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It's become something of a trend recently to give old titles an HD lick of paint and re-release them. In some cases, this is a good thing, giving a new audience the chance to appreciate older games. At other times, it can seem like little more than a cynical attempt to wring every last penny out of some pretty tired titles. Jak and Daxter probably sits somewhere in the middle.
Although though they are essentially platform games, the Jak & Daxter titles do actually have a fairly decent plot. What's more the plot carries on across all the titles in the series, with 2 and 3 building on the earlier storylines. This gives them an epic feel, particularly if you play them back to back - you actually feel like there is some point to what you are doing, and that individual actions tie into a wider story,
The first game - The Precursor Legacy - has a familiar format similar to other last gen titles like the original Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot. Despite being the oldest of the three titles, it's actually the one I enjoyed most. As gaming concepts go, it's a straightforward mix of platform action and item collecting. It's instantly appealing and easy to get to grips with and features some imaginative (occasionally frustrating) level design. The cutesy graphics and crazy antics of sidekick Daxter will appeal to kids (although you need to be aware of some bad language), but under the bonnet, there's actually a good solid platform game that will appeal to fans of the genre.
The sequels (Renegade and Jak 3) take a slightly different approach, and it's not always an improvement. Whilst they still retain strong elements of platform and collecting action, they take a more 3D, open world approach. Whilst the freedom to explore is OK, I prefer platform games to be a little more structured and find these two a little more frustrating.
I did find that all three of these titles can cause motion sickness. This usually only affects me when playing first person games, but for some reason, Jak & Daxter induced the same feeling of nausea. I would find that after about 15 minutes I would start to feel extremely queasy and had to stop playing. I appreciate this is something which doesn't affect everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind.
It's fair to say that all three games betray the fact that they are products of last generation technology. Whilst the graphics improve as the series progresses, they still look pretty rough around the edges, even with a fresh lick of HD paint. Graphics are more simplistic and blockier than you would expect from today's games. Having said that, the cut-scenes (the most obvious evidence of an HD facelift) look great.
The various characters are also appealing. Jak can be a little dull, but with his spiky hairdo and badass attitude he's a fun character to play. Even better is the wise-cracking Daxter who comes out with some genuinely funny lines. Playing these two friends across three titles really means you develop an affinity with them (although Daxter's loud-mouth shtick can sometimes grate and he is possibly one of those love/hate characters). Some of the voice acting is surprisingly good, with characters delivering dialogue with just the right amount of irony so that the game never gets too silly, but never takes itself seriously either.
Like many early 3D games, camera angles are an issue. There were too many times when poor camera angles resulted in a seriously obscured view. This meant that sometimes the only option was to try that bane of the platform game's life - the leap of faith
Controls can sometimes be a little bit twitchy. There were occasions when I couldn't stop in time and found myself hurtling to my doom from a platform edge. On other occasions, they didn't quite offer me the level of finesse I needed when trying to position my character for a particularly tricky jump, again resulting in many a frustrating death.
Despite some niggles, there's a lot to like about Jak & Daxter. The PS3 version costs £12 for a new copy and for that you get three pretty decent platform games. Sadly, there's no escaping the fact that they are all showing their age with graphics and gameplay that now seem crude, despite the HD uplift.
Jak & Daxter offers three perfectly serviceable games, but for me, it's a long way from being an essential purchase. From a last gen-retro gaming point of view, there are other titles I would buy ahead of this one (Crash Bandicoot is the one that instantly springs to mind). From a modern gaming perspective, there are much better titles now available for a similar price.
I guess if you enjoyed the Jak & Daxter games first time around then you might be tempted. If they passed you by, then it's unlikely there's anything in this re-release to tempt you into parting with your cash.
© Copyright SWSt 2013
As a consumer I find myself decidedly conflicted with the idea of these high def trilogy releases on Playstation. On the one hand I very cynically believe that they are an easy cash grab on the part of a developer who would rather touch up a few premade games, than put the work into creating something new. On the other hand the retro geek inside me loves reliving these often forgotten classics. In this collection you will find Naughty Dog's collection of PS2 classics Jak and Daxter; Jak 2: Renegade, and Jak 3 which are definitely worth playing if you have never experienced them.
The series starts out with Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. It's a simple story that harkens back to a simpler time. Jak is a young elf boy who has been raised by the village sage, but likes to get into trouble with his best pal Daxter. In one such instance Jak and Daxter are trespassing on a forbidden Island when they spy some sinister figures plotting nasty things for their village. Sadly, while trying to spy on these fellows Daxter is knocked into a pool of 'Dark Eco' (think a fantasy version of toxic waste) and mutated into a cute and cuddly meercat type creature. Only by traversing their world and researching the mysteries behind an ancient race called the precursors can they hope to transform Daxter back to his old self and stop the bad guys.
Actually for me this game was the reason to buy this collection. It made for a refreshing change of pace to be playing a Mario style Platformer from the days when Mario, Sonic, and Crash waged their endless war. Jak and Daxter kept things simple, but was actually way ahead of its time. Playing as Jak you had to traverse an open world hunting down precursor artefacts to power up your technology. Each area of the world would be split into the expected sections of Beach, Lava Cave, Icy Mountain, Scary Jungle, and foggy Island. You would run and jump through these areas and spin at; or jump on, the monsters that got in your way. Each level would give you a series of objectives that rewarded you with needed power cells, and each one would be littered with collectable orbs that you could exchange for more power cells. Collecting all 101 power cells was a very rewarding experience.
The thing that made Jak and Daxter stand out from the pack though was the epic way the game was developed. Loading screens were none existent as the entire world was preloaded from the get go. Theoretically you could have jumped into the ocean and swam all the way to the final boss encounter, if not for the fact that a big fish would always swallow you up. However being able to look out across this open world and see everything remains a pretty impressive technical achievement to this day. It's just a shame that the graphics themselves have not aged nearly as well. The draw distance may be phenomenal, but, as a PS2 game you cannot escape the blocky textures that have been used to create this world. Rendering them in high def just stands to make them look even blockier!
Thankfully the other aspects of the first game have held up really well. Control over Jak is very responsive, and makes navigating the world fun during the most frustrating of moments. It is true that Jak and Daxter is a difficult game, but it's never unfairly so thanks to the simple control scheme and well-designed levels.
Sadly things took a turn for the worse with the sequels. Jak and Daxter take a ride through a portal and into a dystopian futuristic city where Jak is captured and experimented on. Daxter does rescue him, but only after the experiments have left Jak hulking out whenever he gets angry. What follows is a darker series of games as Jak rises in the underworld ranks of this city in his quest for revenge.
Jak 2 and 3 change the focus of the game from platforming and collecting, to a GTA inspired mission structure that did not work nearly as well. The central hub of Haven city was infuriating to navigate due to the terrible controls of the vehicles you were stealing. Crashes happened far too frequently, and as a result the game took that step from hard to unfair. It was such a shame too as the game remained fun to play and had definite potential. Controlling Jak was still responsive during the platform sections, but those sections we're spoiled by the introduction of guns and a lack of any real collectables. You could still hunt down precursor orbs, but they were few and far between and no longer had any real relevance to the game itself.
Still the game had some really good ideas for set piece based levels; such as one really cool level where you had to hoverboard through an oil field to dispose of some bombs before they explode, that make up for the fact that both the platform levels and the hub world had become pretty poor.
The Mad Max inspired Jak 3 improved on that game no end, but only because it almost completely scrapped the idea of being a platform game in favour of those setpiece levels. The range of these levels was staggering, and took in everything from monster chases, to missile rides, and even a quick stop for a game of Pac Man. By the final entry the series was never boring; it just bears no similarity to its origins and does not feel as satisfying as the original game.
What the series does have in its favour though is the production values. Throughout all three games you will witness a genuinely funny story full of time travel twists and turns with a variety of endearing characters. The voice acting is absolutely phenomenal throughout, and I challenge anyone to hear any line from Daxter and not laugh. Even Jak; whose voice actor was trying really hard to be gruff and scary, came across as a good performance despite how cute the character model was. The whole series featured the same level of attention to detail and storytelling finesse that Naughty Dog would later bring to the Uncharted series.
However you cannot escape the fact that these games are still very old games. All three have substandard graphics and an awkward camera. More to the point, if you still have a PS2 lying around then you could probably find original copies of the games for a pound or two each, so this collection would be a little redundant. Yet the fact remains that they are still amazing games that are considered classics for a reason. Jak 2 was a little disappointing, but it bridges the incredible storyline nicely and remains a solid experience. The other two games are absolute classics and should be played by everyone for the humour alone. So if you don't have access to a PS2 and can find this collection for under £15 then you should definitely give it a play. Trust me, by the end of the final cut scene you will be glad you did; especially if you enjoy the humour of a well-made Disney film like The Lion King.