The Jak and Daxter series was an important part of Sony’s line-up during the PS2 days. Created by the minds behind current-gen’s Uncharted series, Naughty Dog, these titles showed what the PS2 was capable of both early on in the system’s life and as time went on. Naughty Dog has moved away from the Jak and Daxter series for the time being, but the duo has found their way onto the PS3 with the help of Mass Media Inc. thanks to this HD Collection.
The Collection includes all three of the main series Jak and Daxter titles: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak 2, and Jak 3. The series also has Jak X: Combat Racing for the PS2 as well as Daxter and Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier for the PSP. Sadly, none of the three latter titles were represented in the Collection. At least the three main titles are the best in the series and you certainly get tons of quality for you buck. Each game also has its own feel and central gameplay style adding to that value.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (2001):
The first title in the series played a big role in the early success of the PS2. The story starts with the origin of Daxter taking on his ottsel form and the journey to find the Eco Sages to turn Daxter back to normal. Jak and Daxter borrows heavily from the Super Mario 64 formula with a collection based system. Each main area of the game is separated into a few branching sections. The main area is usually a town where an Eco Sage took up residence. In order to advance from area to area, you need to collect Power Cells by completing certain missions in the sub-stages. Precursor Orbs are littered throughout the game as well which will lead to more Power Cells. Villagers can give you tasks to complete for a Power Cell in return or players can discover Power Cells on their own with vague descriptions on how to obtain each Power Cell.
The tasks, like the locations, are well varied. Tasks can range from fishing to scaling a tower to riding a speed bike through a ring course and much more. Jak and Daxter does a great job of keeping things fresh. Even with vague descriptions for many of the tasks, you will rarely find yourself at a total loss at what to do. The challenges are fun to complete with fun combat and well-executed platforming. Locations are fairly standard for the genre with a forest, beach, snowy mountain, dark cave, etc., but they look great in the HD conversion.
As strange as it may seem being the first game in the series, Jak and Daxter seems to have benefited the most from the HD treatment. Character models don’t look nearly as jaggy or low quality as one would remember. The environments also look great in HD. Jak and Daxter is a much more colorful game than its sequels and it shows now more than ever. Colors are bright and pop out of the screen in brilliant fashion. Yet, some textures are still noticeably blocky and there is even quite a bit of texture pop-in. While the overall character models do look better, close-ups of faces have little to no detail and don’t match up to the quality of the rest of the game.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy shows why the series gained its early popularity. It is refreshing to go back to the collect-a-ton style gameplay of yesteryear, especially since there is little representation in current generation. However, I am glad that the series took a different route with Jak 2.
Jak 2 (2003):
Jak 2 follows directly after the end of Precursor Legacy where Jak, Daxter, Samos, and Keria are sucked into a rift and transported to a brand new world. No longer do players explore a bright world full of hope. Instead, Jak is trust into a dark city torn by chaos and war. Jak joins a group of freedom fighters trying to free the city from The Baron, its current leader. At the same time, creatures known as Metalheads are trying to force their way into the city in an attempt to take it over.
Like the first game, there is a good amount of platforming and puzzle solving throughout the game. Outside of that, gameplay and progression is much different than Precursor Legacy. Jak equips himself with a weapon with four different fire methods for his main form of attack. Jak also has special Dark Eco powers that he can tap into to become a monster both in form and on the battlefield. Instead of collecting everything to advance like the original, Jak 2 takes a full open world approach. You can explore Haven City mostly at your own will with a Grand Theft Auto styled mini-map to guide you to whichever character has a job for you. The challenges are still well varied like the precedent the first game set. Jak 2 also has the honor of being the most difficult game in the series. Outside of one or two occasions, it never reaches frustrating levels of difficulty though. Just be prepared for a good challenge.
The dark nature and scenery of Jak 2 doesn’t lend itself as well to the HD transition. Everything does look smoother, but nothing in Jak 2 begged for a HD upgrade. Character models seem to have gotten the biggest upgrade here. In a game were the cast of characters is as diverse, animated, and loveable as this, having the models be easier on the eyes is a huge plus. It is much easier to appreciate the subtle details, physical appearance, and facial expressions of each character as a result, the voice acting is still of fantastic quality. The only issue with the HD treatment is that there is still occasional texture pop-in. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen as often, or, at least, it isn’t as noticeable as in The Precursor Legacy. Also, on one rare occasion during a cut-scene, one character was blacked out for a few moments. It only happened once during my playthorugh so it’s not a huge or widespread issue, yet it was jarring when it did happen.
Jak 2 mixes the platforming approach of the first title with solid shooting mechanics in a fantastic, lively open world full of wonderful characters. Jak is my personal favorite game in the series and is not a game that should be missed.
Jak 3 (2004):
Jak 3 rounds out the trilogy on a great note. Jak is banished to the Wasteland desert outside the protective walls of Haven City for crimes against the people of the city that we all know he was framed for. Citizens of the desert colony, Spargus City, rescue Jak and Daxter in a near death state. Jak and Daxter soon begin to work for Damas, the king of Spargus City, to repay the life debt. Jak is also out to set the record straight on his falsely tarnished name. The duo is quickly thrown into the middle of an ancient conflict involving the Dark Makers and the Precursors that forces them to protect not just Haven and Spargus City, but the entire world.
The main progression is the same as Jak 2’s open world system. Players are tasked with seeking out missions from the various characters met along the journey. Jak 3 features a heavier emphasis on vehicle combat and transportation than previous titles. To traverse the desert landscape, players are offered different types of vehicles with specific special attributes for each. Players can often choose the vehicle they wish to drive except on the few occasions that the game requires a certain vehicle. There are also a few instances where players will ride a large lizard, a mech, a hang glider, and your trusty hover board from Jak 2 among other things.
Of course, Jak 3 doesn’t forgo its roots in platforming, shooting, and puzzle solving. There are plenty of platforming and puzzle solving challenges throughout the game. The shooting aspect got a considerable upgrade in Jak 3. Like in Jak 2, your weapon has four firing modes, but now each of those has three modes all on their own. With this set-up, you will have a way to deal with any situation or enemy that crosses your path.
The difficultly of Jak 3 doesn’t quite reach the level that Jak 2 did, but there is still a good challenge to be found here. Part of that could be credited to the inclusion of Light Jak, the counter part of Dark Jak. Light Jak can slow down time, allow multiple jumps, and allow access to easy healing and more. The options that Light Jak present give combat more options, but does reduce the challenge of conflicts at times.
Sadly, the HD treatment brought along some more issues with it than the previous two titles had. The on screen HUD was not correctly fitted for my screen. Everything was still visible for the most part, but it was cut off on the edges a bit. I was unable to find any options to adjust the HUD placement either so it was always cut off slightly through the whole experience. In rare occurrences, characters would completely disappear and re-appear in cutscenes. There would be times where the camera was looking at a seemly random piece of scenery with a character’s voice going only to have that character appear out of thin air a few moments later. Additionally, during some missions, certain sound effects would cut out for the duration of the mission or until the mission was failed and started over. On the positive side, the texture pop-in present in the first two titles is no longer an issue. Like Jak 2, the scenery doesn’t beg for an HD representation. The desert is barren and Haven City is still dark and dreary. The desert is bright and Haven City has more neon lights than before to admire at least.
Jak 3 has arguably the best story and combat mechanics of the series. New characters are just as expertly crafted, animated, and voiced as one would come to expect of both the Jak series and Naughty Dog as a whole. The increased emphasis on vehicles does turn repetitive over time however. With a setting as characteristically barren as a dessert, there isn’t much to look at of interest as you go from a mission, back to Spargus City, and, often, right back out to the same trail you just blazed. Jak 2 suffered a similar fate with getting around Haven City, but at the very least, Haven City was lively enough to keep you slightly entertained while moving from place to place.
The HD Collection:
The Jak and Daxter HD Collection does a good job of bringing these PS2 classics into the current generation. Each of the three included titles has a slightly different gameplay emphasis to them making it easier to not feel as repetitive from title to title. The games look much more crisp on the PS3 and the great attention to detail in the environments and characters can be seen to their full potential. All three titles are playable in 3D as well. The transition to HD wasn’t entirely perfect, but the main issues are thankfully few and far between. Each game has a full Trophy set complete with a Platinum Trophy for each title. Those looking for special behind the scenes footage or art are out of luck though. The HD Collection does not include any additional extras outside of what was already in the original games. Players can still unlock tons of those extras by completing challenges and collecting Precursor Orbs in Jak 2 and 3 to their hearts content at least. It still would have been nice to see some more for those who have seen it all once before.
Fans of the Jak and Daxter series can’t go wrong with this good upgrade to these fantastic titles. Those who didn’t have a chance to experience them before now have the perfect opportunity to do so. Either way, players are in for a treat, new and old.