Last week, I was privileged to attend a demo of the almost complete Jak 3, the final episode of the popular Precursor Saga from Naughty Dog studios. Before any Jak fans get upset at that previous statement, let me say this: I was assured by both Evan Wells and Amy Hennig that this was not the end of the Jak and Daxter characters; instead, it was closure for the storyline established three years ago with the first title of the series. After spending almost an hour watching and playing this game, it definitely seems like the plot will go out with a satisfying bang instead of a timid whimper.|
At first, I was shown a demo movie that essentially set up the plotline and some of the action within Jak 3. Thanks to Jakís infusion of Dark Eco, both he and Daxter have been exiled from Haven City to the brutal Wastelands and left for dead. Fortunately, both heroes are found by the refugees who live in the desert, who nurse the duo back to health. While part of this seemed evocative of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, this mood was driven home with the included footage of battles on large dune buggies. Vehicles, like these buggies, play a much larger role within Jak 3: 8 are included, each with their own unique feel and realistic physics models during operation. Each vehicle will also be able to store up to three turbo boosts to provide additional speed in transit.
This was demonstrated with a mission where Jak and Daxter had to return creatures called Leapers to a pen in the midst of a compound without running into anything. Jak initially was behind the wheel of a vehicle while Daxter prepped himself to leap onto the backs of the wild creatures. Once he grabbed one of the creatures, it was a breakneck ride through the desert as Daxter tried to steer the creature back into the pen. This wrangling mission was merely one of the many side missions included in Jak 3. Amy and Evan pointed out that there are easily twice as many supplemental missions than Jak II.
What was even more impressive were the next two facts: first, the Wastelands itself is five times larger than Haven City from Jak II. Second, once you hit the start button, the game world is a seamless experience from start to finish, without a single load screen or menu needing to pop up. Impressively, Evan maneuvered Jak and Daxter in a Dune Hopper from the village compound through the desert, leapfrogging across desert isles and other cliffs until he approached an ominous mountain. After leaping from platform to platform, many of which crumbled beneath his feet, Jak reached the summit. Not only was he able to look at the lands below him, he was able to take off and hang glide from one part of the world back towards the compound, which was a considerable distance away.
Amy pointed out two features about the levels that Evan demoed. First of all, the Jak 3 team did extensive focus testing on memory cards from Jak II to accurately determine which levels gave players the most trouble. They were able to harvest that information to specifically tailor the action of Jak 3 to be more appealing to Jak fans. Secondly, they spent a lot of time making sure that the game had a lot of diversity to the in-game action. That means that players will never get bored doing the same things for very long. For instance, the aforementioned levels demonstrated driving, shooting, platforming and flying mechanics, all of which transitioned smoothly from one to the next. For instance, a later level moved easily from platforming to a high paced driving level where Daxter tried to maneuver a rocket in a confined area, grabbing glowing orbs.
Players of Jak II will be pleased to note that some of Jakís previous equipment and abilities have returned with some noticeable upgrades. For instance, Jakís firearms that he acquired can now be upgraded three times, effectively providing twelve weapons that can be shot at enemies. Some of these seem influenced by films as well, such as the tracking bullets reminiscent of the smart gun from The Fifth Element or electron streams from the Ghostbusters movies. Jakís Dark Eco form returns, albeit with a few changes. Now, Jak can turn this form on and off at will provided heís acquired any Dark Eco charges. Heís also acquired a projectile attack and invisibility for navigating dangerous areas, and in case things get too treacherous, he also has whatís called a supernova, a powerful area effect attack that empties his Dark Eco stores. Countering this is his new Light Jak form, which sprouts illuminated energy wings (evocative of Raziel from the Soul Reaver series). Light Jak can solve environmental puzzles with his ability to stop time, and he can also regenerate all of his health by emptying his Light Eco meter. Finally, Jakís jet board has returned so he can grind across rails and other areas, but Jak can now use its anti-gravity to repulse enemies.
Jak III is technically impressive, with cutscenes rendered in-engine and amazingly smooth animation. Gameplay can be displayed in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios, and audio buffs will be pleased to know that the game has been recorded in Dolby Pro Logic II sound to take advantage of your stereo setups. However, itís the other features that the teamís included that illustrate how massive Jak III will be. First of all, the gameís dialogue can be played in multiple languages, such as Spanish or French. It doesnít stop there, as you can have subtitles in a separate language. Howíd you like to hear Jak speak in English while reading Japanese onscreen? Itís included in the game. How awesome is that?! Whatís more, there are plenty of unlockable features, including character models, concept art pics and movies, all of which can be bought by players based on their own preferences. In this way, players can tailor make the gameís extra features like a personal DVD. From what I saw, Jak 3 has all the tools to be the best title in the series. It will be hitting stores early next month, so check back soon for an updated preview and a full review soon!
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