Jak 3 review
“You will need all the power you can muster to survive this terrible test, great one”
Jak 3 is the final instalment of the Jak and Daxter Trilogy and one that goes some way to address the flaws of Jak II. Indeed, it feels as though 3 is the game that finally fulfils the vision that Naughty Dog were attempting to establish with they proceeded to undergo the drastic shift between Precursor’s Legacy and II. It seeks to build upon the existing formula rather than rip it up and start over; resulting in a much more refined game that can finally handle the breathless pace and variety that is now expected of the series.
Jak 3 picks up shortly after the events of II, with the city liberated from the tyrannical rule of Baron Praxis and the defeat of the Metal Head leader Kor. The duo are rewarded for their heroic efforts with a one-way trip to the barren wastelands outside Haven City for good. Wait what? Yeah you see between II and 3, a Council led by the incredibly smug Count Veger convinced the people that Jak’s alliance with Krew led to the Metal Heads into the city. So Jak is inexplicably blamed for all the turmoil in the city and is sent into exile. Jak on the verge of exhaustion, eventually gets picked up in the desert by the warrior Damas, the ruler of Spargas, the only form of civilization in these parts. Without spoiling things, it also looks like the end of the world is coming and naturally Jak is the only one who can stop this apocalypse with his connection to the Precursors and whatnot.
The narrative is excellent throughout the duration of the game, Jak has lightened up a bit so he isn’t as dour as before, it works well with Daxter’s persistent humorous antics too, giving the game a much more welcome light-hearted feel than before. With the trademark humour present, the story keeps motoring along with the return of just about every character in the series, superb cut-scenes and an outstanding twist near the end that I couldn’t stop smiling about afterwards.
As this is more of an evolution rather than a revolution like II was, it’s gameplay is almost identical but a hell of a lot more refined. For example, Jak still has the same basic moves that he’s always had, the spin, the punch and all the platforming staples. Similarly, you’ve still got the same gun variants of shotgun, blaster, gatling gun and heavy but in 3 all variants get two upgrades each that drastically change their original functions. For instance, the gatling gun can modified to fire a constant beam of electricity, perfect for taking down a wave of smaller enemies, so there’s a generous arsenal here for you to check out and dispatch the hordes of enemies with.
Dark Jak returns and it’s actually useful this time around, with more opportunities to unleash him and a better designed HUD to keep track of your eco levels. The Precursors also bestow another power on Jak, giving him the ability to turn into ‘Light Jak’ which is a more strategic gameplay element with the form enabling him to slow down time to get over dangerous obstacles, regenerating health and even sprouting some ethereal wings to fly around for a limited time.
All of this makes it seem like the gameplay is a bit overwhelming with its vast array of abilities and weapons, but they’re all introduced within a sensible time-frame of one another so you can get a feel of them before you’ve got to try and learn the next ability that comes along. Of course you can pick and choose whatever combination you like, hence the basic gameplay really feels rewarding and extremely flexible to the player.
A more significant game addition however is the inclusion of vehicle combat with various vehicles being available to use in order to travel around the dangerous wastelands. Many missions require you to drive these vehicles across the landscape in order to pick up rare Precursor artefacts and protect lost stragglers from the bandits and elements. It certainly adds to the variety, yet the driving physics are very difficult to get to grips with; the buggies handle strangely and spin out into the sand at their own accord on many occasions. If has to be said, this isn’t exactly ideal when you’ve got a timed mission and legions of respawning bandits are shooting you, blocking your path and trying to spin you out just because they want to.
Like Jak II, 3 plays out in sandbox-hub system that lets you accept missions from a raft of important characters to progress the story forward, but unlike II this adventure has you operating out of both the desert wasteland and also a few hours in you gain re-access to Haven City’s ruined walls. Furthermore the game does a great job of making each area feel suitably distinct, for instance the wasteland city of Spargas is a sparsely populated town with hover-vehicles being replaced in the form of nimble lizard creatures. The lands outside the walls meanwhile are exactly what you’d expect, completely devoid of life except for the legions of bandits attacking you for no good reason other than to spoil your day. Again, though this is appropriate for how the lands here are presented and the sense of scale is impressive, you really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, thank god for the mini-map eh? Haven City meanwhile has changed a lot since we last saw it, torn apart by the renewed power struggle, the chaotic events of the campaign is visibly echoed on the streets with guards clashing with the metalheads and the new robot army. Thus, it’s all quite impressive actually, it does feel like the environments, Haven City especially, reacts dynamically to the twists and turns of war as the game progresses, for instance on one mission you blow up an entire wall, hence the next time you’re there you can travel through its remains to access the area behind it.
Jak 3 is overall a vast improvement when it comes to the game’s level design and structure, level design hits new heights with locations including an isolated monk temple, ancient catacombs and the reveal of the metalheads home improvements to Haven Forest. Furthermore the checkpoint system is thankfully much more balanced, allowing the player to finally savour the blistering pace of the campaign rather than reload continuously. Although there’s some moments of frustrating here due to the forced races and other minor niggles, Jak 3 is much more polished adventure and turns out, much more enjoyable too.
Jak 3 for its time had remarkable production values and the HD remaster makes it look on par with many early-PS3 releases, as I’ve previously mentioned, the environments all look distinct with a great sense of scale on show here. In addition, the cut-scenes are really well animated, perfectly capturing the overriding warmth of the characters.
It’s bittersweet to know that despite Naughty Dog’s continued success away from the Jak series, 3 remains the last, proper iteration in the series despite nearly 10 years having passed. However if you’re new to the series or wish to revisit it, you’ll be glad to know that this final game in the trilogy is still a great adventure, it’s tempting to say that 3 really proves that Jak and Daxter really has no set genre anyway, the sheer variety on offer here is mind-boggling, but its never overwhelming thanks to its wholly-improved design. The story also ends with a beautiful, satisfying twist that is simply the perfect conclusion to all the crazy events that have gone on in this series.
Although II appears a misstep when playing it these days, 3 is the shining example of what happens when a developer manages to capture its lofty ambition, refine the formula and finally bottle it into a coherent, satisfying adventure.
I dearly hope we see a Jak IV.
–Erratic vehicle handling