basically reset to the state that it was at before you entered it.
This was one of my few complaints with the game and this is exactly how most 3D platform/adventure games that have been released since Mario 64 have been structured like. In contrast, the world in Jak and Daxter is completely tied together and has almost a living feel to it because what you do actually changes things in the world and these changes don't just revert back to normal when you leave one area and return to it later.
For example, if you're in the middle of trying to complete one of the tasks such as destroying the Balloon Lurkers on Misty Island and decide to stop before you've destroyed all of them, you can leave and comeback to the area without having to worry about the level being reset. If you have one Balloon Lurker left to destroy and leave the level and return, you'll come back to the area exactly as you left it.
Things like health crates and random monsters might regenerate, but the important things don't and they all stay changed even if you move on to other parts of the world. Plus, the world itself is tied seamlessly together in a way that we haven't yet seen previously in a game of this kind. When venturing from one area to another there are absolutely no pauses or stops for loading and when you're in one place you can often see other areas that you've been to in the distance with fully animated and moving objects that are completely viewable. It feels like a fully developed, living and breathing world.
Furthermore, through the game's story, which is presented with brilliant real-time 3D in-game cut scenes, you are actually given reasons for the collecting of these items, which is something seldom seen in other platform games that center around item collecting.
It might be a small thing, but having a purpose for collecting the Precursor Orbs and Power Cells helps make it feel less like a fetch quest than it would if the only reason you were collecting these items were to get a higher completion percentage in the game. So, while a lot of the game design might have been ripped straight out of games like Mario 64, Naughty Dog has managed to take these tried and true design elements and do something completely new with it.
What's more, the parts of the game that aren't original have been put together incredibly well and have been polished beyond belief. The game's control, for one, is about as perfect as it can get. Jak has a multitude of moves available to him including the Crash Bandicoot-esque spin attack, the always-enjoyable double jump, and numerous things like a charge attack, an uppercut, a double spin move and spin attack, a power punch, and a horizontal launch move. And the best part is that these moves are pulled off with the utmost fluidity and precision.
Even simple things like walking, running and jumping all feel so much better in this game than in most other character-based games that have preceded it. It has what I like to call that "Mario feel", where the control is so finely tuned and so perfect that it's fun just to move the character around in the world while doing nothing of significance. When playing Mario 64 I would often find myself just running around some of the areas just for the heck of it and I find myself doing the same thing when playing Jak and Daxter. The control just feels so amazingly good.
This is backed up by excellent automatic camera control and the ability to quickly and smoothly rotate the camera manually with the right analog stick on the Dual Shock 2 controller. You will undoubtedly encounter some areas, especially in tight spots in later areas of the game, where the camera might not be positioned automatically in the optimal position, but the camera work is typically flawless and it's never too hard to correct it when it does get screwed up.
On top of this, the areas and puzzles are all designed tremendously well. It has a lot of clichéd platform game elements like moving platforms, a snow level where your movement is slippery when you walk on ice, vehicles that you can use to mix up the action, mine carts that you can ride, and platform jumping sequences that require precise jumps and quick reflexes, but it does a fantastic job of mixing up these elements to keep the gameplay fresh at all times.
My only problem with the gameplay is that there are a very limited number of bosses to fight and the fights are typically generic battles with simple patterns to learn and not much to do in the way of strategy. Other than that, Jak and Daxter is one of the finest examples of top-notch platform/adventure gameplay around.
Naughty Dog has proven time and time again that it knows how to take full advantage of the hardware that it's working on to make games that look as good or better than anything else around and Jak and Daxter won't do anything but help the company's reputation. This is not only one of the most beautiful games that you'll see released on PlayStation 2 this year, but it's as good as anything else you'll see on any of the newer and more powerful consoles.
As was touched upon earlier, Naughty Dog has modeled a large 3D world that has areas that are all tied together seamlessly. And not only do each of the areas have fully animated and moving objects and parts in them, but if you are at a high enough vantage point in one area you can see a lot of the animated objects in other areas from far, far away. It's quite a technical feat to have created such a large and cohesive 3D world.
What's even more impressive is the level of texture detail that you'll encounter in each of these diverse areas that you'll find yourself immersed in. These are undoubtedly some of the most vibrantly colored and lushly designed worlds that have ever been presented in a videogame. Just about everything that you see in the background just scream quality and artistic excellence. The look of the palm trees, the texture detail on the rocks, the water shooting up from the geyser, the shining metallic surfaces on things like the Precursor Orbs, the fog in Misty Island, and the way the lighting changes so realisticall as the time of day moves progressively from afternoon, to sunset to night and back to the morning is all breathtaking in its beauty.
And as amazing as things like the game's lighting, special effects and background designs are, these are all surpassed by the brilliant character animation. The animation of Jak and Daxter as they move through the world and perform their various jumps, twirls and special attacks together is about as fluid as you're ever going to see in a videogame. There are absolutely no hitches in the character animation as you go from one move to another and every movement is tied together seamlessly.
This brilliant character animation can also be seen in the supporting cast of characters, especially during the 3D real-time in-game cut scenes where their body language matches what they're saying and trying to express perfectly. I'd even go as far to say that the animation and body language in these scenes rival those of most high-budget animated films. Plain and simple, Jak and Daxter is easily one of the year's best looking games.
The game's brilliance extends into the area of sound. The background music is fantastic and does an excellent job of setting the mood and feel of the area that you're in and the quality of voice acting is as good as what you've been given in any other game before it and in some cases is better than what you'd typically get in Disney animated film. All of the voices not only match the characters they're representing perfectly, but the lines are also delivered extremely well and in a believable and enjoyable fashion.
The sound effects are equally as impressive. Minute details such as the sound of Jak's footsteps as he's walking over various surface types are reflected in the game's audio and each of the various environments are filled with hordes of background noises, including the sound of chirping birds, the surf hitting in the beach, and lava spurting in the background, that all help make the worlds feel alive.
source PS2 IGN