Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
Players: 1 Player Game | Genre: Platform
If you are ever curious what happens when an unexpected console mascot bursts onto the scene then look no further than the Jak and Daxter franchise. The original series was always planned as a three-game set, and Sony was happy to have a new set of heroes exclusively gracing their consoles. But then something unusual happened, and fans latched onto the duo with a fervor that no one had really expected. Thus, when the original trilogy ended and effectively closed off the storyline Sony couldn’t help but wonder how they could continue to profit off the franchise. The solution they determined was to release a new adventure on the PSP starring Daxter, and that title’s impressive sales and solid reviews showed Sony that there was still life in this franchise. Now, they’re going back to the well once more with a new PSP Jak and Daxter adventure, but it seems that the well may finally be running dry.
While our demo didn’t provide any story context after a little research we discovered that the game finds the duo investigating the sudden disappearance of the world’s eco supply. Obviously, when your world’s only energy source is nearly exhausted, things take a turn for the dire. So Jak and Daxter sally forth to discover who is behind these shenanigans and travel to the ends of the earth to unlock mysterious secrets. I know it’s pretty much the same premise as every other game out there, but a plot involving characters going to the store for a gallon of milk just doesn’t feel quite as epic.
Our demo took us through three distinct environments, each with their own unique mechanics. First up was a traditional platforming/combat segment in a volcanic crater. We were tasked with quickly progressing over the dangerous terrain ahead of the steadily rising lava, stopping occasionally to do battle with some hostile critters. While players have a variety of moves at their disposal, the game is continuing the series’ reliance on guns as the most effective way to deal with enemies. Traditionalists like me groaned when the series abandoned spin moves and ground slams for rifles and shotguns, but the die is cast now so at least High Impact is being consistent with the franchise’s overall direction. Jak also has a couple of “eco boost” powers which allow the duo to traverse otherwise impassable terrain. In this level we were able to use a sort of ethereal jetpack to boost over tall walls and a build command to summon columns of rock out of the lava so we could pass wide chasms without falling into the deadly pool of molten death below.
While the level design and general mechanics may be familiar for those who have played previous games in the series, there are still a lot of problems that need to be sorted through before this game hits shelves next month. First off, the camera is zoomed in very close to the action, making it hard to keep track of enemies and environmental hazards. I took some unnecessary cheap shots and fell to my death far too many times simply because I couldn’t see the space behind my characters. Also troubling is the fact that the jumping mechanics are very loose and far from the level of precision demanded in a game like this. Things need to be tightened up considerably before this one launches.
Our second demo level eschewed the ground entirely and allowed us to take to the skies in the Hellcat. In this stage we were given the mission to disable a pirate airship before it made its escape. First up we used our machine guns and lock-on missiles to take out its propellers, and then we cleared a landing zone by dusting off the ship’s turrets. All the while, the pirates kept launching fighters to harass us, but more than anything these tiny ships were basically little more than hostile supply crates housing ammo refills and repair packs. While this stage may have been the simplest of all that we say it was also, coincidentally, the most fun. The level was straightforward enough that it’s easy to understand and fulfill objectives, yet challenging enough that players won’t feel that the flying missions are simply blow-off stages meant to artificially pad the game’s length.
The final level we took on was a sewer stage which featured the new “Dark Daxter” character. Yes, it seems that at some point our favorite smart-mouthed sidekick will somehow get a dose of the same dark eco that causes Jak to get a bit moody and will proceed to transfer into a big hulking brute. In this form Daxter gets access to a dark eco bolt which can be thrown at enemies, a ground pound and a rotating vortex of infinite doom. All Daxter’s powers are governed by a constantly-draining eco meter and the only way to top it off is to use the vortex spin to crash into dark eco crystals and recharge. Right now a few of you may be thinking “Hmm, that sure doesn’t sound like the best system,” and you’d be absolutely right. Since the spin is Daxter’s most powerful move, and since it’s also the only way to refill your eco gauge then it stands to reason that you’ll spend 90 percent of your time on any given level simply spinning and twirling until some sort of environmental hazard is thrown in your way to make you stop. The fun of these levels is also tempered by the fact that when in dark mode Daxter loses his trademark wit and instead reverts to one-liners more suitable for the Hulk. Sadly, it looks like the Dark Daxter stages may be a total train wreck and completely derail this game.
There are a lot of question marks in this latest chapter of the Jak and Daxter saga, and it appears as though the franchise may be starting to truly lose its way. The platforming segments fall in line with what we’ve come to expect without providing anything substantially new, and the Dark Daxter levels are shaping up to be an absolute mess. The flying missions are okay, but they’re sure to make up a very small percentage of the overall experience and even they aren’t so amazing that they’ll pull the entire experience to new heights. All will be revealed next month when the game hits the retail market, but I fear this is one frontier that would have been better off had it remained lost.