21 April 2013

Looking Back at Jak and Daxter


This week Sony announced that Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter Trilogy was headed to PS Vita. This collection has already been released on PS3 and represents a new opportunity for fans old and new to acquaint (or reacquaint) with Jak and his furry sidekick.

But why should you? The Jak and Daxter series pushed boundaries in some respects without a single loading screen in the entire trilogy, that's impressive even by today's standards but beyond mere technical feats Jak's story told an accomplished and cohesive story in which the roots of Uncharted's compelling narrative can be derived.

Just as Nathan Drake's adventures were a clear step up from those of Jak so too was Naughty Dog's PS2 franchise a huge leap forward from Crash Bandicoot. The Precursor Legacy, the first Jak game, afforded players a remarkable platformer that holds up well - in gameplay terms if not necessarily graphically - to this day.

The Precursor Legacy is in some respects the purest of the Jak and Daxter Trilogy in that it is most rooted within a single genre, third person shooting and racing played a limited part in Legacy and would go to provide a much greater role in Jak 2: Renegade and Jak 3, somewhat diluting the platforming sections.

In this regard Precursor Legacy is in some respects a more full experience by focusing most intently on one element of gameplay. This is not to dish the racing and shooting of the later games but certainly the action, and Jak's arsenal, could never quite match up to the fluid combat of the Ratchet and Clank series.

Jak 2 meanwhile very much fit into the trilogy mantra of being the darker second act, The Empire Strikes Back of the series if you will. The formerly mute Jak found a voice and with it the corrupt and downtrodden Haven City.

Yet for all the races through the Stadium and the city's streets (the one against Errol I found particularly grating) there were also moments of pure gaming magic. The Mountain Temple proved a particular highlight while the game made great strides in recasting the Lurkers, the evil henchmen of Precursor Legacy, as victims of the war against the Metal Heads and human hostility.

The closing act of the trilogy, unsurprisingly named Jak 3, saw the pointy-eared hero blamed for unleashing the forces attacking Haven City and threatening to overwhelm it. Jak's exile brought with it some fine racing action and with it the surprising revelation of precisely what the Precursors were.

As Naughty Dog prepare to release their next IP, The Last of Us, in June you couldn't go far wrong by picking up the series they made for the PS2 which remains one of the best gaming trilogies ever made to see where they've come from (or, for that matter, their Crash Bandicoot game either). In time, we may get Jak 4 but until we do the Jak and Daxter Trilogy isn't a bad fallback.

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