When it was announced that Jak 3 would be the last title in the series, I, like other Jak fans, couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Hell, even during the preview screenings of the game I had trouble rationally accepting that this was the end of the Precursor Saga. After all, this was one of the most successful franchises on the PS2. The popularity of Jak and Daxter had (arguably) surpassed Crash Bandicoot as the most beloved mascot on the console. What’s more, the mix of humor, platforming and engaging story combined to elevate this series to incredible heights. So I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned approaching this final game. Fortunately, this hesitation was unnecessary, as Jak 3 is easily the best title in the franchise.
If Jak II was a story that revolved around our hero’s descent into darkness (thanks to being experimented on), Jak 3 is the story of his redemption and fulfillment of his destiny. Picking up shortly after the events of Jak II, our heroes have just recently saved Haven City from the threat of the Krimson Guard and the Metal Heads. Typically, after such an incredible performance, you’d expect some kind of ticker tape parade, key to the city, or other kind of reward for their service. However, Jak, Daxter and Pecker are quickly rounded up and exiled from the walls of Haven City. The justification of this action, growled through clenched teeth by Count Veger, is twofold: first, the city’s streets have erupted into open warfare between numerous factions, and two, Jak’s dark Eco abilities are too dangerous to have inside city walls. Dropped off in the brutal Wastelands with little more than a homing beacon to guide him to the indigenous people who live in that region, Jak has to figure out a way to survive, take revenge on those who abandoned him and save the world from a foretold threat (amongst other missions.)
It’s safe to say that if you played the previous title, you’d be floored with the massive improvements and augmentations made from that game to this one. First of all, while Haven City was quite large within Jak II, it is dwarfed in comparison to the size of the Wastelands, which are at least five times its size. This is also bolstered with an expanded number of transportation from Jak II to Jak 3. Players are now given a large number of dune buggies to navigate the large expanse of desert property, but that’s not all. You’ll also have access to riding animal mounts, hang gliding through the skies from a mountain stronghold and even a return to hover board riding to traverse the areas of the game. Many of these machines will be used to fulfill missions or sidequests, all of which flow much more naturally than the previous title. In fact, it’s entirely possible to spend a number of hours exploring your environments, collecting items and other artifacts that can be used to unlock mini-games, secrets and other game features.
Jak’s received a number of upgrades as well, reflecting the massive number of changes that he has gone through over the course of his adventures. For instance, while he still has access to his Dark Eco powers (courtesy of Jak II), our hero will also gain Light Eco powers from the Precursors. Activating them transforms Jak into a Soul Reaver/Raziel-like translucent being that can glide over distances, regenerate health, and slow down time, amongst other powers. Unlike the previous game, Jak can trigger either Light or Dark powers at will, as long as he’s collected some amount of corresponding Eco. His firearms have also received substantial upgrades as well, with three separate levels of firepower split amongst four weapon classes. It’s actually fascinating to determine exactly where some of the influences behind the weaponry came from. For example, the electricity gun looks like the proton streams from Ghostbusters, while the homing bullets are direct from The Fifth Element.
If you’ve played any of the previous Jak titles, you’ll easily notice that Jak 3 is the best looking title of the series. Character models have easily been beefed up from Jak II, appearing much larger on screen in regular gameplay and cutscenes. In fact, the numerous scenes that transition between plot points and gameplay are simply beautiful, and full of wonderfully animated characters. This animation also extends to in-game action, as the number of attacks, special moves and death sequences have been increased as well. It’s pretty funny to watch Daxter’s reactions when Jak loses all of his health, particularly if he tries to rally his friend into continuing the fight before giving up. Environmental details are rather exceptional as well, with a number of notable advantages: The draw distance is huge, nearby areas are meticulously detailed and vibrant, often with their own background action. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that the game never drops a frame or has a visual issue, resulting in a stable experience.
The graphics are buoyed by the exceptional voice acting for the characters in the game. Jak has the appropriate level of anger, cynicism and rebellion that you’d expect from someone that’s been through a lot of problems. Other characters, from the wary and cautious Damas to the snarl of Count Veger sound just right, and add a great level of realism to the game. However, it’s the great timing of Daxter with jokes and other comic relief that puts Jak 3 into another echelon of acting goodness. While you’re probably not going to pay too much attention to the music or sound effects, the voice acting will definitely keep you hooked throughout the entire game experience.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the largest problems with Jak 3. But let me explain that it’s not because of the gameplay or the concept itself. In fact, Jak 3 is one of the best put together titles that's come out on the PS2 in quite a while, both in mission orientation and mini-game development. From shooters to sled levels to Pac-Man knockoffs, there’s a solid through line from start to finish that players will truly enjoy. In fact, the diversity of missions that you’ll find within the game is truly amazing, and while a combination of elements this diverse usually manages to derail a game or lose focus within its presentation, Jak 3 holds everything together perfectly. Case in point: while the game can be somewhat difficult with certain missions (particularly the race based tasks), you never feel like it’s unfairly skewed against you. More often than not, the reason why you failed is because you oversteered, directed your craft a bit too far one way or didn’t see the obstacle you hit until it was too late. It’s incredibly surprising how addictive, and how reasonable, the gameplay is, and how it manages to get you to continue playing to beat that one section you were stuck on. It really can give you a sense of accomplishment.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is somewhat short. Some gamers, particularly those skilled in platformers, will probably finish the game in 10 hours or so, and without multiplayer or other features that would keep gamers busy, it’s a little tricky to figure out if gamers would be want to return to this shattered world. Granted, there are a number of secrets that can be unlocked by collecting precursor orbs and trading them in on the menu screen. Some of these features, such as the removal of Jak’s goatee or inflating his head to three times its normal size, may seem somewhat strange. On the other hand, the options to unlock production art, DVD-like commentary during cutscenes or weapon powerups are relatively useful. You have the option to pick and choose whatever “secret” they want at any time you want, which is a great option to give players (and one I hope more developers implement for their games). Couple that with the incredible number of regular options, such as choosing your aspect ratios or a number of languages the game can be played in and you have a game that relatively loaded with features.
There are two downsides to this wealth of options though. One, you may not consider some of the earlier mentioned options interesting or appealing enough to you. I didn’t necessarily need Jak to be inflated, but that’s just me. Secondly, the way that you go about gathering some of the orbs needed to unlock secrets is sometimes more difficult than necessary. The races through rings along courses or around regional areas aren’t bad, but when you only get a few seconds to find a randomly placed object that’s usually a large ways away, you’re truly increasing the frustration factor. I didn’t memorize the layout of the city for a reason; I have the mini-map for that.
If you’re going to send a franchise into the sunset, this is the way to go. Jak 3 manages to instill a sense of resolution, especially if you’ve played the series all the way through. It also implements a number of substantial changes and gameplay additions that will appeal to any action or platformer fan. While I’m still sad to see the series go, I’m looking forward to seeing where our two heroes might pop up in the future. If you’ve got a PlayStation 2, you should hope to receive this wonderful conclusion to a great franchise this holiday season.